Someone Lost, Something Gained



Veda finishes scrubbing the last dish, rinsing the soapy water away and setting the casserole dish in the draining tub. She’s spent the better part of the afternoon walking around the borough, avoiding thinking about the plans for tomorrow, but now it’s all that occupies her mind. What could she possibly have been thinking to agree with him coming over?

She should have insisted on going to a Starbucks or any of the crappy diners that can be found anywhere in the city. There is an abundance of crappy diners and Starbucks and she still said yes to Niall coming here. Where memories and emptiness reside. What a stupid decision.

Sighing, Veda dries her hands on a dishtowel. It’s too late to change her mind. He’s at home sleeping off his long shift, and... he was so kind. He had every right to turn her away, to keep walking right past her as she sat on that bench outside the hospital. But he didn’t. He stopped, he accepted the invitation, and he asked after her well-being. It would be cruelty of the highest order to repay that kindness by being rude.

Veda makes her way through the house to the living room, turning the kitchen light off as she goes. Quiet presses down on her from all sides; it should be terrifying to be so alone again, but having Hattie around for even a short time helped. Veda isn’t so much at risk of falling apart now. The pain is still there - it always will be - but it’s less suffocating, more a part of her.

She turns the television on, changing the station to the one that plays all of Granddad’s favourite shows, and settles in on the couch. She already misses the quilt that used to lie across the back of the sofa. She spent so many nights curled up under that quilt, drinking coffee and watching old westerns with Granddad, but giving it to Hattie was the right thing to do. It’s what Mom-Mom wanted.

After making a quick trip up to her bedroom to drag the comforter off her bed, Veda fluffs up a throw pillow and wraps herself in the blanket before flopping face-first onto the couch. She wiggles around until she’s comfortable then stares blankly at the television while The Rifleman plays.

Her thoughts drift from Lucas and Mark McCain, and she frowns when she remembers that it’s been four days since the rest of her family found out about Granddad’s passing yet Olivia still hasn’t called. Veda had to deal with Phil, Debbie, Connor, and the cousins, but her mother doesn’t care enough to make her continued existence known. As unsurprising as it is - and it’s truly the least shocking thing in Veda’s recent life - she can’t help but be so goddamn angry that Olivia is so self-absorbed that she can’t at least pretend to be upset.

“Fuck her,” Veda mutters to herself, tugging the blankets more tightly around her.

She falls asleep in the middle of a late-night infomercial about some blender supposedly not found in stores. When she wakes, the sun has barely crested over the tops of the homes around her, but her neighbours are already awake, moving around and shouting to each other about the weather and recipes and what the grandchildren are up to.

Veda huffs out a quiet laugh when a stream of cursing comes from across the street, the Italian as familiar to her as the English she speaks. She sits up, shuts off the television, and wonders what has Nonna Costa’s britches in a bunch this early. Probably Antonio staying out all night partying with his friends instead of being a respectable young gentleman.

Veda thanks the heavens that she bought Granddad an automatic coffeemaker for Christmas as she shuffles into the kitchen. The aroma of coffee has been her morning wake-up since she was a little girl, and she will never find anything that’s so comforting. She pours herself a cup and makes her way to the front door, stepping out into the chilly morning, still wrapped tightly in her blanket-burrito.

Nonna’s ranting cuts off, and the woman smiles brightly. “Oh, good morning, Miss Veda.”

“Morning, Nonna. Antonio just coming home again?”

“I wish it was him, I expect it of him! No, it is Aida this time.”

“Sweet Aida? That’s not like her.”

“Indeed. How are you doing, piccolina?”

“I’m okay, I think. It’s... taking some time to getting used to being alone again.”

Even with the distance, Veda can see the way Nonna’s eyes glimmer with tears. The older woman places her hand over her heart, but whatever she’s about to say is cut off by her front door swinging open. Antonio bounds down the stairs, presses a kiss to his grandmother’s cheek, then jogs to his truck. He waves at Veda before he’s gone.

She moves to sit on the top step, staring out over her street as she sips at her coffee. Mister Nadir comes out long enough to get the paper, and old Mister Thompson plants himself in his rocking chair where he’ll remain all day. Miss Sylvia - Miss, not Mrs - walks by, her tiny chihuahua trotting obediently at her side. The Marion kids spill from their house, down to the pavement, and Veda watches as Louisa and Jamie swing a skipping rope as their brothers and sister jump in unison.

Life goes on, even after death, and Veda never thought she’d be grateful for that.

She is on her fifth cup of coffee by the time the street goes quiet. Nelly Marion screeches when she trips over the skipping rope, suddenly lying motionless against the concrete, but then even she falls silent. Veda follows everyone’s gazes to the end of the block, swallowing thickly at the figure that’s making their way down the pavement.

Niall shifts awkwardly when he comes to a stop at the base of her stoop. “Hi.”

“I thought we said nine,” she jokes and gestures to the sky. “Looks closer to eight to me.”

“I, uh, hope you don’t mind that I kinda had to bring someone with me,” he replies, holding up the end of the leash, and David Barkie lets out a soft yip.

“I only mind if you don’t let me snuggle that cutie. C’mon in.”

Niall and his dog follow Veda into the house, and she shuts the door on the inquisitive looks being sent her way. He stands awkwardly, fidgets with the leash, when she turns to face him again. Now that he’s here, her nervousness is back in full-force. What the Hell could she offer him with her company? She should have said no. She should never have gone to the hospital.

Too late for that, her brain whispers, and she sighs, waving a hand toward the couch. The comforter gets caught under her feet as she makes her way over, but she manages to sit down without obtaining any injuries. Niall crouches down to unhook the leash from David Barkie’s collar before scooping the puggle up and setting him on Veda’s lap.

“Oh, shit, I didn’t offer you anything to drink,” she realises belatedly, pulling her head back out of reach of the puggle trying to exuberantly lick her face, but Niall waves it off.

“I think I’m capable of making my own coffee, Ve-Veda.” He stares down the short hallway to the kitchen. “Though you might need to tell me where everything is.”

Veda laughs, cradles David Barkie to her chest, and follows Niall to the other room. He listens to her directions carefully, even when her tone is a bit sharper than necessary when he reaches for the large black mug with a chip in the rim. She doesn’t know how to explain that it was Granddad’s, that she is far too attached to the sentimentality of it, so she doesn’t. She just points to the tin of sugar on the counter by the fridge and makes her way back to the living room.

Niall drops onto the other end of the sofa a moment later, sighing heavily as he situates to get more comfortable. “So. We’ve got that coffee. Does this mean we can now talk about why you’ve shown up at my work twice?”

Veda exhales slowly, staring down at the dog curled up on her thighs, and focuses on the softness of his ears between her fingertips. Niall doesn’t break the tense silence that threatens to suffocate them, he lets her gather her thoughts without pressure or rush. She knows she can’t drag it out too long or the words will choke her, so she closes her eyes and opens her mouth.

“Granddad died. Last week. Uh, the night I came home, actually. And I knew it was coming, y’know? Hard not to know when I’ve been the one caring for him,” she bites out on a ragged laugh, blinking to clear her eyes of the tears, “but it’s still really fucking hard.”

Niall moves more quickly than she anticipates; he sets his cup of coffee on the table and wraps his arms around her shoulders. There is no hesitation, no demands, in his touch, so Veda lets him pull her into his side. This should be mortifying, this should make her want to run far away, but she allows herself to cry as he holds her.

“I swear, I didn’t agree to you comin’ ‘round today just so you can see this,” she croaks, pointing to her tear-stained cheeks.

“Oh, hush. You never have to apologise for showing emotions. This is… it’s a really fucking unfair time for you right now.” He pushes a lock of hair from her face, frowning. “Have you been alone since?”

“Kinda? My cousin, the only one I can stand, came over the other day, but yeah.”

“No one else has helped you handle everything? Make arrangements? Nothing?”

Veda snorts derisively and scratches lightly at David Barkie’s ear. “Even if they offered, I certainly wouldn’t accept.” At his confused expression, she sighs and shrugs. “My family is not good people. No one except Hattie.”

“Not even your mum?”

“Not everyone is the fucking Cleavers,” she snaps then grimaces - it isn’t his fault her relatives are so messed up.

He only nods and tightens his grip on her, a solid steadiness that she clings almost desperately to. “Well, I can’t promise I can be much help, but I’m here for you. Even if you just need to call and scream and cry. As I said, I’m a really good listener.”

She listens to his breathing, a rhythmic cadence the soothes her, one she finds herself subconsciously trying to match. Veda knows she should pull away. She knows this can’t last. But she stays where she is cuddled into his side, soaking up the comfort he offers while his dog tries to shove himself between them.

“I don’t want to be alone,” she whispers after minutes have passed; her voice is broken, cracked and harsh. “I haven’t been alone like this in so long, and I…”

Niall presses his lips to her hair, and she hates how much she craves more of the affection he offers. His hand is gentle as it runs along her arm.

“You don’t ever have to be alone.”

God, she wishes she could believe him.