Someone Lost, Something Gained


trigger warning: there's a scene of violence (nothing gory) in the latter half of this chapter.


From: Niall
> David Barkie and I hope you have a good day at work today . No more getting into trouble !!!

To: Niall
< But “Trouble” is my middle name
< Now go get some sleep!

Veda bites back a smile as she closes out of the message thread. The text, and accompanying selfie of Niall cuddling with his pup, is sufficient enough in making her morning that much brighter. She isn’t looking forward to doing all the filing today, but she dreads it a little less. Glancing at the clock, she pulls up the messages again and stares at the photograph.

“Your boyfriend is cute.”

Veda startles, turns her head to the right so fast that her neck cricks. “Uh, what?”

“Your boyfriend,” the old woman repeats, nodding at the picture. “He’s a cutie.”

“Oh, um, thanks?”

“I wish we’d had that technology back when my Brucie and I were young and first in love. It would’ve been wonderful.”

“Ye-yeah, technology can be amazing.”

Thankfully, Veda’s stop arrives, and she hurries out of the carriage. The fact that a stranger initiated conversation isn’t really that uncommon, but Veda is surprised at herself for not correcting the other woman. She’s never been one to allow misinformation about herself - after-effects of two decades of her mother’s presence - so Veda doesn’t understand why it isn’t such a big deal that the woman’s mistaken assumption doesn’t bother her.

Get a grip, she scolds herself as she falls in line with the other pedestrians on the pavement. It’s just because you know you’ll never see her again, so what does it matter? Veda shakes her head and forces her mind to wander, to slip into autopilot mode for the last two blocks of her trek to work. Thinking about this isn’t going to make anything clearer, and she can’t exactly let herself get distracted right now.

To: Ellie
< Clerical work? Not what it’s cracked up to be. I hope your honeymoon is an amazing start to a wonderful life.

She isn’t surprised when Ellie doesn’t reply. As far as Veda is aware, Chris and Ellie aren’t due to get back from their honeymoon for another three days, and she isn’t going to demand that her best friend cut her vacation short just to send a text in response. So Veda sets her phone next to her lunch tray and stabs idly at a piece of lettuce.

Since she’s in a separate department than her coworkers today, none of the ones she works with regularly have same lunch, and it’s only proved to be massively boring without Pauline’s stories about her “monsters” or Lyle claiming he’s in love for the seventh time this week. Veda almost regrets calling Belinda Cortes - if only because it means she’s eating a pitiful salad alone while the other office staff chatters on at the next table over.

To: Niall
< I know you’re probably asleep but omg I’m bored and seriously thiiiiiiiis close to shooting myself in the foot because omg

As she predicted, Niall doesn’t respond. The notice doesn’t even switch to Read at any point during the next five minutes. So she locks her phone, tucks it into her pocket, and dumps the scraps of her meal into the bin. Four hours down, and now, all Veda can hope for is the next five to fly by.

And maybe a stiff drink as soon as she gets home.

Thankfully, Clarissa’s anger is gone by the end of the week, and Veda is back on the floor, taking down insurance information and joking with her coworkers. She’s learnt her lesson, though: If she’s going to stick her nose in other people’s business, she plans on being far sneakier than she was with the Cortes family. Ellie and Chris are finally back in Stanford, and Veda has a video chat planned for Saturday night with her best friend. Hopefully, living vicariously through Ellie will help ease some of the aching loneliness that has made a home in Veda’s heart.

Niall wasn’t kidding when he said he had loads of photos of David Barkie, as Veda finds out. Every morning, there’s a new selfie with the dog waiting in her inbox, and another in the evening. Their text conversations are sporadic at best, given their differing work schedules, but when they happen, they last for hours. Veda figures out that Niall wakes up around four when he works overnights, which gives her three hours before his shift starts to get home, eat, and talk to the friend she made during the worst period of her life.

Too often, however, she finds herself calling out for Granddad, desperate to tell him all about Niall - how kind and caring and funny he is, how much he’s done to help Veda get through this nightmarish time. Each time it happens, she nearly shattered apart again; she knows Granddad would have loved Niall, but the fact remains he isn’t here to say so. He left her behind, and his death forced her to figure out she is without him.

Veda is lost with Granddad gone. The pain rocks through her at the most inopportune times, crashing over her as a tidal wave when she’s trying to fall asleep, the thin slice of a knife’s edge as she stands at the counter and makes her morning coffee... She will never be completely whole again, she knows she has to accept that. It’s hard, when she is curled up in the corner of her room and can’t breathe through the sobs, to come to terms with the fact that Percy Mitchell will never again walk in her life.

And try as she might, Veda can’t stop herself from reaching out to Niall - for comfort? assurance? something - when the darkness encroaches on her world. When the cold blackness seeps onto everything she is and will be, she turns to Niall, and he saves her. He may not know it, but Veda is damn sure she would have given up the day Granddad’s ashes came home if it wasn’t for Niall.

That thought should terrify her. Relying on anyone else besides Granddad has never been imprinted in her genetic code. In fact, it’s always been the complete opposite. Never trust or need another person, because they only ever let you down. Yet here she is, craving any sort of connection with someone who’s still little more than a stranger. They’ve only known each other for less than a month, and already she’s grown accustomed to his presence in her life.

This may end so poorly, but Veda just… doesn’t - can’t - care about that now. Not yet.


Setting her thermos on the small table, Veda ducks down to pull her beat-up trainers onto her feet. The last two weeks have been hectic, between work and her halfhearted attempts to sort through Granddad’s belongings. This is the first day that she’s willingly given herself to feel no guilt, to be as selfish as she wants. The first thing on her agenda for today is a walk around the borough to the morning’s cool air before the heat and humidity become too much.

Veda grabs the keys off the hook and tucks her phone safely into the pocket of her jeans. The block is waking, neighbours coming from inside as she steps out onto her stoop. She waves awkwardly at Nonna Costa and turns to lock the door behind her. The sound of a car door shutting echoes over the street, but it isn’t unusual - not with Antonio, and now Aida, making a routine of coming home in the early hours of the morning. Veda waits until she hears the click of the lock settling into place before she steps back, carefully closes the screen door.

“So I see you still exist then.”

Veda’s head snaps upwards, and she just barely manages to not instantly spin on her heels. Of course her luck would run out now, just when she was starting to feel like she could breathe properly again. As it is, Veda forces herself to draw in a deep breath and swallow a mouthful of coffee. Then, and only then, does she slowly turn to face her mother.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to get what’s mine.”

“You have nothing here, Olivia. You need to leave.”

Olivia frowns but, wisely, doesn’t come any closer. “You can’t make me leave, Veda. I damn well deserve something. He was my father, after all.”

“Then where the fuck were you?”

“Excuse me?”

“You weren’t here.” Veda shakes her head, hands trembling hard enough that she has to put her thermos down or risk spilling coffee everywhere. “You weren’t here, just like your siblings. You weren’t doing anything for him. I was. I sacrificed everything. It’s been three weeks, Olivia. Three weeks. And you never called, never came to see him when he was alive. Hell, you couldn’t even send an email to him.”

“What the Hell do you want from me, Veda?”

“Nothing. Just like my entire life. I want nothing from you except for you to get off my property.”

“It isn’t -”

“Granddad died. He left everything to me. Because no one else cared enough. You alone did nothing but sleep with every Tom, Dick, and Harry across the country while your father died.” Veda clenches her hands into fists, steps back when Olivia makes to climb the stairs. “You weren’t there for him, and I’ll be damned if you stand here and act like some perfect golden child when you’ve been nothing but a disgrace. You’re lower than dirt, standing here in front of your daughter and demanding things you’ve no right to. I want you gone. Now.”

“You don’t get to speak to me like that,” her mother hisses, and Veda ignores the long, sharp fingernail that presses into the tip of her nose. “I gave you life, young lady.”

“No, you brought me into this world -”

“I did, and I can take you out of it just as easily.”

“- but you didn’t do a damn thing to make my life easier.”

Even though Veda has known Olivia for twenty-five years, even she could never have predicted her mother shoving her backwards. The shrill screeching that comes from Olivia drowns out every other sound, including Veda’s own thoughts. Her arms raise to protect herself, but Olivia still manages to claw at her face, smacking her even as she continues to push her daughter against the frame of the screen door. Veda can’t understand most of what Olivia is screaming, but she definitely catches the words “ungrateful” and “shameful”.

“I didn’t raise you to be like this!”

Veda growls low in her throat and shifts all of her weight forward, arms striking out and knocking Olivia off-balance. A tendril of sick pleasure blazes through Veda as her mother tumbles down the steps, sprawls across the pavement. The neighbours have all frozen - no one dares move or make a sound, as if they’re afraid of Olivia. Of making things worse for Veda. They don’t know how little chance there is of that.

Veda stares down at Olivia, slowly descends the stairs even as Olivia clambers to her feet. There is nothing in her heart any longer. All that’s left is an emptiness. No fear, no anger, no contempt. Nothing towards the woman who gave birth to her. Her skin crawls and prickles, warmth slipping down her cheek. She raises a hand and wipes the blood away. Tires squeal as a car comes to a stop, pulling into an empty space across the street.

“Leave. There is nothing here for you. I never want to see you again, do you understand me? I will call the cops if you ever come back.”


She doesn’t look away from Olivia, doesn’t show any relief at Niall’s appearance while she waits for her mother to make a choice. The right choice. His hands are gentle when he tugs at her arm, trying to lift it so he can examine the wounds left by Olivia’s nails. Olivia’s face twists up, nostrils flaring as she glares at Veda. But she stays quiet. Adjusting her top, she pivots abruptly and storms down the pavement to the SUV that most likely belongs to Husband Number Six.

“This isn’t the end of this, Veda, hear me? I’ll get what I’m owed, even if I gotta fight for it in court.”

“You’re owed nothing, you shit-stain!” Veda shouts just before Olivia slams the car door closes.

The vehicle peels away, rubber screaming against asphalt, then silence. Veda waits until it’s disappeared from view before slumping, shaking all over and nearly vomiting. Niall runs tender fingers along her skull, her arms, her face, and Veda allows him. The poor man looks like he’s about to vibrate right out of his skin from worrying, and who is she to deny him the reassurance that she’s fine?

“C’mon,” she mutters quietly, remembering suddenly that they’re not alone - they have an audience made up of her neighbours and his friends. Veda avoids meeting Nonna Costa’s horrified gaze as she leads the silent group of men into the house.