Someone Lost, Something Gained



Veda frowns when Niall pushes himself to his feet and heads to the kitchen. She hadn’t noticed he finished off his coffee. The tap runs, then there’s the sound of porcelain against stainless steel. He comes back into the room, lips quirking into a smile.

“How do you feel about going for a walk? I’m sure David Barkie would appreciate it.”

“This is just your way of trying to get me out of the house, isn’t it.”

He opens his mouth then closes it with a snap. “Is that okay?”

“Yeah, I suppose. Uh, wait here so I can change.”

She turns and hurries up the stairs. She can’t quite place what she feels about this. All Veda knows is this morning has been both harder and easier. Harder, because she’s let herself admit just how terrified she is to be alone, but easier because she… isn’t alone. There’s a certain edge of fear that comes with that fact - what is she going to do when Niall inevitably walks away, and she’s left on her own after leeching comfort and company from him?

Shut up. She shakes her head to clear the thoughts and strips off her top as soon as she steps into her bedroom. It doesn’t take long to grab a pair of leggings and an oversized hoodie, pulling them on as she rummages through her drawers for a pair of socks. Grabbing her trainers from the rack by the door, Veda heads down to Granddad’s room.

His favourite beat-up ball cap still hangs on the hook just inside the door. She avoids looking at the empty bed as she stuffs the cap onto her head. A shiver runs down her spine, and she slowly turns to look - finally look - at the room left behind. The air grows thin, leaving her gasping for breath, and she stumbles backwards out of the room. Her hand trembles as she yanks the door shut.

It takes a moment for her breathing to even out, but then she is able to walk without the risk of collapsing. Her heart beats out a painful rhythm in her chest, each thump-thump-thump pushing pain throughout her being. Veda draws in a steadying breath then heads for the staircase.

Niall gives her an assessing look once she stops on the bottom step. Her breath hitches in her throat when he nears, gaze tracking his hand as it rises. His fingers brush against her temple, and she closes her eyes at the gentleness as he pushes a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Perfect. Ready?”

“Lead the way,” she whispers, and his smile lights up the room, dispels the darkness that comes from within her.

He waits while she locks the door behind them, and she waves awkwardly at Mister Nadir as they pass. Her neighbour gives her a succinct nod then goes back to keeping an eye over the block. Conversations fade out when the inhabitants of the street watch the pair make their way to the corner, but nobody says anything to Veda.

As she walks side-by-side with Niall, Veda lets herself get lost in her thoughts. The pain of losing Granddad has receded enough that she can breathe, she can feel the warmth of the sun and the slight bite to the air, she can find the music in the birdsongs that come from all around. She knows without a doubt that the hole in her heart will never heal, not fully, but... she thinks she might be okay.

Veda shoves her hands into her hoodie pocket, watches as David Barkie sniffs at yet another tree. Niall whistles sharply every time the puggle tries to go toward the street, and every time, Veda jolts in surprise at the shrill noise coming from her left. After the sixth time, he notices her reaction, huffs out a laugh.

“Sorry. We’re still working on his recall, and I’m used to walking him out of the city.”

“You don’t live in city limits?”

Niall shrugs, adjusting his grip on the leash so David Barkie has no choice but to stop as they near the corner of the block. “I do, but we have a fence around our garden. So he can run around without a leash.”

“Where do you take him for walks, then? I mean, when you walk him instead of letting him out the back door?”

“There’s some land about an hour away that we go to.”

Veda nods slowly, chewing on her lower lip. His continued usage of “we” is confusing; does he mean his roommates? Or does he have a girlfriend he’s neglecting just to make Veda feel better? Her heart skips, breath catches in her throat, at the thought. She has just opened her mouth to ask when she catches him staring at her from the corner of his eye.

“You could come with us someday. If you want to. The lads won’t mind having you tag along.”

“I’ll, uh, I’ll think about it,” she promises after a moment of speechlessness.

His answering smile is brighter and warmer than the sun overhead. Veda turns her face to watch where she’s going instead of focusing on him. David Barkie trots ahead of them on the way back to the house, barking once at a pigeon that lands in front of him. The bird ruffles its feathers and flies away with an indignant squawk.

Veda makes it halfway up the steps of her stoop before she realises he isn’t following. When she turns to look back at him, her head cocks on instinct. He is frowning down at his feet while he shifts the leash between his hands. She clears her throat quietly.


“Hm? Oh. I, er, I should probably go home.”

“Oh. Of- of course.”

“It’s just that I was meant to do some cleaning today. I’d much rather hang out with you, but… my mates might have a problem with me not doing my part ‘round the house. But Ve-Veda?” His lips quirk when she smiles, albeit reluctantly, at the nickname. “Promise me that you’ll call or text me if you need anything.”

There is no hesitation on her part. She nods and promises. He grins, eyes lighting up, then whistles for David Barkie. The dog whines and tries to go up the steps but then follows his human obediently, and Veda watches them go. Her heart isn’t so heavy, her world isn’t spinning off its axis. Even knowing she’s going back into an empty house doesn’t scare her as much as it did before.

She gathers up a pen and some paper, sitting at the kitchen table to write thank-you notes. Once the notes are done and folded, she tapes one to the inside of each dish that held the meals that have kept her fed over the last week. The ghosts of memories still clinging to the house no longer send chills down her spine. They’ve become familiar, almost… comforting.

She lost Granddad, but she will never lose the love he gave her. And that has to be enough.

Veda carefully stacks the dishes into a wide-bottomed laundry basket and carries it out onto the porch. She doesn’t have to say a word - Nonna Costa immediately starts rounding up the neighbours to come get their cookware. Veda smiles but steps back inside before anyone can say anything to her.

She doesn’t need their condolences.

To: Niall
< Thank you for coming over today. I really appreciate it.

From: Niall
> It was no problem. I’m glad you let me be there for you
> This is Veda , right?

To: Niall
< No, it’s some other chick you met on a flight to NY then sat with while she cried her eyes out in front of you like an idiot.

From: Niall
> Not an idiot
> Just someone who needed a shoulder like every other human
> We aren’t meant to be solitary creatures, Ve-Veda. We need a village.
> And Veda?
> Thanks for letting me be part of your village.