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How to Harden Your Heart in Nineteen Days

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Before Lilly died, Veronica thought she knew what it felt like to cry. She was wrong. She didn't know she could wake up with aching ribs and sandy eyes. She didn't know her father could hug her and she wouldn't feel arms around her, or that her mother might not be there to offer her ice cream afterward. She knew lost dogs and callous boyfriends and an argument between her parents that lasted until three a.m. But she didn't know grief.

On the five o’clock news, she sees her father escorting Jake Kane to the county jail. Her mother snatches her keys off the kitchen counter and drives away fast, and Veronica sits alone on the floor in front of the couch, watching dumbly while the newscast blurs into reruns of Friends.

Jake Kane smiled and laughed. He drove kids to Model UN and judged at debate tournaments and took apart computers on the coffee table, never mind how much his wife complained. When Lilly was grounded, he gave back the keys while Celeste wasn't looking, and he snuck big hunks of garlic bread even though they weren't Atkins. He didn't like that Veronica was dating Duncan, but he never, ever said it and he still somehow made the Kane house feel like her second home. And then he bashed his daughter’s head in one afternoon by the side of his million-dollar swimming pool.

But person of interest doesn't always mean killer, Veronica reminds herself fiercely. Her father's questioning Mr. Kane because he has some piece of the puzzle, a piece that will bring them closer to finding out how her best friend died. Lilly's lucky to have someone like her father on the job.

When her father comes home, they say nothing. He collapses on the couch and clicks the TV to HBO. She crawls up beside him and lays her head on his shoulder, and they fall asleep till her mom stumbles in at three.

At school they ask her how her father could think Jake Kane killed his only daughter, and Veronica doesn't have an answer. It takes until lunch to realize they're asking her to choose. She puts her tray down on the table, and Logan hands it back, wordless. Madison Sinclair turns away, and Dick Casablancas turns with her, and then Veronica's looking at a tight little circle of hunched backs.

After that, she throws her food away and doesn't bother to hide her tears. She spends fourth period in the bathroom and fifth period wandering the halls, and then the attendance clerk makes her see Vice Principal Clemmons. That makes her cry more because she's never even had detention, but in the end, he lets her spend the afternoon on the couch in the corner of his office, pretending to do math homework. After sixth period, he buys her a package of Skittles from the vending machine, and she can sort of pretend it’s like the day her mom called her out of school for no good reason except to watch movies and eat junk food.

Her father picks her up from school, which is weird, but he says her mom's gone out of town for a few days.

"The attendance office called," he says. "They said you missed a couple classes. Are the kids giving you a hard time at school?"

"No," Veronica says, too fast and too easy. She waits for her father to call her out on the lie, like he always does, but instead he squeezes her shoulder.

"You're a good kid, Veronica," he says.


In the morning, Logan is waiting at her locker.

“Do you think Jake Kane killed Lilly?” he asks. It’s the first words he’d spoken to her since Lilly died, never mind that she’d called and called. Duncan doesn't speak to her anymore, and who else is going to share her grief?

“I don’t know,” Veronica says, because she doesn’t. How could she?

“Wrong answer,” Logan snaps. His eyes are snapping and he’s looming over her, coiled tight with an anger she’s never seen before. “Wanna try again?”

“I don’t know,” Veronica says, trying to make her voice loud and clear but she can’t. “My father says they’re just investigating.”

“Two faced bitch,” Logan says, biting off every word. “I thought she was your friend.”

“She was my --” Veronica says, her voice finally rising, but Logan’s already walking away.

After that, two-faced bitch turns into two-faced whore, never mind that she’s never slept with anyone, not even Duncan. At lunch she calls her dad and asks to go home, but he tells her to stay strong. Then she calls her mom’s cell and it rings and rings until finally she leaves a desperate little voicemail. Her mom shows up halfway through fifth period, saying she’d driven fifty miles of get there, and of course Veronica can go home.

They get into the car together, and Veronica waits to cry, but the tears don't come. All she can do is stare dumbly out the window, watching traffic go past and wondering if the other drivers would yell at her if they could see she was inside.

Her mom leans over at a traffic light and squeezes Veronica's hand.

“Jake didn’t kill Lilly, honey, I promise,” she says. “And I am so sorry you have to go through this.”

That night her parents argue longer than they ever have before, and scraps of their crescendoing voices penetrate the bedroom door.

“Just think what you’re doing to Veronica --”

“I keep wondering why my wife is so determined to defend Jake Kane --”

Veronica puts her headphones on and turns the music up as loud as she can.

Veronica’s alarm doesn’t go off in the morning, and when she comes downstairs her parents are washing up breakfast plates.

“Why didn’t you wake me up?” she asks.

Her father frowns.

Her mother says, “Who needs school? Let’s have a fun day. We’ll rent movies, make cookies, eat ice cream… What do you say?”

Veronica opens her mouth to agree before she sees her father looking at the floor, his lips pressed together tightly.

“Keith, we agreed --” her mother says, following Veronica’s gaze.

“We agreed that it’s Veronica’s decision,” he says.

Veronica swallows. “I want to go to school.”

Jake Kane is still a person of interest in Lilly’s murder. No one will call him a suspect; they might get sued.

At lunch, Meg Manning tries to scoot over and make room for her, but Logan throws the stick of his Blow Pop, and it gets stuck in Veronica’s hair.

“Oopsy,” he says.

Meg picks up her tray. “Come on, Veronica, let’s find somewhere else to sit,” she says.

“It’s okay, Meg,” Veronica says hastily. “I’m not hungry anymore.”

She spends the rest of lunch in the library, studying for her chem test. When she makes a hundred and breaks the curve, she enjoys the resentment in the other students’ eyes.

Take that, she thinks and then Logan throws another sucker stick in her hair.

It's the weekend, and there's nothing to do. Dick is having a party, but she's not invited.

The kitchen is a wreck. Nobody felt like cooking this week, and the counter is covered with take-out containers and empty coffee cups. Veronica washes them one by one, letting the hot water run over her hands. Number One Dad, Souvenir of Disney Land, Best Husband Ever - Lilly used to love how normal they were. Celeste only allowed Martha Stewart coffee cups in her kitchen.

When the dishes are clean, Veronica pulls the trashcan out from under the sink and sweeps all the cartons and stray chopsticks inside. Then she reaches into the back of the cupboard for something to clean the counter, but her fingers close around an unfamiliar glass bottle instead. She pulls it out. It's a bottle of vodka.

"Someone's campaigning for daughter of the year," her mother says from the doorway, and Veronica turns around.

"What's this?" she asks, holding the bottle aloft.

Her mother blinks and licks her lips. "It's a bottle of vodka, honey," she says finally.

"I know," Veronica says. "I can read. But what's it doing under the sink?"

Her mother laughs nervously. "Oh, who knows? You know how tight storage is in this kitchen." She reaches forward and pulls the bottle from Veronica's hands. "I'll just find a better place for this."

Hiding your drinking is a symptom of alcoholism, she wants to say. She'd learned it in her eighth grade health class. They'd all had to read about responsible drinking after some boy had given himself alcohol poisoning at his older brother's party. But she doesn't say anything. She just goes back to her room.

In the morning, Veronica pulls out the trashcan to look for the vodka, but it's gone. The trash bag is almost full though, so she cinches it up to take it outside. When she opens the door, flashbulbs pop, and an egg sails through the air and splatters on the house an inch from her head. She stumbles backward, pulling the door shut behind her and nearly upending the trash bag on the floor. Her father is running toward her with a towel wrapped around his waist, still dripping on the floor.

“Veronica, I’m sorry, I thought you were asleep,” he says.

“I was going to take the trash out,” she says dumbly.

“Let me take care of that,” her father says, and he takes the trash bag back to the kitchen, hobbling awkwardly with one hand holding the towel closed. “You make sure all the blinds are shut.”

Instead Veronica sinks down in front of the TV and turns on CNN. Lilly Kane is national news now, and so is the bumbling local sheriff who arrested everyone’s favorite billionaire. Her house is on TV, framed by protesters waving placards that say FIND THE REAL KILLER and NOT IN LILLY’S NAME. The news anchor mentions the possibility of a special election.

“Can they really?” she asks when her father comes into the living room, his uniform pressed and his eyes looking tired.

“I’m afraid they can,” he says. He goes outside into a haze of flashbulbs.

When he comes home, the trunk is full of boxes and Veronica watches him carry them inside. Later, she looks for them in the closet and the attic, but all she finds is an ancient-looking brown box labeled PLAYBOYS.

Her civics teacher holds a discussion on special elections. He falters when he sees her sitting in the front row.

“If you’d like to be excused, Miss Mars…” he murmurs, not quite meeting her eyes.

“No thanks,” she says sweetly. “I’d like to stay.”

She raises her hand for every question and watches him turn red whenever he has to say her name. Eventually, he stops calling on her, no matter how long and how high she holds up her hand.

Her English teacher looks surprised at the number of times she answers questions, but he calls on her every time she raises her hand. In fact, the more the boys in the back of the class snicker, the more often he picks her.

“You know, Veronica, I’ve always known you had a lot of potential as a student,” he says. “What made you decide to show it?”

“A lot of things have changed,” she says, which sounds nicer than admitting that she doesn’t have anything to lose anymore. Might as well make straight A’s if everyone is going to hate her anyway.

When she comes home, her mother’s gone. Again.

She makes a perfect score on her driving test, even though she hasn’t practiced since before Lilly died.

“I don’t remember teaching you how to parallel park,” her mother says, and Veronica smiles while she sips a celebratory ice cream shake.

“That’s because you didn’t,” she says. Teaching Veronica how to drive had been Lilly's pet project, long before Veronica had had a permit. Eventually it had been a team effort with Duncan and Logan too.

Her mom smiles back at her, guessing what had happened. "Let's not tell Dad," she says. "It'll be our secret."

"How many is that?" Veronica asks.

Her mom puts down her cheeseburger to count. "Let's see, there's that time you had the Jell-O shot, the glass of champagne you sneaked at the Echolls' Christmas party, and wasn't there something about copying math homework?"

And then suddenly Veronica is crying. Her mom says she doesn't have to go back to school this afternoon, or maybe not ever if she doesn't want to. They'll find a way for her to take her finals at home, and next year she can go someplace where she doesn't have to remember Lilly everyday, someplace where the kids won't bother her and she can go to parties and feel normal.

Veronica thinks about the vodka under the sink and how her mother's answers always involve escape. She sits up and wipes her eyes with a napkin.

"I'll drop you off at home," she says. "I still have time to make it to fifth hour."

After school she drives past the Kane house and tries to imagine that Lilly is lounging in the backyard by the pool. She pretends that she can pull into the driveway and flash her license at Mr. Kane, who will tell her congratulations, and then Lilly will try to convince her to drive to Mexico, but Veronica will refuse and they'll settle for checking out sailors at the Navy pier in San Diego.

Instead Duncan and Logan are standing on the front porch and neither of them wave at her, and she pushes the accelerator down hard. Instead of going home, she drives up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, the same route they'd taken the night of the homecoming dance. For once, Veronica doesn't think of Lilly; she just watches the asphalt vanish under her tires as the sky changes from blue to gold.

It's dark when she comes home.

"Where have you been?" her mother asks. "I've been worried sick." Her eyes are red and her words are slurred.

"I was out," Veronica says. It's not like her, but everything else is changing. Why shouldn't she?

Veronica comes home from school and her father says, "I want to talk to you."

"Okay." Veronica sits down at the kitchen table, twirling her keys in her hand. She's hasn't really put them down since she passed the test yesterday. They make her feel grown up, and carrying them reminds her that she can leave anytime, which somehow makes it easier to stay.

"The recall election is on Friday." Her father's sitting across from her at the kitchen table, and Veronica tries to decide if his eyes look red.

"I didn't know it would be that soon." She shouldn't be surprised though; they wouldn't want to give him a chance to incriminate everyone's favorite billionaire.

"Jake Kane is a powerful man," he says. "Veronica, you should know I'm not going to win."

Veronica nods. She gets it: Jake Kane made everyone rich. Jake Kane smiles and wears ugly socks and knows his secretary's name. He's powerful because he's rich, but he's dangerous because he's nice.

"I admire you," she says quietly. A lot of people wouldn't have taken on the biggest man in town. Her mother wouldn't have. Her mother's not even here right now.

Her father reaches across the table and squeezes her hand. She thinks she sees him swallow. "A lot of things are going to change around here," he says. "We'll have to sell the house. You might need to get a job."

"I can do it," Veronica says. She's not pretending to be an 09er anymore anyway.

Afterward, she makes a list of things to do. She can apply at Amy's Ice Cream and the Gap and Java the Hut, and the house will need to be packed. Starting before the election would probably hurt her father's feelings, but she can throw out all the sample sized toiletries he's been hoarding in the guest bathroom at least.

At five thirty, she pokes her head into her parents' room. "I'll make dinner tonight," she says.

She likes the way it feels when she makes her father smile.

School is falling into a routine. Now that she can drive, she only has to show up five minutes before first period. Bathroom breaks are safest during class, when there aren't too many people in the girls' room. Most of her teachers are happy to look the other way when popular kids bother her, and they're equally happy to let her out of their classroom for awhile -- less time for her to make a bullying complaint, she supposes. Meg Manning offers to eat lunch with her sometimes, but the goodwill of a single cheerleader isn't really enough to protect her from the cafeteria, so she grabs a Snickers bar from the vending machine on her way to the library. She's pretty safe in there; sleepy old Ms. Van Landingham writes up everyone who makes noise, so the 09ers' anti-Veronica campaign can't get much traction.

After school she spends an hour driving around and collecting job applications, and then she goes home and starts organizing the stray papers spread across her father's study. She knows she should feel sad about the recall election, but the truth is, she's grateful to have a project. She just wants it over with so they can move on.

On the day of the election, the eighteen-year-old seniors leave their I VOTED stickers on Veronica's locker. Some of them stick them on her jacket as she walks down the hall. There's a moment in third hour when she makes eye contact with Logan while she peels a sticker off her sleeve, and she almost says, "God, can you believe these people?" Then she remembers that Logan hates her, and she looks away fast.

While the teacher is writing on the board, one of Duncan's friends says, "Did you lose one of these?" and hands her another sticker.

"Thank you so much for voting for my dad," Veronica says. She puts it right in the middle of her t-shirt, and the guy doesn't know what to say.

After fifth period, she leaves and drives to the Sheriff's Department. She doesn't want her dad to have to pack up his office alone. He doesn’t cry when he turns in his badge and his gun, so Veronica cries for him, but she wipes her eyes before he sees it.

“Welcome to your life as a gentleman of leisure,” she says, affecting a terrible British accent, and he manages something like a smile.

Veronica had planned a day for them. Watching a fly fishing tournament on TV is going to be a sacrifice, but she can manage. For lunch, she’ll make frito chili pies and for dinner, she’ll do mac and cheese. Whether men eat ice cream when they’re depressed is unclear, but she’d bought some just in case, along with hot fudge and whipped cream. And at nine, Cliff the public defender is taking her father out for a drink or six.

“Veronica, right?” he’d said on the phone. “You want me to get your dad drunk?”

She’d twisted the phone cord around her fingers, contemplating her response. She hadn’t considered what a weird request it would be.

“You’re his only friend who doesn’t work for the Sheriff’s Department,” she said finally. “It’s either you or Uncle Mort.” She dropped her voice low and peeked around the corner to make sure her father wasn’t listening. “We don’t really like to talk about Uncle Mort.”

“I’ve heard about Uncle Mort,” Cliff had said. “I’ll stop by at nine.”

Veronica thinks it’s a pretty awesome plan, but when she comes downstairs to start the pancakes, her father is already in the kitchen wearing a boxy gray uniform.

“You look like a rent-a-cop,” she says.

“I am a rent-a-cop, honey.” He smiles ruefully. “Keeping the Mall of Neptune safe from shoplifters and...whatever else threatens it.”

Veronica frowns. “Shouldn’t you at least take a day off? Relax? Watch bass fishing tournaments and eat frito chili pies?”

Her father eyes the ingredients she’d spread out on the counter, sorted according to which meal she’ll use them for. He kisses her forehead. “Have I told you lately what an amazing daughter you are?” He sighs. “I wish I could stay at home with you, but the mortgage won’t pay itself.”

Veronica nods, thinking of the bank statements she’d filed the week before. She ought to have looked at them more closely before she put them away.

Her mom comes home at nine thirty, like she’d known exactly the right time to come in the house without having to see her dad.

“Where were you?” Veronica asks. “Dad really needed you last night.” She doesn’t add that she’d needed her mother too.

“If Dad needed us, he shouldn’t have gone after Jake Kane,” she says, tossing her keys onto the counter. Veronica catches a whiff of beer and cigarettes.

“Well, if he thought it was right --”

“He wasn’t right,” her mother says. “Jake Kane didn’t kill his daughter. He would never.”

“Dad wouldn’t have questioned Jake if he didn’t have a reason.”

“And if he would have listened to me, none of this would ever have happened.”

“What wouldn’t have happened, Mom?” Veronica is yelling now, although she didn’t mean to. “I’d still be popular? We wouldn’t have to sell the house? You wouldn’t be embarrassed? How does any of that matter when Lilly is dead?”

Her mother is deathly still. “Go to your room, Veronica.” Her voice is shaking.

“No.” Veronica clenches her fists so tightly her fingernails dig into her palms. “If you don’t want to hear the truth, you go to your room.”

She turns around to start putting away the groceries, and by the time she’s finished, her mom is gone.

Lilly would tell her to go to Shelley Pomeroy's party. She would say don't let the cunts and bitches get you down and laugh when just hearing the c-word made Veronica turn red. (It had happened once before.)

Lilly would give the finger to all the haters, and she'd expect Veronica to be fabulous right along with her.

But Lilly been dead for three weeks, and sometimes it seems like her memory is already fading from the halls.

Now Veronica has to be fabulous for both of them.

But Veronica's not Lilly. The crowds part for her, but only because no one wants to be seen standing near her. Her cheeks are flushing bright red, and it's getting hard to hold her head up when someone reaches out to offer her a drink. She swallows it fast, not caring what her father will say, and then she doesn't remember anything at all.

Is it weird to wish you remember being raped?

It's the kind of question she would have asked Lilly. A month ago, it was the kind of question she could have asked her mom. Now the only person she trusts is her father, but she'll never, ever ask him. He would kill someone, and watching her father go to prison is more than she can take.

She goes home from the Sheriff's office and doesn't talk after that. Her father wants to know where she was, and her mom says to let her have some space. They both think she's crying for Lilly.

Her father appears at her bedroom door every hour, just to make sure she's okay.

In the afternoon, she decides she might like a snack and ends up smashing plates on the white tile floor in the kitchen. Then she's on her knees, crying among the shards, and her dad pulls her head into his lap and rubs her back. He doesn't ask her anything, and she thinks it might be the kindest thing he's ever done for her.

She's going to school tomorrow, no matter how bad she feels.

Her locker says WHORE and her car says SLUT. She washes it off at lunch, but it's there again by the end of fifth period, like someone was waiting in the bushes with a can of shoe polish.

In English, she volunteers to lead a Socratic discussion on The Scarlet Letter.

She turns around and faces the class and says, "It's about a woman doing what she wanted to do, and the world punished her for it and expected her to sit down and take it."

Maybe Logan slut-coughs first, or maybe it's Dick or Madison, but soon the whole class is doing it and their teacher is shouting for them to take out their pencils because they're going to have to write an essay.

Madison Sinclair says, "I shouldn't have to write an essay because Veronica Mars is a whore!"

"Outside, now," the teacher says, leaving Veronica alone in the room with everyone else who called her a slut. It works out about as well as can be expected. Eventually she leaves and locks herself in a toilet stall, like the bathroom is some kind of magic safe haven where no one will call her a whore.

She’s been there for maybe five minutes when the door opens and a voice says, “Did you hear what Veronica Mars did at the party?”

“Like five guys, I heard.”

And so Veronica comes out of her stall, not really bothering to wipe her eyes.

“Carrie Bishop, Susan Knight,” she says. “I shouldn’t be surprised.”

As witty comebacks go, it barely rates, but it’s enough to make them shut up and stare at her with surprise. She pushes between them so she can wash her hands, and promises herself she’ll do better next time.

After school, she drives to the nearest salon and says, “Cut it all off.”

Madison organizes a special perofrmance of "The Slut Song" next to Veronica's locker. Somewhere between "she's a bitch/she's a slut/does she take it up the butt" and "she's been done before/at least two hundred times or more," all of Veronica's tears burn away. Wherever sadness used to be, anger wells up instead, so white and hot it almost chokes her.

Almost being the key word. She starts shouting every bad word that comes to mind, starting with bitch and working her way up from there. The truth is, she doesn't really even know what she's saying, except that the hallway is suddenly very quiet, and she's sure that Lilly is applauding somewhere in the afterlife. When Clemmons and a security guard come to haul her away, Madison's mouth is hanging open, Logan's eyes are filled with glee, and six people she's never seen before are clapping and shouting her name.

Her father is waiting at the kitchen table when she comes home. "Did you call Madison Sinclair a cunt-faced bitch?"

Veronica frowns. "Actually, I think it was bitch-faced cunt."

"And you did that because..."

"She is a bitch and a cunt," Veronica says, but the effect is spoiled by the incredible awkwardness of saying the c-word to her father. In retrospect, it’s possible that she’d overshot the mark with her word choice, but she’s new to this whole trash talking thing. She doesn’t have much derogatory language in her repertoire yet.

"Veronica, I do not like the sound of that word coming out of your mouth," her father says, and Veronica promptly turns red.

“Actually, I don’t think I like the sound of it either,” she admits.

“So we’re agreed this isn’t going to happen again?”

“We’re agreed that specific word isn’t going to happen again…”

Her father sighs. “I can’t pretend to be angry, Veronica. I’m glad you’re standing up for yourself. But be smart about it, okay? Did you really want to spend finals week in in-school suspension?”

The truth is, in school suspension is the best place she's been since Lilly died. Weevil Navarro, who'd always terrified her before, had given her a wink and a nod, and also his telephone number -- possibly because he think she's a whore, but hey, at least he was respectful about it. Under Coach Redmond's baleful glare, she'd finished her math final in record time. Then, when he stepped out for an extended bathroom break, she'd talked to this guy Corny, who was way too stoned to care about who she slept with or what position she likes or whatever the gossip of the day is. Frankly, she's elated to finish out the rest of the year away from the 09er crowd and more than a little pleased with her new notoreity -- not that she can say that to her dad.

"Find less offensive synonyms for the c-word. Check." She spins around her father's laptop. It's full of mugshots. "Bail jumpers, eh? Are you turning into a bounty hunter?"

“Considering that I was fired from the mall this morning, it’s a possibility.”

“Fired? Is that why I’m not in trouble for calling Madison a --”

“Don’t say it again, please, Veronica. You’re spoiling all my illusions. And yes, it’s possible that I am not accustomed to taking orders from morons.”

"So you're going to be, like, the new Han Solo?"

Her father makes a small, strangled sound. "Have I taught you nothing? Han Solo was a smuggler. Boba Fett was the bounty hunter."

"So you're going to be the Boba thing?" She looks off into the distance. “Maybe we should consider our own reality show. Deposed sheriff turned bounty hunter, daughter with an unsavory reputation…” Mother perpetually AWOL.

“You have an unsavory reputation? Do we need to talk?”

Veronica winces. She hadn’t intended to disclose that particular aspect of her school experience; it will only lead to awkward follow-up questions and her father shooting people.

“Kids, they say the darndest things,” she says, hoping to sound nonchalant. “I didn’t do anything, and it’ll blow over.”

“Veronica, I am sorry. If I had known what would happen to you when I went after Jake Kane --”

“You would've risked letting Lilly's killer go free? She was my best friend, Dad. I’m glad you stood up for her.”

She stands up and wanders to the fridge to find something to make for dinner. What she'd said to her dad was the truth: she'd do it all again if it meant getting one step closer to the man who murdered Lilly.

She emerges with a tray of ground beef and a container of ricotta cheese that only expired yesterday. “I’m making lasagna for dinner tonight,” she says, stacking more ingredients on the counter. “Please accept it as a token of my gratitude for being the only person in Neptune who hasn’t let me down.”

Logan leans casually against her locker and says, "Good morning, whore."

Veronica leans back next to him, like they’re having a friendly conversation. "I'm tired of that one,” she says. “Do you have a synonym?"

"Tramp, slut, harlot, tart.” He offers her a jagged smile. “Want me to keep going?"

"Easy, Merriam-Webster," she says. "What I really want to know is exactly when you decided to start campaigning for world’s biggest prick?”

Logan frowns in mock concentration. "Hmm...let's see, right around the time you started being a two faced bitch. You know, I thought you and Lilly were --"

"Friends. Yeah, I get it. I've heard that one before. Like you're the picture of grief. How many girls did you fuck in Tijuana again?" She slams her locker door. "Come back when you have fresh material."

She walks away before he has a chance to respond. She might be getting the hang of this.

On Friday night, her father hands her a scrap of paper with a phone number scrawled on it.

“Picking up ladies at the bar?” she asks, raising her eyebrows.

Her father rolls his eyes. “Exactly when did you get this sassy?”

Somewhere between when Lilly died and I got raped, she thinks. With a possible side of the look on Carrie and Susan’s faces when she called them out for gossipping about her in the girls’ room.

“Must be the haircut,” she says.

“Don’t think we’re not going to have a conversation about this later.” Her father shoulders his duffle bag. “This actually is pretty embarassing," he says, and Veronica's eyebrows shoot up.

"Not like that," he says hastily. "Sadie Casablancas asked me to tail her husband and find out if he's cheating. I said yes, but now I have a lead on a bail jumper in Arizona. Could you give her a call and let her know I can’t take the job?”

“Sure,” Veronica says. “But if you’re really doing this bounty-hunting husband-stalking gig, you should probably get a better filing system.”

Her father kisses her on the forehead. “Be good while I’m gone.”

“And say hi to Mom when she comes home at three?”

Her father hesitates at the door. “Are you sure you’ll be okay? I can stay.”

Veronica shakes her head. “Sorry, still learning to keep the sass under control. I’ll be fine. Go.”

She shoos him out the door with a wave of her hand. When he’s gone, she stares at Sadie Casablancas’ number for a minute before she wads it up and throws it in the trash. Her father’s camera is sitting on the coffee table. She picks it up and puts it in her bag. There’s a job to be done.