Someone Lost, Something Gained



To: Ellie

Veda shoves her purse into her locker, drops her phone onto the bench, and tries to breathe as steadily a possible. Her heart races painfully in her chest. What the Hell was she thinking?

She wasn’t. That’s the only logical excuse she has for kissing him like that - she wasn’t thinking properly, and her thoughts were still jumbled from the dream. That’s all. But god, she has so much apologising to do.

The beeping of her phone echoes in the empty locker-room, and she exhales shakily and looks down at the screen. Ellie. Thank God. Ellie will know what to do.

From: Ellie
> WHAT?!

To: Ellie
< I hugged Niall because he let David Barkie stay with me last night because he didn’t want me to be alone after what Phil and Olivia did, and when I pulled away, I kisSED HIM. ON THE MOUTH.

From: Ellie
> OMG what did he say/do?

To: Ellie
< Idk, I ran away

From: Ellie
> VEDA PERSEPHONE! Why did you go and do a foolish thing like that?!

To: Ellie
< Obviously, I’m an idiot.

From: Ellie
> Clearly. Text him and figure out how he feels about it.

To: Ellie
< I’d rather be Spongebob burying myself in sand, thanks. Work.

From: Ellie
> K. Text me later - I wanna know what Phil and Olivia did.

Veda tucks her phone into her pocket and blows out a breath, staring at her reflection in the mirror. All she can hope for, since she doesn’t want to actually talk to Niall about this, is that he’ll forget it ever happened. Maybe he’ll be too tired to remember.

A girl can hope.

Somehow, she manages to make it to her lunch break before checking her phone. There’s only one new notification; Veda isn’t surprised - though she is oddly thankful and disappointed - that it isn’t from Niall. She scolds herself even as she responds to Aida’s enquiry about when Veda’s shift ends.

Lyle smacks her head gently with his water bottle as he sits in the seat next to her. “Earth to Veda. Come in, space cadet, Mission Control speaking.”

“Piss off,” she retorts, laughing and shoving at his shoulder.

“Seriously, what’s up? You’re, like, a million miles away.”

“I… I might have done something stupid this morning, so now I’m just waiting for the consequences.”

“What, did ya kiss someone you shouldn’t have?” Lyle snorts, peeling back the cling-wrap on his jello, but he stills when Veda doesn’t reply. His eyes widen behind his glasses. “Dude, I was kidding. Did you really?”


“How do you ‘kinda’ kiss someone? Either you kiss them or you don’t. There’s no ‘kinda’ about it”

“Whoa, Mitchell kissed someone? Go on, tell me more.”

Veda groans when Todd and Alice drop into the chairs across the table. Sending a half-hearted glare in Lyle’s direction, she reluctantly admits to maybe a little brush of her lips against someone else’s.

“But it doesn’t count -”

“How does it not count?” Alice giggles. “Your lips plus your boo’s lips equals totally a kiss. It’s simple arithmetic.”

“It was less than a second!” protests Veda, but she knows the other three don’t follow with her line of thinking.

If she’s being honest, neither does she.

It was a kiss. No matter how accidental, no matter how quick, no matter how chaste - she kissed Niall.

She kissed him, and she can only hope he thinks it was a dream.

Veda really should have known better than to let her hopes grow so high. Nothing else in her life has gone according to her wishes, so why should this? She blows out a breath, presses the casing of her phone firmly to her forehead, and says a silent prayer that the message has changed in the last three seconds.

Nope. No luck.

From: Niall
> What did you mean by the kiss?

To: Niall
<< I’m… not sure. Sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable.

There - honesty and an apology. Well, as close to the truth as she can get right now. She somehow doubts I had a sex dream about you, so I wasn’t in the right state of mind will make the situation any better.

From: Niall
> Okay. As long as I didn’t do anything to make you feel like I was demanding repayment for letting DB stay with you last night.

To: Niall
< Of course not. If I felt like that, I woulda given you cash. Or baked goods.

From: Niall
> Well, I’m gonna make it clear now. You don’t ever have to pay me back for anything. We’re friends.

Friends. Right. That’s all. Veda knows this. Sighing, she closes out of the message thread without replying, ignoring the twinge in her chest at his last text.


She can handle that.

Veda spends the rest of the trip making a mental to-do list - “search for window fixer” right at the top. Anger struggles to ignore at the reminder of what her family did, but the feeble flame barely manages a single flicker before dying out. She meant what she said to Niall after it happened.

She may not have expected that specific action, but Veda anticipated retaliation long ago. The only surprise is that it happened nearly two months after Granddad died and left everything to her.

It isn’t unusual to see children playing in the street or the older generation keeping a watchful eye over the block. The sight has greeted Veda since she was in school, and she’s come to rely on the familiarity.

But this… this is completely different.

Miss Sylvia sits on her stoop, waving a magazine in front of her face as a makeshift fan. Catalina stands in her doorway with Carlos at her side. The Marion girls hang out of their bedroom window on the second floor, and Mister Thompson’s customary wave is a bit more exuberant than usual.

Veda slows her steps as her skin ripples. Did she step off the subway into the Twilight Zone? Even the air feels different, thicker with more than just humidity. Nelly giggles from the window, Louisa hurriedly shushing the seven-year-old, and Veda frowns but continues making her way down the block.

“What the -?”

Late-afternoon sunlight washes the front of the house a pale golden-yellow, gleams off the glass fitted perfectly in the window-frame. Her gaze travels along the facade until it lands on the door. The door that was most certainly not a beautiful sky-blue this morning when she left for work. Veda swallows down the tears and gapes in awe.

The street echoes with the silence and the scratch of metal against plastic. Veda blinks rapidly, wiping at her eyes, then turns to see Antonio and his friends loading up the bed of his truck with paint cans and tarps. He says something to the others before hurrying across the street. All Veda can do is gesture wordlessly toward her house.

He grins smugly, scratching at his brow. “Yeah, looks pretty good, doesn’t it? Almost as if a professional did it.”

“Ye-yeah, it’s great. But… why?”

“You have enough to worry about without adding the cost of fixing damages your family caused.” He shrugs and shoves his hands into his pockets. “Besides, your nonno was loved by everyone, so we all pitched in.”

If she was with anyone else, Veda would be absolutely mortified by how she bursts into tears and drops to sit on the bottom step of the stoop. Her phone clatters to the concrete, but she ignores it in favour of burying her face in her knees and crying. Antonio crouches down beside her, hand smoothing over her hair.

“Hey, no. No fair, Veda, I’m no good with crying women. You don’t wanna make me feel awkward, do ya? Or worse, you’ll make Nonna think I upset you, and we all know Nonna would kill even Zio Paolo for you.”

Veda giggles, swiping a hand over her cheeks. “How am I ever going to repay you all?”

“What? Veda, we don’t need you to pay us back, what the fuck. We just, we need you to be okay, and like the fantastic neighbours that we are, we’ll make sure you’re taken care of.”

“I can’t -”

“You can, and you will, accept that we’re here for you, and you’ll shut up about it.” Antonio squeezes her shoulders comfortingly. “And just so you’re aware, our tasks include making sure that Irish fella of yours treats you right.”

“He’s- he’s not my ‘fella’,” Veda argues weakly, and Antonio snorts.

“Sure. No man looks at a woman the way he looks at you without something being there. As Nonna would say, you hung the moon for him.”

He kisses her forehead before walking away without another word. Her mind repeats what he said, over and over and over, until she can no longer make heads nor tails of it. Antonio doesn’t know what he’s taking about, it’s the only logical conclusion. So she lets herself wonder if maybe he’s telling the truth before giving up on it.

Niall is a friend, and she will never be the one to paint the stars in his sky.

Veda breathes in the heavy early-summer air, watches as her neighbours start moving about now that she’s seen what they have done for her. After a moment, she climbs unsteadily to her feet and grabs her phone off the ground. A bird screeches from the trees, the volume on the world is turned up again, and the sounds of laughter and old familiar conversations fill the air.

Running her finger lightly over the wood of her door, Veda can’t help but smile. She may have lost Granddad, and her biological family may be a mess, but she’s found a new one in these people.