Someone Lost, Something Gained



The door closes with a quiet click that seems too loud in the house. Veda ignores the silence, so deafening now that she’s alone again. Humming to herself, she kicks her shoes to the side and digs through her bag, dropping it to the floor once she’s retrieved her phone from the depths.

Five, six rings, then Ellie’s voice fills the line. She is breathless, exuberant in her greeting, and Veda laughs as she ambles toward the kitchen.

“Lemme guess, you lost your phone again.”

“Shut up, Veda. As if you never lost yours before.”

“Irrelevant. Hi, I miss you.”

Ellie sighs. “I miss you, too. If it wouldn’t have been weird, I would have invited you on my honeymoon.”

“I think your new husband mighta had a problem with that.”

“He would’ve gotten over it. Anyway! I feel like it’s been ages since I heard your voice. Feed me information, woman.”

Veda giggles but obeys her best friend’s command. She sets about making a cup of tea as she tells Ellie about Aida’s newfound habit of sneaking out at night, about the Marion kids, little Carlos losing his first tooth. It feels unnatural, almost, to be discussing these things as if she was proud of them - but she is.

She loves the neighbourhood kids like they were family.

In a way, they might as well be. Veda has watched Aida grow from an infant to a seventeen-year-old young woman exploring her boundaries. Veda was here when Hector Riviera went back to Mexico to care for his parents. When Jack and Ellen Marion brought Louisa, then Jamie, then Nelly home from the hospital. When Miss Sylvia fell down her ice-covered stoop three winters ago and was told she would never walk again. When old Mister Thompson came barrelling down the block as quickly as a ninety-year-old man could move, crowing about his newest great-grandchild, pictures in hand.

Veda has been around for events in their lives, big and small, and they’ve done the same for her.

Ellie reacts just as expected when Veda recounts the standoff the morning her family showed up.

“I’m sad you didn’t record it,” Ellie cackles, and Veda rolls her eyes with a smile. “I’ve always loved watching you go off on them.”

“It’s because you thrive on upsetting the status quo.”

“True, true. So you’ve talked about everyone else. Now tell me how you are doing.”

Veda sighs and grabs the milk from the fridge, nudging the door closed with her hip. “I’m… fine. It’s awkward, but I’m finally adjusting. I, uh, I found some old home videos in Granddad’s room, so Niall and I spent all day watching them which -”

“Uh, excuse me? Who the Hell is Niall, and why have I not heard that name before?”

“Oh. Niall is, uh, he’s a guy I met on the flight back home. He kept me distracted by not shutting up all the way from LAX, and now we’re kinda friends. He’s got the cutest dog ever, too, and -”

“And you’re a sucker for cute dogs.” Ellie blows out a breath; Veda can almost see the way her best friend cards her fingers through her hair in frustration. “Okay, well, I want a picture of both of ‘em. Gotta know who’s in my babe’s life.”

“You do realise I’m a grown adult who can take care of herself, right?” Veda asks even as she puts the call on speaker and brings up the message thread with Niall.

Ellie continues on as if Veda never interrupted her, “Secondly, Veda, are you sure it’s wise to be getting so close to someone new right now? I mean, I’m so glad you’re opening up instead of shutting down, but this is a very tumultuous time in your life. I don’t want you to be -”

“I’m not, like, trauma-bonding or whatever it’s called, so put away your psychiatrist voice. He’s just been a great guy to have around, El. Like, he’s genuinely so nice and caring. He doesn’t push me to talk if I’m not ready. He listens without judgement or interrupting. Hell, he’s let me cry on his shoulder twice.”

Whatever Ellie plans on saying is interrupted by her loud gasp and cooing over the picture that’s just landed in her inbox. Veda laughs quietly - this was her dastardly plan: Distract Ellie from th psychoanalysing with images of an absolutely adorable puggle. Elizabeth is nothing if not as weak against cute pups like Veda.

“He saw Olivia hit me,” Veda announces softly, sipping at her tea as Ellie falls silent.

At Ellie’s terse demand for an explanation, Veda tells her about Olivia’s unexpected appearance that morning, the way Niall saved her just by showing up at the right time. How he and his friends hadn’t hesitated to invite her on their walk. Ellie hums loudly when Veda says they hadn’t asked for details - or offered trite platitudes.

“They were… really sweet, El. Honest to God sweet dudes who did their best to treat me like a normal person, though I’m certain Niall told them about Granddad. Anyway. He came in for a cup of coffee and to help go through Granddad’s stuff.”

“And how did that make you feel?”

Veda chokes on her tea, spluttering through her laughter. “Oh, fuck off. But, uh, honestly?”

“No, I want my best friend of nine years to lie to me. Yes, you idiot, honestly.”

“I felt, I felt safe,” admits Veda slowly. “Does that make sense? That a stranger could make me feel so safe? Like I finally have someone I can trust and rely on besides you, Hattie, or Granddad.”

“Well, he sounds amazing already. Just be careful, V. Grief can make people withdraw completely or get attached in unhealthy manners.”

“Don’t worry. I’m being as careful as a nun in a brothel.”

The line stays silent long enough that Veda thinks her best friend has hung up. But then Ellie clears her throat daintily.

“Gonna be honest here, I have no idea what the Hell that means.”

“Yeah, neither do I.” Veda shakes her head and puts her mug into the sink. “Okay, I hate to do this, but I smell like a hospital, so I’m gonna take a shower and get dinner. You still owe me pictures.”

Ellie giggles. “They’ll be waiting for you by the time you’re done. I promise. And I’ll send you an email with all the details. You know I’m better at writing than speaking. Remember what I said.”

“Yes, Doctor Hargrove.”

“Not a doctor, just play one on TV.”

Veda is laughing even as she ends the call. As she sits there, though, the amusement fades away, and she stares down at the tabletop. What if Ellie is right? What if this sense of security is just her mind latching onto the nearest person who doesn’t immediately send up red flags?

She doesn’t think she could handle it if it turns out that what she has with Niall is gold-plated nothing.

Somehow, Niall has become important to her. He and David Barkie have brightened her entire world, and she might shatter if she loses that sense of normalcy that they bring to her life.

Veda blinks away tears and pushes to her feet. Dinner no longer sounds appealing.