Someone Lost, Something Gained



Eventually, Debbie seems to get the hint that Veda won’t open the door again and follows after her siblings, leaving with a squeal of tires. Veda turns away from the front window with a self-satisfied smile. She has to admit that the encounter could have gone in a worse direction. It was, quite frankly, the best outcome that she could have expected.

She isn’t sure what to do with herself now that it’s over, though. The anger she felt during the interaction, the pride at standing her ground, is gone again, smothered into nonexistence by the hollow cold that has enveloped her over the last week. Veda sighs and runs her fingers through her hair.

A week.

Veda can’t believe it’s been a week since Granddad passed. Losing him seems to have cut off any grasp she ever held on time. She pads quietly to the couch, dropping onto the cushions without ceremony, and stares blankly ahead.

“What are you doing here?” Veda asks quietly once she pulls open the door two hours later, and Hattie gives her a grim smile and holds up a bottle of bourbon.

“Figured maybe we’d wanna visit Granddad’s old pal.”

A true smile, small and wavering but still genuine, twists at Veda’s lips, and she steps back to let her cousin into the house. Hattie passes the Jim Beam over, pulls off her heavy jacket and boots while Veda heads to the kitchen. It may be barely ten in the morning, but Veda won’t turn this down.

Glasses full of ice and bourbon, Veda follows her cousin back to the couch. The pair drinks in silence for a while, but Hattie breaks the quiet after their second glass. She reaches out for Veda’s hand, squeezing gently, as a laugh bubbles up.

“D’ya remember when- when Granddad was helping me to learn to ride a bike, but you got so mad because it meant that we had to use your bike, and you just, you laid down in the middle of the street and screamed of the injustice in the universe.”

Veda bites her lip, nods and ducks her head. “I swear, Granddad about laughed himself unconscious over that. Which just made my tantrum worse.”

“Didn’t you only move because of Nonna Costa?”

“Well, she was Mamma Costa back then, but yeah. She scared me.” Veda sighs and sips at her bourbon. “Oh, oh! Do you remember when we got into a fight over who’d have the top room whenever we came to visit? And Granddad told us we’d better make a choice or he’d move all his shit up to the room and make us sleep on the couch?”

Hattie giggles, pushing her hair from her face. The mid-morning sun casts a spotlight on the tears in her hazel eyes. Veda stares at the amber liquid, gleaming a light golden in the sunlight, and recalls the feeling of righteous indignation she’d felt when Hattie drew the longer piece of the spaghetti noodle. She snorts in amusement when she remembers exactly how she ended up in the room by the next night.

“Is that room still haunted?” Hattie asks after a moment, and Veda pauses with her glass halfway to her mouth.

“It, uh, it never actually was.”

“Yes, it was! Or are you telling me I imagined all the scratching sounds and the voices?”

“Well, you didn’t imagine the noises, no, but… it was me.”

Hattie stares, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, as Veda admits that the scratching and thumping came from the broomstick handle against the ceiling of the second-floor bedroom, the whispering from Veda climbing on top of her dresser to moan and groan into the air vent that ran between the two rooms. When Veda finally goes quiet, feeling more and more like a total jerk, Hattie slaps her arm.

“You asshole! I stayed up all night that night, freaking out because I thought some ghost was going to murder me!”

“I’m surprised you never told Granddad about it.”

Hattie shakes her head, her grin dimming slightly. “We’d argued for hours over that room, I didn’t wanna admit that I regretted the victory. Figured telling him I felt bad that you were so upset was a good way of, what’s the word, mitigating that.”

“I hate that you don’t have very many recent memories of Granddad,” Veda admits softly as the amusement fades. “Honestly, it breaks my heart that you didn’t have the relationship with him that I did.”

Hattie blows out a breath and swallows down the last of her drink. Veda watches her cousin refill her glass, drink it all in one long swallow, then pour more Beam in. Once Hattie settles back into the cushions, her lips curve into a slight smile, and she runs her finger along the rim of her glass.

“I wish I did, it’s... better, I think, that I didn’t. That I wasn’t around a whole lot after I turned ten. I mean, I was like you for a very long time. I thought everything my mother said was the truth. That she couldn’t - wouldn’t - lead me astray. Grandpa didn’t need that. If I’d been allowed around him, I woulda just learnt to use him like the rest of them. At least he had you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You weren’t ever like our family, even when your mom had her nails so deep into you that you were her mirror.” Hattie shrugs, a jerky rise and fall of her shoulders. “You never treated him like they did. Not as badly as they did, anyway. Sure, you fucked up and kept going back to Olivia, but you broke free.”

Veda leans against her cousin, lets their heads come together. She lifts her glass in the air. “To Granddad, the most amazing man we have ever known and who deserved more than he got.”

“May he be gettin’ some tail up in the afterlife.”

Their giggles slowly morph into identical weeping, and Veda is so thankful she isn’t alone for this breakdown. Having someone here who feels the same as she does makes it easier to let herself feel anything, even the crushing weight of Granddad’s death and the hole he’s left behind.


Waking up with a hangover is something that Veda hasn’t experienced in a while, and she spent all of Friday nursing cup after cup of coffee that slowly grew cold, incessantly whining and moaning about the pounding in her skull. Hattie didn’t leave until late in the evening, promising to call Veda as soon as she reached her dorm room. The quiet after she left hadn’t been nearly as oppressive.

Veda kept herself busy on Saturday by going through Granddad’s records, making a list of which accounts to cancel and which to transfer into her name. It hadn’t been much - the house was completely paid off, a wedding gift to him and Mom-Mom all those years ago, but there were still utilities and property taxes that needed to be paid. Plus, she has to pay an inspector to come in and make sure the house is still inhabitable.

Three days after that drunken morning spent with Hattie, Veda finds herself stood in the corridor of the children’s wing, staring around at the passing nurses. Hoping for a somewhat familiar face. It’s a Sunday, but she isn’t certain what that means in the whole scheme of scheduling.

“Uh, hi, I’m - I’m looking for Niall. He’s a nurse on this floor.”

The woman behind the desk glances up from the file in her hand then immediately goes back to it. “Sorry, doll, can’t give information about staff or patients.”

“I know, I know the restrictions. I work in a hospital, too. I just... Okay, well, if you see him, can you tell him Veda needs to talk to him?”

“Will do.”

Veda nods though the nurse doesn’t see it. Turning on her heel, she heads back to the lift. The to-go cup of coffee in her hand bleeds warmth into her fingers and palm, and she focuses on that the too-hot heat. It isn’t until she is sat on one of the benches outside that she realises that even if the nurse does pass on the message, Niall is going to have no way of contacting Veda.

“Wow, really don’t think things through, do ya?” she mutters under her breath, fingernail picking at the edge of the cup lid.

People pass by, to and from the building, and an ambulance screams into the bay around back. Birds land and fly away, crumbs clutched in their beaks like prize-winning meals. An undulating worm of cars inch down the block - red, black, silver, blue, blue, lime green, black... The cup slowly grows colder in her hands, but still Veda sits.

Footsteps stutter to a stop then double-back.


Veda finally looks away from the toes of her shoes, forcing a smile at Niall. The sun has shifted further to the west in the sky overhead, and she blinks in surprise. She hadn’t realised so much time has passed. She tightens her grip on the cup in her hand and clears her throat.

“Can we go get that coffee now?”

Her heart sinks when his confused expressions turns pained. He shoves a hand through his already-mussed hair and blows out a heavy breath.

“I just got off a thirteen-hour shift. I, I don’t really think it’s a good time for that.”

Veda knows her smile is far too brittle, but she nods and says, “Oh. Okay. That’s fine. Yeah, totally fine. I just, uh, wanted to see if the offer was still open. That’s all. Totally fine.”

She hides her mortification - and disappointment - by taking a sip of her coffee, grimacing at how cold and stale it’s become. Tossing the cup into a nearby bin, she adjusts her jacket and bustles past Niall. He wraps his fingers around her wrist as she passes, tugs her to a stop. She avoids meeting his eye directly. Instead, she stares at the curve of his eyebrow.

“I have tomorrow off, though,” he says softly. “I can come by yours around nine?”

Veda swallows, dipping her chin. “That sounds great.”

“Are you okay?” he asks after a pregnant pause; his blue eyes skim over her face as if trying to read the answers there.

“I’m… not sure. I’ll see you tomorrow, Niall.”

He releases her wrist, fingers sliding lightly across her skin as she pulls her hand back, and she sends him another smile before walking away. Something other than the usual grief niggles at the edges of her soul. It takes a long moment, but she eventually puts a name to it - hope, comfort.