Someone Lost, Something Gained



Harry’s words echo in Veda’s mind even as she settles in to watch the show. She and Niall have slept-slept together, curled up together on the couch, but she knows that Harry meant more than that. The impish leer on his face screamed it. And she wonders if maybe she should act on the feelings that have only grown stronger since the beginning of the friendship.

It would be awkward, she thinks, to bring it up, and it would certainly be uncomfortable if he doesn’t feel the same - or, worse, if he does feel the same but things don’t work out between them. Then she will have had an amazing friendship only to lose it. But keeping this to herself isn’t working any more, not if it’s bleeding into her dreams.

It isn’t a surprise when twenty minutes later, Niall moves David Barkie from her lap and lies back down, considering he’s been yawning since he finished his breakfast. It isn’t a surprise that she doesn’t mind it, she doesn’t care that he’s invading her personal space without permission. It is a surprise, however, when her fingers immediately come up to play with the ends of his dark hair. He hums quietly and smiles up at her before closing his eyes.

The mouse-rat-whatever-they-are characters of the cartoon are no longer important. All Veda can focus on is the softness of his hair between her fingertips and the way her mouth has gone dry with him so near. Stubble dots his jaw, but it works for him. His chest rises and falls with his steady breathing, and she can nearly feel his heartbeat against her palm - an echo of the time he stayed the night, when they cuddled on the sofa after watching the home videos.

She wonders what he is thinking about. If it’s her or something else, if anything at all. She wonders what his heart and brain are telling him. She wonders if she has a chance or if it’s completely stupid of her to let this attachment continue growing.

A soft chiming comes from her right, and Harry fumbles with his phone for a second before answering the call. Veda frowns when she realises the device had been pointing toward her and Niall. She turns her head to catch Harry’s eye.

“I want that picture,” she mouths, and he hesitates then nods, smiling sheepishly at having been caught.

“Hey, Zayn, what’s up?”

“Zayn?” Niall tilts his head back to see the screen. “About time you get in touch, you arse. It’s been two months.”

The man on the other end of the video rolls his dark eyes, shaking his head. “I’ve been busy, shut up. You’re lucky I even have time right now to chat, Harry.”

“Why - oh, my god,” Louis laughs, clapping a hand over his mouth. “Did you text Zayn to tell him Veda was here?”

Harry flushes, pouts, and flips Louis off. “I might have. I mean, we’ve all met her, but Zayn hasn’t, and we all have to approve of her, right?”

“I’m sitting right here,” Veda says slowly, and her brows draw together over her eyes. Approve of her for what?

“Oh, right.” Harry throws his arm around Veda’s neck, yanking her closer, and beams at Zayn. “This is Veda!”

“You can’t strangle the poor girl, Haz,” Zayn admonishes even as he waves. “It’s nice to meet you, Veda.”

“You, as well. I’ve heard a bit about you.”

“I’ve heard too much about you,” he replies with a laugh, disregarding the awkward noise that comes from Niall.

Veda frowns down at him, but he avoids her eye, pretends that he’s been silent the entire time. She can’t make sense of it, any of it. Why Zayn would be saying he’s heard “too much” about her or why Niall has reacted the way he has. Does that mean she is a frequent topic of his conversations? The thought warms her through, and she lets it go for now. It isn’t important. Besides, learning otherwise would be too painful.

So she buries her fingers in his hair again, scratching lightly at his scalp, and acts as if her world hasn’t just been tilted on its axis. Zayn shows off a small portion of his latest piece - a graffiti-style portrait of an angel standing tall over a mountain of skulls - and talks about the last couple of months. Evidently, the fact that he has a girlfriend now is unexpected, judging by the way Harry and Louis immediately start hounding him for details. He laughs but doesn’t give them any information - which doesn’t seem to surprise any of the three men in the house. Zayn must keep his life as private as possible, even with his friends.

Veda understands that. She would do the same if her neighbours weren’t so nosey.

“You’re vibrating,” Niall announces quietly, and she drags her gaze away from Harry’s phone.

Niall is right. Her phone is going off in her pocket. She nudges at his head until he moves with a halfhearted protest, pulling her phone free as soon as she’s able. Hattie. Frowning, Veda tells Zayn it was a pleasure to speak to him and hopefully they can meet in person at some point, then she hurries to the kitchen. Hattie’s voice fills the line the second Veda answers the call.

Unfortunately, her cousin is crying too hard for Veda to understand any of the words, so she waits for Hattie to calm down, occasionally making noises of acknowledgement. Finally, Hattie takes a deep breath and says the one thing that Veda never expected to hear:

“Mom kicked me out.”


“She just, she told me to get the Hell out and she’s no longer paying my tuition, so fuck me, I guess.”

Anger rips through Veda at the news. She anticipates this kind of behaviour out of Olivia, but never Debbie. The woman lives purely for the chance to hold something over her children’s heads. Especially Hattie. As the youngest child, Hattie was meant to be the golden one, but Hattie never fell quite in line. She hasn’t completely swallowed the whole “my mother is perfect and can do no wrong, so therefore, I must emulate her” pill.

“What the fuck is Debbie thinking?” Veda spits out as she scrubs at her face with her free hand.

Hattie sighs and says, bluntly and without inflection, “It’s because of you.”

“Me? What did I do?”

“She found out we were still talking to each other. It doesn’t matter that it was just a few texts,” Hattie says, obviously detecting Veda’s protest, “it was ‘too much’, in her opinion. Then she found out you allowed me into the house after Grandpa died. And you pressed charges against Phil and Olivia and had restraining orders instated against everyone but me.”

“So she’s pissed at me, and you’re being punished for it. Fuck, Hatchling, I’m so sorry.” Veda paces the kitchen, struggling to control her rage. Taking it out on Hattie is not an option, but all Veda wants to do right now is find her aunt and punish her for hurting Hattie like this.

Hattie snorts, but the tears in her voice contradict her next words. “I don’t care. She can be as petty as she wants. I’m so done trying to play peacekeeper. I’m done putting myself second so everyone else can be happy in their misery.”

“What are you gonna do?”

“Well, I’m kinda, sorta on my way to yours. Mind if I crash with you for a while?”

“Hattie, you are more than welcome to just move in. Never doubt that, okay? When are you gonna be here?”

“I’m less than an hour away.”

Veda laughs and shakes her head. “What would you have done if I’d said no?”

“Probably live on the stoop and hope my pathetic existence would be enough for you to take pity on me and let me in.”

“You’re so weird. Okay, well, I’ll be home soon. If I’m not there by the time you arrive, go to Nonna’s. She’ll make sure you’re not bothered. And fed. God, that woman will stuff you so full of food, I’ll have to roll you across the street.”

“Thanks, V.”

Veda hangs up and dials Nonna’s number. Harry and Niall are watching her closely, their faces twin masks of confusion as she continues pacing. The ringing stops, and before Nonna can say a word, Veda is speaking, informing the grandmother that Hattie is on her way and will need a place to hang out until Veda can get home. Nonna assured Veda it isn’t a problem and to take her time - “Getting into an accident isn’t what you need, piccolina, so be careful.”

“Everything okay?” Niall asks quietly as she ends the call, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest; his blue eyes are ridiculously clear, dark with worry, and she avoids meeting his gaze if only so she doesn’t fall into them.

Veda scoffs and lets out a slightly-delirious giggle. “My aunt just proved that she’s competing against Olivia for ‘Shittiest Mother of the Year’ award.” She glances up at Niall, at his cocked head and furrowed brows. “She kicked my cousin out because Hattie was talking to me.”

“Wow, that’s awful. Is your cousin okay?”

“Yeah, she’s fine. She, uh, she’s actually gonna be staying with me for a while, so that’s good. Gotta help her get settled in and her credits transferred to a university near here, though. I’m not gonna let her fail out just because her mother is terrible. But I, uh, I have to go.”

“Thanks for breakfast, Veda, you’re an angel!” Harry calls from the living room, causing Niall to roll his eyes and Veda to laugh.

“I figured if Niall was hungover, there was a good chance the rest of you, too. And what better way to get rid of a hangover than greasy food?”

She waves a goodbye to Louis and Harry as she makes her way to the door for her shoes. Niall trails after her, clearing his throat softly as she pulls her sneakers onto her feet.

“Do you want a lift home so you don’t have to grab a cab?”

Veda could kiss him with gratitude at the offer - waiting for a taxi or an Uber sounds like Hell when she’s already angry and worried about her cousin. She knows Hattie will be fine with Nonna, but it’s the emotional repercussion of Debbie’s actions that Veda is concerned about. Though Hattie is strong and resilient, Veda knows how devastating it is to learn that your mother doesn’t want you.

“That would be amazing, thanks.”

“Stealing the car,” Niall announces as he grabs the keys off the hook.

Once his shoes are on, he tells David Barkie to stay and leads Veda out the door. The pup’s whining grows quieter the further they get from the house, but it echoes in her ears. She nearly begs Niall to let DB tag along before she realises it would be selfish. It would only be so she has something to focus on other than the fact she’s seen Niall naked - and the mess inside her head.

“So… Joey’d?”

Niall snorts as he steers the car out of its parked spot. “A scene in the show, Friends. Joey and Chandler are arguing about something stupid, so Joey goes across the hall to their flat and puts on every single item of clothing that Chandler owns, including his underwear. It was such a stupid thing to do.”

“Yet Harry did it to you,” she giggles. “Why?”

“Because he’s a prick.”

“He’s your friend.”

“Doesn’t mean he’s not a prick. Nah, I guess I annoyed him so he did something to annoy me.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, you look amazing in cheetah-print.”

Niall laughs, shaking his head, and glances at her. “I look amazing in anything.”

And nothing at all. Veda bites her lip to prevent the thought from becoming words. That’s something she would never be able to un-say, to take back and pretend never happened. The kiss is still on her conscience, even though he hasn’t brought it up since the texts.

Hattie’s Escort sits out front by the time Niall comes to a stop, and Veda stares at her house for a moment. When she looks back at Niall, it’s to see his head is ducked, and he’s staring out her window. He catches her eye.

“You got the window fixed.”

“Uh, sorta? Antonio and his buddies fixed it while I was at work.”

“That was sweet of them.”

She shrugs. “Evidently, my neighbours care. Who knew.” Sighing, she reaches for the handle then hesitates. Should she? “Hey, Niall?”

“Hey, Ve-Veda?”

“Would you, um, would you wanna go to dinner sometime? With me, I mean? As a date?”