Someone Lost, Something Gained



The silence in the room is only broken by the occasional hiccup and sniffle, and Veda hates that she’s so weak, so vulnerable right now. It seems like her entire friendship with Niall predicates on the upheaval in her life. She went to his work twice because she was broken apart. He witnessed Olivia attacking her on the stoop. He cleaned her wounds and told her she was strong. He was kind.

And she’s a damn mess.

Veda pulls away and wipes at her cheeks with the sleeve of her hoodie, drawing in breath after breath to steady herself. She’s just turned back to Niall to - what? Thank him? To tell him to run far away before she could ruin his life? She isn’t sure, she will never know, because he lets out a strangled noise before she can even open her mouth.

“I lied. That’s my favourite.”

Veda follows his gaze, groans when she sees exactly which picture he’s staring at. “No. You’re not allowed to like that one.”

“You were arrested?” he laughs, but the amusement on his face isn’t unkind.

“Yeah, I was.” Sighing, she scrubs her sleeve over her cheeks once more and goes on to explain, “Some friends and I were bored as Hell, as most sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds are prone to be, so we decided to jump the fence to the public pool and go swimming in the middle of the night. Cops showed up an hour later, busted us. Woulda only gotten a warning, no parents called and no questions asked, but Carter started throwing up all the liquor he’d drank before we went. We all had to do the breathalyser thing, and since we were all underage and drunk, we got hauled in.”

“Oooh, I’m friends with a criminal. How did your granddad react?”

Veda smiles and shakes her head. “He made this big show of being pissed off while he was picking me up from the station, but I swear he had to pull over seven times on the drive home because he couldn’t stop laughing. His friend on the force sent him the mugshot a coupl’a days later, and it’s been there ever since.”

Niall gives her a soft smile, a tender smile, one that says something she can’t understand. But she doesn’t question it. She just lets the memory of that night replay in her mind.

The cell was cold, illuminated with the sickly fluorescent lights overhead, and Veda’s knee bounced as she waited. Officer after officer milled past, but none of them spoke to the group of teenagers sat in the holding cell. They at least showed enough generosity to not stick the five teens in the drunk tank with angry, still-intoxicated adults.

“All right, guys, I need your parents’ names and numbers.”

As Carter, Nya, Denny, and Mike rattled off the requested information, Veda froze up. Her mind cleared almost instantly, and she could puke with something other than inebriation when she realised… Granddad’s number was the only one she knew off-hand. He was going to be so disappointed, so angry. After all the lessons he’d taught her through the years - his hopes and dreams for her future, one in which she wasn’t like Olivia - and here she was, in a cell of the nearest precinct, because she’d gotten drunk and trespassed.

Veda gave the officer the number then curled into herself, hiding away in the corner of the cell. As if making herself appear smaller could prevent the inevitable.

Niall rubs a hand along her back as she comes back to the present, and she swallows back the residual panic that lingers with the memories. Inhaling steadily, she pushes to her feet and crosses the room. Tops on the left, bottoms on the right. The way Granddad’s closet has been for as long as she can remember. As she stares at the clothes hanging neatly, her mind automatically starts organising them, her hands following suit.

It isn’t as painful as she expected, to be sorting all of his clothes into piles of keep and donate. Granddad had allowed her to do this often enough, it feels like second-nature right now. Niall leaves long enough to grab boxes from the room across the landing. Without any overnight guests, the spare room has gone unused for so long, it’s become little more than storage. Mostly because Veda doesn’t enjoy going up and down the stairs to the attic; she barely likes going up to her room at night.

When he comes back, he immediately begins folding the donate pile, setting each shirt and pair of trousers into the boxes with care. His movements are gentle, as if he’s afraid of disturbing Granddad’s spirit by being careless. Veda watches him for a moment then turns back to the closet. Her chest tightens, and she wonders why she couldn’t have met him before her world became a living Hell. Maybe then she could have had the chance, the ability, to give him what he deserves.

A shadow catches her attention from the corner of her eye. She whirls to see -

David Barkie, sniffing at a box in the back. Veda slumps, though the hair on her arms prickles. She’s certain it wasn’t a puggle that she saw, but it would be ludicrous to believe it was her grandfather’s ghost. Ghosts aren’t real, she scolds herself, not quite believing her own words. Instead of focusing on the shiver running down her spine, she concentrates on picking DB up off the floor, moving him back to the bed, and dragging the box out from under the pile of blankets.

Lifting the lid exposes a massive amount of videotapes, all labelled with Granddad’s tidy handwriting. The dates span all the way back to her childhood, the earliest one stamped three days after her birth. She frowns then holds up a cassette.

“Hey, Niall, change of plans?”

He readily agrees, sets the oversized sweater down on the bed, and reaches for the box. Veda grabs David Barkie and carries him downstairs, the thump of footsteps on the staircase simultaneously familiar and not. The tapes rattle in the box with each step. Something in her gut warns her that this is a path best left untraveled, but she want to know - she needs to know what Granddad thought was important enough to record over the last twenty-five years.

Niall sets the box on the coffee-table as Veda beelines for the VCR player that sits under the entertainment stand. She has to repeatedly push David Barkie out of her way, but she eventually manages to hook the correct wires to th correct ports and steps back. Never before in her life did she ever think she’d be so grateful to such ancient technology, but as she watches the screen fill with static then clear up, she says a silent thanks to Granddad for not selling the machine.

The image grows less distorted, and Veda gasps as a much-younger Granddad appears on the screen. Without looking, she stumbles back until her legs hit the sofa. Niall’s gentle hands help her to sit. She absentmindedly pats his knee, though her gaze doesn’t stray from where her grandfather is cooing down at an infant in his arms.

“Hey, beautiful little one. Oh, you’re my Percy girl, aren’t you?”

“Oh, my god, that’s me,” Veda breathes out. “Good fucking god, I was ugly as hell.”

Niall pauses the tape, frowning at her.”You’ve never seen yourself as a baby?”

“There’s a reason he took so many pictures himself. Olivia never did.” Veda sighs and shrugs. She knows she should feel something, but she’s grown far too accustomed to her womb-donor’s selfishness. “I doubt she even remembers when my birthday is. Sentimentality? Not her thing.”

Before Niall can say anything else, Veda plucks the remote from his hand, pressing the play button, and listens as her granddad promises to love her for the rest of her life, to always protect her and keep her safe. It isn’t a particularly long tape, twenty minutes of taped history, and Niall puts in the next one. This one holds record of Veda’s first steps, her first time swimming as a toddler, and her second birthday.

Veda and Niall continue watching the tapes as hours slip past. Seeing Mom-Mom in a few of them reminds Veda of how little she actually knows her grandmother. Maude Mitchell passed away when Veda was only ten; she never got to see the mess her family became. Or at least, how much worse they’ve gotten since before she died.

Most of the cassettes revolves around events in her life; her cousins and aunt and uncles are conspicuously missing from a majority of them. Only one focuses on Hattie - her seventh birthday. Veda laughs at how awkward her cousin looks sat at a table while waiting to blow out the candles. Then Phil’s voice comes from behind the camera.

“I need this money, Dad. I have bills to pay.”

“I don’t have any on me, Phil, you’ll have to wait until I can get to the bank on Monday. Can we not do this right now? Please?”

“Jesus Christ, Dad,” Debbie snaps from across the table, her fingers clenching tightly to her daughter’s shoulder. “Just give him the fucking money so he can pay his dealer. Maybe this time the overdose will stick.”

The view wobbles, Hattie’s face vibrating on the screen - but there is no denying the tears pouring down her face as the camera falls to the floor. The video stills with her face halfway out of focus, and Veda stares at the frozen image. A seven-year-old child whose birthday party was just ruined by the people meant to love her.

It was bad enough that Mom-Mom’s funeral was only a month prior to Hattie turning seven, but to witness her uncle berating and shoving her grandfather on what was supposed to be a happy occasion? The poor girl should have been scarred from it. Or maybe she is, and Veda just never noticed.

Again, Niall pauses the tape, and his stare is heavy on the side of Veda’s face. She doesn’t have to look at him to know he isn’t judging her, though. She blows out a slow breath and nods succinctly.

“That explains that, I suppose.”

“What do you mean?”

“I never knew why Granddad’s relationship with my aunt and uncles deteriorated so much. I mean, I could guess it’s because they’re fucking awful people, but he refused to tell me the real reason. Didn’t wanna stir up trouble that was best left forgotten, he’d say. I just wish he’d told me,” she sighed.

She could have done so many things differently had she known.

“Maybe he kept it to himself because he was ashamed.”


Niall shifts uncomfortably next to her and stares down at his hands as he says, “Well, if they’ve been like that this entire time, and if they’re anything like your mum -“


“Oh. Right. Olivia. Anyway, if they’re anything like that still and what I’ve seen of Olivia so far, maybe he was ashamed of how they turned out. He might have seen it as evidence that he failed.”

“You mean a ‘I raised these humans, and they act like selfish inconsiderate, greedy assholes. So what does that mean for my parenting?’ kinda thing?” She cocks her head, folds her fingers together. “You’re perceptive. I never would’ve thought of that on my own.”

His cheeks flush a brilliant pink, and he ducks his head to hide his blushing. “Working with kids who are going to, well, you know... It tends to lend some experience with different perspectives.”

Veda laughs quietly, nudging him with her toes. “Where have you been my whole life?”

“Well, in Ireland, mostly,” he responds cheekily, without hesitation, then his grin softens to something that causes an ache to fill her chest. “But I’m, I’m here now.”