Someone Lost, Something Gained



Ellie is disgusted and completely unsurprised when she hears about what Phil and Olivia did. The Brooklyn in her voice grows thicker over the phone as she curses in every language she and Veda grew up learning. Her overprotective, vindictive nature has her plotting out a revenge that would horrify and scandalise the nuns who used to rap her knuckles with a ruler before she left the Catholic school. Veda knows with full certainty that Sister Abigail would be the first to condemn Ellie to Hell for the vengeance she plans.

Veda is also completely sure that Ellie won’t act on any of it. She isn’t the same hotheaded teenager who picked fights over injustices. She has matured enough to know violence may feel great, but it often creates more problems than it solves. And when it comes to people like the Mitchells, Ellie knows psychological warfare yields far more satisfying results.

By the time Ellie calms down and stops listing off various methods of torture, Veda has eaten a quick dinner and even taken a shower with the call on speaker. The sound of water running hadn’t put a stop to Ellie’s rambling, but Veda isn’t shocked. They have ten years’ worth of empirical data that proves Elizabeth Hargrove doesn’t slow down when she’s on a roll.

“And now that you’ve imagined killing my relatives in multiple gruesome ways, how is Chris?” Veda giggles as Ellie lets out an exaggerated groaning sigh. “Hey, you’re still technically within the window of newlywed bliss. I’m gonna live vicariously through you while I can.”

“Didn’t you just kiss someone? Live your own life, V.”

Veda huffs and rolls her eyes, reaching for her hairbrush. “Don’t deflect. We’ve talked about my shit enough.”

“Yeah, I suppose.” Ellie sighs. “I just like knowing when your family gets what they deserve. And hearing about cute guys that you kiss and run from like a bumbling idiot.”

As Veda readies for bed, she listens intently while Ellie tells her of all the changes in her life - his parents co-signed a mortgage, so Ellie and Chris are waiting for the papers to be drawn up. He got a promotion at work and a part-time position as a public relations liaison for a new local charity, so his hours at home have been cut short.

“It’s great, though,” Ellie rushes to assure Veda. “I mean, I don’t see him a lot, but this foundation is incredibly important. It’s, it’s gonna change lives. I couldn’t be more proud of him for that.”

“Look at you, being all mature,” laughs Veda; at Ellie’s indignant hey!, her mind dredges up a snapshot of the familiar expression of affront - a scrunched nose, narrowed blue eyes, Ellie poking her tongue out in response.

Veda misses that.

She misses all the nights they would stay out late and try to sneak back into the house in the early hours of dawn, only to be caught by every adult on the block. She misses the way Granddad treated Ellie like another grandchild, giving her a safe place to hide away after an argument with her parents. How he’d taken Ellie out on a “date” when she got stood up by her boyfriend of two weeks.

Since the beginning of their friendship, Ellie has been family, and Veda only wishes there weren’t almost three thousand miles between them.

Ellie suddenly gasps. “We’ve been talking for four hours.”

“Does this really surprise you?” Veda questions with a snort. “We once had a Skype call last nineteen days. One call!”

“Yeah, but we were younger then.”

Veda pauses then buries her face in her hands. “El, that was six months ago.”

“Exactly. Younger. I wasn’t a married woman then.”

“I’m hanging up before you start making sense. I’ll call you tomorrow, ya weirdo.”

Veda is still giggling quietly as she ends the call and climbs into bed, but the amusement vanishes with the darkness that settles over her room. It’s too quiet, silence pressing in on her. She isn’t afraid of the dangers of living alone - her neighbours are too nosey twenty-four hours of every day - but something doesn’t feel as it normally does.

The truth blankets her mind just as she’s falling asleep: She’s lonely, lonelier than she has been in a long time.

When Clarissa says “Sorry, people, we’re understaffed” the next morning, Veda foolishly thinks it’s just for the day and that one or two of her coworkers have called out for various reasons. It’s annoying, sure, but nothing the rest of them can’t handle. Besides, she has no right to be upset about it - they picked up her slack when she was on bereavement leave, after all.

Oh, how naive she is.

Because it turns out that “understaffed” means two people were fired for attempted insurance fraud and theft, another put on unpaid suspension, and one more quit before they could be punished. It also means Alice is off on her scheduled vacation and Dwight has a family emergency. Again.

The department of fifteen-plus-Clarissa drops to nine-plus-Clarissa seemingly overnight. Veda has high hopes through the first two shifts with a skeleton crew, but by the third on Wednesday, she has reluctantly accepted that Clarissa severely understated the definition of “understaffed”. Not even the allure of a larger pay-check makes Veda any less frustrated with the giant mess that is her new schedule.

Thankfully, Clarissa appeals to her boss who pulls some strings with sister hospitals for their staff to help relieve the load on Saint Francis’s registrars. It only takes a week for Veda to be given some time off. It isn’t much - only from nine pm on Sunday to six am Tuesday morning - but Veda has plans to make the most of that time: going to the market first thing on Monday then absolutely nothing for the rest of the day.

She didn’t count on the fact that even the best-laid plans go awry.

Veda spends nearly an hour trying to convince herself to get out of bed. Even Tommy’s stereo can be heard from two doors down, which means a fifteen-year-old on summer vacation has woken up before she did. If she wasn’t so exhausted, Veda would find it pathetic. As it is, she really doesn’t care right now.

Her body ends up making the decision for her: Her stomach growls, her bladder aches, and a pounding starts up behind her eyes from a lack of caffeine - and sufficient sleep. So Veda has no choice but to get up. She heads to the attached bathroom, grumbling as she goes.

By the time she’s downstairs, she feels slightly more human. The morning is still annoying, chipper birds singing in the trees with a background of heavy bass-line and Coolio rapping about a “gangsta’s paradise”. All she wants is to go back to bed. She shuffles into the kitchen instead. First things first: coffee, then everything else.

“You’re up late this morning.”

Veda shrieks and drops her mug at the unexpected voice behind her, whirling on her heel to face the intruder. “Damn it, Aida!”

Aida shrugs a thin shoulder, pushes her dark hair behind her ear. “Sorry. Can you do me a favour? Don’t tell Nonna you saw me?”

“Okay, first, how the Hell did you get in my house? Second, why am I lying to Nonna?”

“Because I told her I was at Taylor’s last night and I wouldn’t be home until around noon.”


“But I, um, I was at a club and then went to Stefano’s.”

“Why didn’t you just stay there until noon, then?” Veda asks as she turns back to the coffeemaker. “That would make more sense than breaking into my house. And again, you never answered how you got in.”

“Your spare key.”

“You mean the one I gave Nonna just in case of emergencies?”

“That one.”

“I hate you. Fine. You can stay here. Just don’t mention my name if Nonna finds out you’re a liar.”

With her coffee drank and feeling sufficiently alert for the day, Veda exchanges her pyjamas for a sleeveless Blind Melon T-shirt and a pair of denim shorts she really should have thrown out eons ago. One pocket is torn along the bottom seam, rendering it useless, and the left leg is little more than a scrap of fabric across her thigh.

Veda stares at her reflection in the mirror for a minute then decides she doesn’t care. None of the staff at the market cares about what the customers dress in as long as they’re covered, and paying attention to judgemental strangers takes far too much energy. Besides, she has gone out in public wearing far worse.

After pulling on socks and beat-up sneakers, Veda heads downstairs, her footfalls a rapid thump-thump-thump on each step. Aida has moved from the kitchen to the living room, sprawling across the couch with a mug of coffee balanced on her belly. Veda rolls her eyes at the sight.

“Spill anything, and I’m ratting you out to Nonna,” she warns, tucking her phone into her back pocket and clipping her keys to the strap of her bra. “Lock up when you leave, troublemaker.”

“Yes, Mamma.”

Veda giggles and steps out onto the stoop, coming to an abrupt stop. Nonna stares from her own steps, and even from across the street, Veda can see one brow raised sharply. She’s abruptly transported back to being a teenager trying to hide things from the Italian grandmother. It was always a futile attempt - she failed every time - but she is an adult now.

That piercing gaze cutting to her soul shouldn’t work any more, but by god, it does.

Veda grins brightly, waves, then heads off. If she isn’t around, she can’t tell Nonna the truth about where her granddaughter has been. The street is mostly barren; everyone must have either slept in or chosen to stay out of the thick heat that has descended upon the city already.

The sun is hot, harsh, on her bare skin, but Veda relishes the slight pain. After a week of nonstop shifts, going in early and leaving late in the afternoon, the muggy air is refreshing. A breeze swoops along her skin, carrying with it even more sweltering heat and the aromas that make up the block - families cooking meals from their various cultures, the flowers that crowd Catalina’s stoop, the car exhaust that stains every inch of the borough.

She breathes in deeply and turns her face up toward the sky. Her closed eyelids burn pink-orange, criss-crossed with a spiderweb of dark red lines. Sweat pools in the curve of her lower back as her hair swishes along her shoulders, tickling at her upper arms with each step she takes. If she concentrates, she can almost see the atoms of the universe as they flow into her lungs and sings through her blood before escaping back into the wide open.

In this moment, she is the world, and the world is her.

Veda is pulled from her reverence of nature by a vibration from her back pocket. Sighing, she frowns and reaches for her phone. Whoever is interrupting her day of nothing better be important.

“Ve-Veda… I’unno where I am.”

Veda pauses mid-step then slowly puts her foot down on the concrete. From the corner of her eye, she sees Mister Thompson starting to rise to his feet, so she waves and promises that she’s okay before focusing on the call.

“Niall? What do you mean, you don’t know where you are?”

“I mean, I’m in a bed, but it’s not mine. Wait, never mind, it is.” Static clouds the line, then he continues, his voice growing increasingly more panicked, “I just have so many blankets why do I have so many blankets right now I don’t even own this many blankets!”

She stifles a giggle and resumes walking. “Okay, take a deep breath, hun. You’re getting hysterical. Why don’t you give me your address, and I’ll come take of poor hungover you like you’ve taken care of me?”

But he must have already fallen back to sleep, judging by the snores in her ear. Veda rolls her eyes and hangs up. Of course. Her gaze darts from phone screen to her path, making sure she isn’t about to run into anyone or anything while she brings up her rarely-used FaceBook app. She finds his profile five results down the list - a photo of DB and a private account. Thankfully, he’s left his friends list public.

To: Liam Payne
So Niall just rang me. He’s hungover. Poor him. Anyway, since you lot have been so wonderful to me, I’m returning that kindness. What’s your address? (It’s Veda, by the way. The one who’s a registrar and has been taking up all of Niall’s free time because I’m selfish)

Liam responds within the minute, though the message is only six cry-laugh emojis. Then comes a message with the address and, following that, a friend request. Veda accepts the request, tucks her phone away, and turns toward the nearest McDonald’s.