Veronica carefully shifted in her seat, hoping to avoid detection from the two people in the front of the car that she was actually awake. She'd pretended to be asleep for the last hour or so, but what had started out as a fairly comfortable position was now starting to feel less so. She was also starting to get thirsty and she wasn't sure she'd be able to stealthily drink from her water bottle without one of them noticing that much movement.
She had initially closed her eyes hoping that maybe she'd fall asleep for real, but the intermittent arguing from the front seat had kept that from happening. She watched the scenery whisk by her on the highway from behind her dark sunglasses, cursing her marshmallowy side for getting her into this mess in the first place. At least the backseat of the Audi wasn't that terrible. It's not like she'd been thrown in the trunk and forced to go along, although at some point she swore she’d heard someone mention that, along with duct tape and what gauge rope might be best.
She was starting to wonder, given that there had been silence from the front for a while now, if the blonde in the passenger seat might have actually fallen asleep herself. Of course like all good things that never last, the silence was broken by a blare from the Audi's horn as some asshole in a BMW cut rudely in front of them and the driver in the seat in front of Veronica laid on the horn to announce his displeasure.
"Fuck Bennett," the blonde who was now definitely wide awake yelled as she reached over to punch the driver in the arm.
"Come on Dinah. That guy was being a fucking asshole," Bennett protested as Veronica saw him shake his head angrily.
"Well so are you for blaring the fucking horn when you know I have a headache," Dinah shot back angrily as she quickly turned her head away from him, causing her mess of blonde curls to flip around a bit, though it wasn't as dramatic as Veronica figured she intended it to be with the headrest getting in the way.
"And whose fault is that Dinah?" Bennett asked angrily. "I'm not the one who bought you those shots, nor encouraged you to take them."
"I'm so not having this discussion again," Dinah shot back as she crossed her arms across her chest.
Please let that be true... Not like when she said that the first two times of this hellish drive. At least this time she hadn't spun around to face the backseat to try to make Veronica defend her.
Veronica had come to adore Dinah, but if anyone could channel the absolute diva that Lilly used to be sometimes, Dinah was absolutely it. And it didn't help that she was in the drama program at Stanford.
With the tentative silence returning, Veronica couldn't help but think about how she'd ended up in her current predicament, traveling 80 miles an hour up the I-5 to what would certainly be one of the worst weeks of her life. She tried to ignore the fact that it would actually be more like 10 days since they were staying all the way thru to Sunday. She'd just finished her junior year at Stanford, literally having just taken her last final the afternoon before. Dinah was best friends with Veronica's roommate, Bianca, who had found herself in need of a new roommate at the end of their sophomore year when Dinah decided to move in with Bennett after his roommate had dropped out and moved back home. Bianca was in a few of Veronica's criminology classes and while she was brilliant about anything found in a text book, sometimes she could be a bit ditzy about everything else. But for what ever reason it may have been, they'd really clicked. Veronica realized she'd rather share an apartment with Bianca than endure another year in the on-campus student housing so ended up moving in with her.
Besides being occasionally ditzy, Veronica had quickly decided that Bianca's other shortcoming was her boyfriend Jack. Bianca, Jack and Dinah had all grown up together in Redmond, Washington. Similar to Neptune, there were many wealthy families there with ties to Microsoft, as well as Nintendo and AT&T. All three came from well off families, although Jack's was by far at the top of the list. Jack and Bianca had been good friends for many years growing up, and then dated in high school. They ended up breaking up at the start of their senior year before they finally reconciled shortly after graduation. In many ways they reminded her of Logan and herself, minus the death and criminal drama, of course. Before they’d reconciled, they'd already applied to separate colleges, her Stanford and him UCLA, and neither was willing to change, but somehow it seemed to work for them. Jack was usually able to avoid Friday afternoon classes, and frequently made the slightly over five-hour drive up to spend weekends with Bianca.
Jack wasn't really that bad. Veronica had certainly known worse. But he had one habit that drove Veronica absolutely nuts. Bianca said he'd always done it, so she was just used to it, but for some reason Veronica didn't find it quite as endearing as Bianca did. Jack always called everyone by some nickname that he'd assigned to them. Bianca had told her that if he gave you a nickname it meant he liked you, because if he didn’t like someone he wouldn’t. She sometimes wondered if he even knew her real name anymore, since he'd never once called her Veronica after choosing Birdie for her. Apparently he'd taken some botany class and knew the plant Veronica was also commonly called Bird’s Eye, so she immediately became Birdie. At least Dinah and Bianca didn't encourage him by using it too, although they both just called her V. After a while it seemed pointless to try to get Jack to stop and eventually she quit trying.
Veronica had decided that Birdie was better than his name for Bennett, which was Toad. She didn’t actually know the reason for that and didn’t dare ask because it would likely end with some long-winded rambling explanation. Dinah, predictably, was Wonderland, because clearly Jack sometimes lacked creativity in what he came up with. Bianca had been Twiz for years because of a childhood obsession with Twizzlers. Jack had started going by Dallas at some point since his initials were JR, but Veronica usually just called him Dullass instead. Not because he was boring, but just to irritate him. He was actually a very friendly, outgoing guy, who loved adventure and living life to its fullest. And that sense of adventure, Veronica's marshmallowness, and Bianca's puppy dog expert level begging were all to blame for her current predicament: Riding up with Toad and Wonderland, to spend a week with Dullass and Twiz on a house boat with two guys Dullass knew from UCLA. Veronica only knew the two guys as GQ and Worm, and also knew that one of them was bringing his girlfriend along too.
There were several red flags that were glaringly obvious, but once Bianca had started begging, agreeing was the only solution she could come up with to make her stop. The first red flag was that the two couples who had made the trip the prior two years with them had both declined to go this year. She couldn't help but wonder how bad it was going to be if neither of them wanted to join them for a third year. Although she'd spent enough time with the quirky foursome to know what they were like, and aside from the current disagreement in the front seat, they usually all got along just fine. The second red flag was that Veronica knew nothing about GQ or Worm, and that while one of them had a girlfriend, the other didn't, well at least not in the last month since she'd been roped into this.
When they'd originally reserved the houseboat, it was for four couples, so they'd reserved a four suite houseboat, but then one of the guys apparently broke up with his girlfriend and they had an open spot. Veronica had adamantly refused to get drafted into some couples vacation, but the recently single guy had insisted that Bianca should bring her friend along, which was also a huge red flag. He'd apparently said he'd let Veronica have the bedroom and he'd sleep on a couch in the common area. Even though Bianca had insisted there were no strings attached, Veronica still had a bad feeling about it. On top of it all, Bianca kept forgetting to ask Jack if it was Worm or GQ that had been dumped. Not that it really mattered, but she thought it would be nice to know who might be hitting on her all week. Of course with Jack's nonsensical nicknames, it probably really didn't matter if she actually did know. Bennett was not a toad and she was not a bird, so GQ was probably not a hot model and Worm hopefully was not some slimy guy. Although with her luck, he would be and that would be the single guy that would be hitting on her all week.
And that’s how she found herself now riding with Bennett and Dinah up to Lake Shasta. The morning had started out badly with them arriving over an hour later than planned to pick her up. They'd gone out to celebrate the end of the term the night before, and Dinah had hit snooze on their alarm and they'd fallen back to sleep until Veronica finally called to find out if they were still coming to get her. Of course she realized how stupid that was in hindsight, because she maybe could have just bailed on the entire trip, but her marshmallow center knew that Bianca would be really disappointed in Veronica if she didn't come along.
Bennett and Dinah had started fighting before they’d even made it on to the freeway. The fight was about a guy in Dinah's playwriting class who had bought her celebratory shots the night before and, in Bennett's mind, was totally flirting with her. Dinah had dragged Veronica into the argument the first two times it had come up and that had led to Veronica pretending to be asleep. Knowing them, they'd fight about it most of the day, have exuberant make-up sex that night, and then be fine in the morning.
She tried not to think too much about hot make-up sex. It's not that she hadn't been with a couple guys over the past two years, but unfortunately passionate was not an adjective she'd use for any of those short-lived relationships. The last time she'd had really hot passionate make-up sex was when she'd gotten back together with Logan after their first breakup at Hearst. Of course even non-make-up sex with him was always passionate too, but those days were very far in the past now. Veronica didn't even think Logan was currently on the same continent as her anymore. The last she'd heard, he'd gone to Europe after their freshman year at Hearst while she was in Virginia. She hadn’t talked to him since his fight with Gory in the cafeteria and they’d never really worked things out after she had told him he was out of her life forever. She'd seen several celebrity magazines with pictures of him at high profile events every once in a while. She’d be browsing a magazine at the dentist’s office or when she was stuck in a terribly long line at the grocery store, and there Logan would be… pictured in Paris or London, but never back in California, or even the US for that matter. She knew he’d never returned to Hearst since Wallace and Mac were both still going to school there. None of them had bumped into him around Neptune either although she had heard that Dick was still attending Hearst. She hoped that Jack's UCLA buddies were more like Jack and less like Dick, since it sounded like they were also from wealthy families because they thought nothing about paying for the week long trip on a very luxurious houseboat.
She saw a sign go by that indicated they were only 30 miles from the lake. Bianca and Jack had both finished their finals a day earlier, so they had driven up ahead of them to get everything set up. GQ, Worm and the unnamed girlfriend were also supposed to have driven up the day before with the other three joining them today. Veronica started pondering about whether there was actually bus service out here that she could use to escape if things got too bad.
She saw Dinah pull out her phone, probably to text Bianca that they were almost there. Bianca had told her that the guys had also rented a speedboat for wakeboarding and so they also wouldn’t have to move the houseboat around the lake too much. The plan had been that she would come and meet them at the marina they had rented the boats from when they arrived. Veronica started to count the mileposts silently to herself, knowing that once she reached 30, she’d have to face the reality of this trip head-on.
When they finally reached the marina and parked the car, Veronica instantly spotted Bianca sitting on the front of a speedboat waiting for them. She had her dark brown hair pulled up in a messy twist and was clearly dressed for an afternoon on the water. She hopped down and quickly came up to meet them, giving Veronica a big hug as she climbed out of the backseat.
“I’m so glad you didn’t back out! Dallas owes me $100 now,” she said gleefully as she stepped away from Veronica and gave her a sparkling smile.
“I think I deserve at least half of that,” Veronica replied with a determined look in her eye.
Bianca laughed and nodded. “I’ll give you the whole $100, just so long as I don’t have to pay up to him.”
Veronica crooked a brow at her. “I probably don’t even want to know what your side of the bet was, do I?”
Bianca’s smile became very naughty and she shook her head and laughed. Veronica visibly shuddered, which made Bianca laugh even more. Bianca glanced over at Bennett and Dinah, who were arguing as they pulled their bags out of the trunk of the car.
“What’s up with them?” she whispered to Veronica.
“Terrance,” Veronica whispered back as she rolled her eyes and shook her head slightly.
“Oh… not again,” Bianca replied as she studied the other two carefully.
“Yeah, it was congratulatory shots this time,” Veronica told her as she pulled her own bags out from the backseat. “So did you do some reconnaissance for me on Jack’s friends? Is it Worm or GQ that I owe my soul to now?”
Bianca laughed at first and then shook her head. “No… sorry.” Veronica raised her eyebrow in an unhappy, questioning expression. “They got delayed coming out of LA and didn’t get into town until after dark last night. They just rent a hotel room and then intended to meet us this morning. I came back over to the marina with Dallas when he was going to meet them, but took off to go into Redding to get some more supplies, so I didn’t get a chance to meet them. They were already out wakeboarding by the time I made it back to the houseboat again, and they haven’t come back in yet.”
Veronica glanced down the dock at the speedboat Bianca had been on with a confused look on her face. “Two speedboats then?”
Bianca nodded and smiled. “Yeah, you know how frivolous the rich can be sometimes,” she replied with a tone that was definitely intended to be mocking. Veronica knew Bianca liked to tease Jack about being a pretentious rich boy, when in reality her family was probably almost as wealthy as his. Bianca just tried to be much more modest about it than Jack and Dinah were.
Dinah and Bennett had closed the trunk and walked over toward Veronica and Bianca. Bianca gave them a quick welcome hug as well and then made a face at Veronica behind their backs, clearly making fun of how ridiculous they were being. Veronica tried not to laugh, but Bianca made it so hard sometimes. Once they dragged all their bags down to the speedboat, they were on their way out on the lake.
As they were nearing a cove where an opulent looking houseboat was anchored, Bianca pointed to a speedboat near them and shouted that the rest of the group was on that one. Veronica watched as the current wake-boarder, clearly not Jack, was expertly doing flips off the wake from the boat, zig-zagging back and forth behind the quickly moving speedboat and flipping gracefully in the air. They were far enough away that it was hard to make out too many details of his features, but he clearly was in very good shape. He had wide shoulders and very muscular arms, though not too extreme. Veronica certainly had never been one to go for those over-the-top muscle builder type guys anyway. She also noticed what looked like some sort of tribal tattoo on the arm that was closest to them. It was hard to tell the color of his hair since it was wet, but she would have guessed a light brown or dark blonde. She could tell that Jack was driving the boat since he was the only red-head onboard. There was another guy that she could make out on the boat with much darker hair and dark sunglasses, but with his position, she couldn’t tell much else. There was also a girl on the boat, not sitting with dark hair guy, but sitting across from him, clearly watching the wake-boarder carefully. Veronica couldn’t really blame her because the guy definitely had skills and wasn’t hard on the eyes either, at least from the distance she was at. The girl was wearing a bikini top and had her hair partly pulled up, but the wind was blowing it around quite a bit. She guessed it looked like her hair was ombre style, with much lighter ends contrasted against the darker base color as it was pulled up against her head.
Jack must have noticed they were coming back because he waved at the wake boarder, who waved back and dropped the rope as Jack stopped, though he still easily surfed in on the remaining wake to climb back into the boat. Ombre girl walked over and started to hand him a towel as he climbed in and shook his head in her direction, effectively soaking her like a dog would, causing her to squeal and jump back. Veronica would put money on the two of them being the couple, and dark hair sunglass guy being the one who was her benefactor. Veronica turned her attention back in the direction that they were headed and couldn’t help but be impressed by the houseboat they had rented. There appeared to be a hot-tub on the very top sundeck and a water slide that also came down off that deck as well. She also noticed that there were a couple of wave-runners tied up along side the boat. Her attention was still focused on the houseboat as Bianca was slowing down their speedboat.
She heard Jack’s familiar voice yell out from right beside them. “Damn it Birdie! I really thought you’d bail on us. Now I have to pay up and I don’t get my prize.”
Veronica pasted an evil smirk on her face and turned to give him crap, when her eyes landed on a familiar pair of brown eyes staring with equal surprise right back at her. She swallowed hard and blinked a few times before she recovered from the immediate shock. Both boats had stopped now and she quickly glanced at the other two faces and wasn’t sure who among all of them was more surprised.
“Veronica?” Casey Gant said as he stood up from his seat and walked over toward her. “You're Birdie?” Veronica let out a disbelieving laugh and nodded. They awkwardly hugged across the edge of the two boats that were now side by side.
Veronica glanced at Ombre girl, who gave her a small awkward smile. “Hey Veronica. It’s been a while.” Veronica nodded and tried to smile back, but she was sure at this point it likely looked totally forced.
“Hey Shelly,” she said in reply. She turned her attention back to the dark eyes that were still staring at her from under his shorter, much lighter wet hair.
“Hey Veronica,” he said as he gave her a crooked half smile.
She swallowed the lump she felt in her throat and nodded in reply. The guy she thought was half a world away was standing 6 feet away from her, and she had no idea how she was going to survive this week now.