Ceiling tile, he decides. That's a ceiling tile, with a water stain that resembles what's-his-name, that British guy. He's pretty sure water-stained ceiling tiles aren't the usual decor, either where he expected to end up or the other place, so there's a good chance he's still alive. So. Jail then. Or prison. Trying to blow up a school probably rates prison.
"Why, hello there."
He turns his head to see the most motherly-looking prison guard he's ever seen smiling down at him. Grandmotherly, even. He frowns. "Wh-"
"Shh," she admonishes. "Don't try to talk. Take this." She holds a spoon to his lips and he feels something cold going between them before he can even think about it. "Don't try to swallow. Just let it melt."
It's ice, he realizes. He hadn't even noticed how dry his mouth and throat had been. Once the ice has melted, he tries again. "Wh- Where-"
"You're in Tri-County General," she answers. "The hospital. I'm Nurse Rivera."
He blinks. So, not a guard then. The guard's probably outside, to keep him from escaping. Not that stopping him would be too difficult, the way he feels right now. He probably couldn't escape from the proverbial wet paper bag, much less actual prison. "Um, JD," he replies. "Jason. Jason Dean."
"I know." She smiles kindly. "It's on your chart."
"Oh." He blinks again. "Right." He frowns. "Um, Veronica, is um, is she-"
"Is that your young lady? The pretty brunette?"
"Yeah," he answers. "No. Um, I'm... not sure."
"Well, either way, you'll be happy to know she's just fine, thanks to you," Rivera says. "Although she's probably asleep right now. It is the middle of the night, after all." She pulls the bedsheet up and tucks it under his chin. "Now, why don't you try to get a little more rest? I'm sure she'll be back in the morning." She straightens and steps away from his bed. Pausing in the doorway she adds, "I hear you're quite the hero, Mr. Dean. However things work out between the two of you, that young lady is a lucky girl. Sweet dreams."
He stares at the empty doorway, then shakes his head. Maybe the afterlife is weirder than he thought.
The doctor tells him that, except for the finger, he was actually pretty lucky. He's got two cracked ribs and a long furrow along his side from the one bullet, and a gouge across his bicep from the other. It was just bad luck that his finger happened to get in the way of one of the bullets. Or perhaps not. It also might have deflected that bullet enough to keep it from hitting anything vital. There's no way to tell. In any event, everything seems to be healing up just fine, and at least both wounds are on the same arm, so he can still use the other one while he heals.
He doesn't correct the doctor's misapprehension about how his finger had been shot off, although he does cautiously confess that he can't quite remember what happened. The doctor reassures him, telling him that some minor temporary memory loss is not uncommon after a traumatic injury like his. Not to mention he's still on some pretty potent medication. Give it a few more days and if he still can't remember anything, then they'll start worrying.
A young blonde nurse, not Nurse Rivera, sticks her head in and chirps something about visitors. He's still half-expecting the cops to show up at any moment, so the last person he's expecting to see walk through the door is Veronica. He's even more surprised when she walks over and kisses him, tenderly cupping the side of his face with her hand.
She pulls back, and he can feel himself relaxing at the look in her eyes. They're apprehensive, searching his face, and that's exactly what he expects. He's still confused as hell, and maybe it's a bit fucked up that the only person he trusts to tell him what's really going on is the person who shot him multiple times, and still could send him to prison with a word, but trust her he does.
Veronica closes the door behind the doctor and rests her forehead against it. "Everything's back at your dad's work site," she says without turning around. "Even the thermals."
"Thanks." That seems inadequate- it is inadequate- but he has no idea what else to say.
"I couldn't find your finger though," she continues. "One of the rats must have gotten to it first."
"That's ah, that's all right."
"So." She turns to face him then, her hand still on the door's handle. "How stupid am I being?"
"It might just be the drugs," he admits, "but while Westerburg still has plenty of assholes the world would be better off without, I can't really bring myself to care that much, one way or the other. It's like, it's still important, but it's not so important that it's all I can think about anymore, y'know?"
She shakes her head. "Not really. And after the drugs?"
He tilts his head back, looking up at what's-his-name. "After the drugs, Heather, Kurt and Ram will still be dead."
He draws in a breath, then lowers his eyes to meet hers. "Killing them didn't change anything, did it? Not really."
"You tell me," she returns evenly.
"Day or two later, it was meet the new assholes, same as the old."
"And you had nothing to do with that."
He gives her a wry smile. "She wasn't exactly reluctant when I brought the idea up. More importantly though, I completely underestimated you. Or overestimated myself. Either way, you outthought me and outfought me, and that's enough to make me wonder what else I might be wrong about.
"I still think we need to wipe the slate if anything's really going to change," he continues. "I'm just not sure anymore what it's going to change to." He shrugs. "Not saying you're right, but maybe, you're not entirely wrong. And maybe I'm not as right as I thought I was."
"Does that mean no more killing?"
"No more killing."
She folds her arms. "And why should I believe you?"
He tries to think of a reason, then shrugs and admits, "I got nothing."
"Look, the only way you're going to believe I've stopped killing people is if I genuinely stop killing people, right? Anything else is just words."
She stares at him for a long moment, then says, "Eskimo."
"Umm, igloo?" he ventures. "The North Pole, uh-"
She shakes her head. "Never mind." She pushes off from the door and saunters over to the bed. "Thank you for saving me from a fate worse than death after that crazy homeless guy on angel dust attacked me in the parking lot."
"Crazy homeless guy."
"On angel dust."
She shrugs. "I just said crazy homeless guy. Not a clue where the angel dust part came from. But it works."
He blinks. "They bought that?"
Her mouth quirks up in a one-sided smile. "Mineral water equals gay suicide pact?"
"Valid point. We ah, we wrestled for the gun and he shot me? Then ran off?"
She nods. "Pretty much. I knew we didn't have much time before the pep rally let out, so I got the bomb off you and hid it in a trash can. Then I hauled you into my lap just before the first kids came out the door. Soon as they did, I started screaming for someone to call an ambulance.” She shrugs. “The homeless guy thing just sort of... came out when one of the paramedics asked what happened."
He laughs. "You are brilliant."
She gives a theatrical bow, then straightens and smacks him on the arm. "You owe me a new shirt, asshole. And a skirt."
"Ow ow ow! Wounded man here."
She narrows her eyes at him. "I shot your other arm, jerk. And just consider yourself lucky that damn Dirty Harry cannon of yours weighs a ton and kicks like a fucking mule. Now if I'd still had that little .25, it'd be a different story."
"What little .25?"
"That Beretta. The one you gave me for Kurt and Ram."
"Oh, that. Right." He frowns. "Wait. That was a .25 caliber? You sure?"
She gives him an exasperated look. "It was stamped on the side of the gun, so yeah, I'm pretty sure."
"And mine was a .357, I think, which... means... uh..."
She shrugs. "All I know is my bullets were only about half as long as your 'I'm lying' ones. And yes, I got it translated, asshole."
His eyes widen. "Oh. Oh crap. When you shot Kurt-"
She throws up her hands. "All right, fine, I admit it. I didn't want to go to jail. Happy now? I knew Kurt wanted to go to law school and be a district attorney somewhere and Ram was his best friend and I just-"
"What? No, that's not-" He shakes his head. "We put your gun in Kurt's hand. The one he was shot with."
"I was there, remem...ber." Her eyes widen, and she stares at him for a long moment. "You remembered Kurt was left handed," she says, voice rising as she speaks, "but not that we had two different size guns that had to be matched up to the bullets we shot them with!"
"I had a lot on my mind! And it sounds like you knew they were different calibers. You could have said something too!"
"I'm sorry, but at the time I was a little freaked out, what with the whole killing-two-more-people thing!" She flops into the single visitor's chair. "Fuck."
He grunts in agreement. Their eyes meet, and all of a sudden they're both bursting into laughter that has more than a touch of hysteria in it. "Fuck fuck fuck." She comes up out of the chair but he waves her off, clutching at his injured side. "Note to self," he pants. "Avoid laughing with a broken rib."
"Should I get-"
"Nah. I'll be fine." He shakes his head. "Not exactly criminal geniuses, are we?"
"Ya think?" She sits back down and wipes her eyes. "At least Ponch and Judy didn't pick up on it either."
"And they're both safely buried now." He hesitates, then continues, "That first shot. You deliberately missed."
"Yeah," she says quietly. "I guess I did." She leans forward in her chair. "Where did you get them from, anyway?"
"Let's just say some of the guys who work for my dad are the kind of guys who know a guy who knows a guy."
"In Sherwood fucking Ohio."
"You'd be surprised."
Her eyebrows rise.
"All right, so maybe I had to take a ride down to Cincinnati," he admits. "Where do you think I got that copy of Studpuppy from?"
"Your private collection?"
His response consists of a single, upraised finger.
She smirks, and forms a mock gun with her thumb and forefinger, aiming it at him.
"Yeah, yeah," he grumbles. "Make fun of the poor cripple."
"You lost a finger, not a leg." The smile on her face fades away. She looks down at her hands, takes a deep breath, then raises her eyes to meet his. "JD, I-"
He's at least as surprised as she is, but it feels right, so he tries to explain. "I wasn't- I didn't- JD isn't- I used to just be Jason, before..." His voice trails off.
She draws in a sharp breath. "Oh."
"Not- Not all at once." He tilts his head back, finding it easier to tell this to what's-his-name. "At first I was just numb..."
Her voice is soft. "And then?"
"And then, I started getting mad. At my Pop-" He gives a bark of laughter. "For all the fucking good that's done. Asshole still insists it was a goddamn accident." He shakes his head. "Mom wouldn't have made that simple, that stupid of a mistake. She knew better. She knew."
He feels the mattress shift slightly as she sits on the edge and takes his hand in hers.
"At... everything, really," he continues, still looking up at what's-his-name. "I was just.... angry. All the time. And I just kept getting angrier."
"Is that- Is that when you decided to change your name?"
"Yes... No.... I don't know... I don't think I ever actually decided, per se. It's more that Jason was the kind of kid who worried about what his Eagle Project would be, and JD... wasn't."
He frees his hand and holds it up, palm out, with the first three fingers extended and the fourth bent down, held by his thumb. "Believe it or not."
She gives him a wry smile and holds up her own hand, returning the sign. Her smile fades. "Me and Betty Finn, paramilitary cookie pushers," she says softly, lowering her hand. "Back when I was just Ronnie."
He lowers his as well, wiping at his eyes. "Not the Heathers?"
She gives a surprised laugh. "Like Heather Chandler would have been caught dead in anything so plebeian as a uniform. She barely tolerated Heather's, and that's only because well, cheerleader."
"So instead she's caught dead in her bathrobe. How very."
"Yeah, well..." She shrugs. "Are you still-"
A knock at the door interrupts her. "Hey, Pop. You wouldn't believe how boring-" The door swings open to reveal his father, who cuts himself off as soon as he sees Veronica. Big Bud is carrying JD's saxophone case in one hand, which is not that helpful since it takes two working hands to play the instrument. His mother always claimed that his father meant well, but sometimes he can't help but wonder. At least his father also has a box with a Walkman and several cassette tapes tucked under his arm. "Veronica."
She stands and swipes at her eyes. "Mr. Dean. Um, hi."
Big Bud peers at her. "I can wait if-"
She shakes her head. "I need to be getting home anyway." She turns back to the bed, and he can see she's nervous, but she still leans forward and kisses his cheek. "See you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow," he acknowledges, then she's saying goodbye to his father and walking out the door.
"Seems like a nice girl," his father says, once the door has closed behind her. "Better than that one you were seeing back in-"
"Yeah," he cuts his father off. That girl, call her not-Veronica, had in the end chosen not-Kurt, and her social position, over him. That night at the cow pasture, he'd been so scared that the whole thing was just repeating itself with different actors, but he'd still held out his hand. Veronica had taken it without a backward glance. Not-Veronica had always looked back, all during their time together, focused on the status she was losing. He'd been hurt when she broke up with him, but also kind of relieved it was over. It had made leaving that much easier. "She is." He grins. "Let me tell you, everything's been going great at work, son."
Big Bud snorts. "I wish. Had to hire an overnight security guard, instead of just having the local cops keep an eye the place. Some asshole busted out the window on the explosives shack."
"Oh shit. How much did they get?"
"Looks like the dickwad got scared off," Big Bud answers. "A couple packs of thermals and a detonator were on the floor, but the only thing missing is one of the timers."
He laughs, and if his laugh is more than a touch relieved, his father doesn't notice. Veronica might have honestly believed she'd found everything, but this confirms it. "They could have gotten one of those from the freaking hardware store."
"Yeah. Still had to tell the bat-fuck boys though." Bat-fuck boys is his father's term for the BATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the federal agency that regulates explosives. Big Bud sits on the edge of the bed, his face solemn. "Listen, son, Veronica told me why the two of you broke up."
He stiffens, suddenly wary. "Oh?"
"She said you were becoming self-destructive, that you were trying to make ah, how did she put it- 'too extreme an impression on the world'. She was scared you'd go too far and end up hurting yourself. Or worse."
That. Clever. Little. Bitch.
"I know things haven't been easy for you," his father continues, "not since your mom died. And maybe I should have let your aunt and uncle take you in like they wanted, and just visited, instead of dragging you around the country like this."
The Deans had had a real home once, the house where Jason and his mother had lived, and his father, although Big Bud had been away on business far more than he was ever there. Still, it had been his father's home too. For the first time, he wonders if the loss of that home, that bit of permanence, has affected his father as much as it has him. "Not sure a growing boy and a houseful of Hummel are the best combination there, Pop." His aunt and uncle are avid collectors of the porcelain figurines.
"They probably would have cleared a room for you, moved some out to the barn."
"Or made me live there," he counters.
His father shrugs, but doesn't deny the possibility.
"Dad, look, Veronica, well, she worries and-"
"What if one of the blanks you shot at those two fags had been a real bullet?"
"They uh, they weren't," he stammers. "I made su-"
"Like you made sure with the radio?" Big Bud shakes his head. "You were lucky. This time. I know I've told you before, if a fight is inevitable, hit hard-"
"-hit fast and hit first," he finishes. "I know, Pop."
"Yeah, but maybe what I haven't said enough is that sometimes, the smart thing to do is just walk away, before things get out of control. Before you make that one mistake that means having someone's death on your conscience for the rest of your life. You don't want that, son, believe me." Before Dallas, one of the junior explosive technicians in the company would have been tasked with doing a final walk-through, just before a building was demolished. After Dallas, and the consequences of an unsecured door, Big Bud does the final walk-throughs personally.
"Anyhow, the bitches are back whining to the judge about how the plans for the new building don't 'reflect the unique and historic character of the neighborhood'," his father continues as he stands. "The neighborhood is a goddamn slum is what it is. Some people just don't know a good thing when it's staring them in the face. Gotta be dragged into it kicking and screaming the whole way, like those twatnozzles in Kansas. Like a fucking tree is more important than-" He shakes his head. "Anyway, my point is, looks like we'll be here for a while. Maybe we can figure out a few things." Big Bud claps his son on the shoulder. "Before you end up doing something you'll regret."
"Um, yeah Dad. Sure." His father leaves soon after that and he spends most of the night staring at the ceiling, his thoughts whirling.
Veronica slams the door closed and presses her back against it. "Do you still have Heather's copy of Moby Dick?" Her head is bent down, hair falling forward to shield her face, but he can see the tension in every line of her body, in the fists she is clenching so tightly her knuckles are white.
"On my night table at home, I think," he answers, pulling his headphones off.
She says nothing for a long moment, then she slowly, deliberately unclenches first one fist, then the other. "Get rid of it," she growls, pressing her hands flat against the door behind her. "Shred it, burn it, I don't care. Get rid of it before I- Just get rid of it. Please."
"Tough day at school, dear?"
She lifts her head and glares at him.
"I'll get rid of it," he says hastily. "Promise."
"Fuck." She lets her head fall back against the door. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually miss insecure, bulimic Heather. Now she's like a bad copy of Heather Chandler. With none of her good qualities."
"Heather Chandler had good qualities?"
That earns him another glare. "Yes, she did."
He holds up his hand in surrender. "I'll take your word for it." He frowns. "Wait... bulimic? Heather Duke? Really?"
"Yeah," she answers. "Really." She sighs. "Nobody knew. As much as Heather rode Heather's ass about that and all kinds of other shit, it stayed in our group. She never would have pulled the kind of shit Heather pulled on Heather after that whole Hot Probs thing." She shoves off from the door and moves to sit on the edge of his bed. "So, how was your day, dear?"
"Oh, the excitement never ends," he says dryly. "I understand I have you to thank for my Pop's sudden attack of parental concern."
She smirks. "Just spreading the love. My Mom freaked out about the whole hanging thing and now I have to start seeing a psychiatrist once a week. Oh don't worry, I can spin a pretty good line of bullshit if I have to. I mean, I'm pretty sure 'Oh by the way Doc, I helped murder three people' isn't covered by doctor-patient confidentiality."
He takes her hand in his. "I'm not worried, believe me."
She looks away. "Jason, maybe-"
"JD," he corrects. "I can't go back to being that kid," he continues at her exasperated look, "to being just plain old Jason Dean. There's just too much... stuff. Y'know?"
"Yeah," she answers. "I tried to reconnect with Betty. Invited her over for a game."
"Didn't go well?"
"Heather and Heather showed up. She didn't stick around." She looks down at their joined hands. "JD, maybe, you should, I don't know, think about talking to someone too."
"Kinda have the same problem you do, darlin'. Plus the whole attempted mass murder thing as well. Which brings up the question- why?"
Her eyes come up to meet his. "Why talk-"
He shakes his head. "Why all this. It would have been a lot easier just to let me blow myself up, take all the blame for everything."
"Believe me, I thought of that," she answers. "It would have been even easier to trigger the bomb once you'd collapsed, let it blow us both up."
He draws in a sharp breath. "Jesus Christ, Veronica.”
"What, you think the mad bomber's girlfriend isn't going to face a shitload of questions? And more?"
"At least she'd be alive to face them."
She looks down at their hands again. "Maybe she just didn't want to face them alone," she says quietly. "After you collapsed, it hit me... everything that- that we've done... The switch was right there. Just for a moment, I was tempted... such a simple solution... to everything."
He says nothing, just shifts so there's more room on the bed. She curls up beside him, her head pillowed on his good shoulder. "You know," he says finally, "you did break up with me. So technically you weren't the mad bomber's girlfriend."
She smiles slightly, lifting her head to face him. "Technically, we're still broken up."
"Well, once they spring me from this joint, wanna go grab some Turbo Dogs and a couple Slushies?"
"Nothing but the finest in convenience store cuisine for you, my darling."
She laughs. "How can I resist?" Her face falls, and she lays her head back down on his shoulder. "JD, can I ask you a question?"
"Been there, done that." She draws in a breath, then lets it out. "Have you- Had you ever killed anyone before? Before Heather I mean."
"Thought about it?"
"All the time," he admits.
She lifts her head to face him again. "Would you have? Without me, I mean. I mean, it was me Heather was going to trash, not you. And it was me Kurt was spreading rumors about, not-"
"Hold up," he interrupts. "First off, Kurt and I were always going to butt heads, ever since I humiliated him and Ram in the caf. If it hadn't been over you, it would have been something else. And Heather..."
"And Heather?" she prompts when he falls silent.
"Neither of us went there planning to actually kill her," he continues. "But I'm the genius who figured that a bottle marked "POISON" really wasn't that dangerous. I mean, it had a fucking skull and crossbones on it, for Christ's sake!"
"You thought it would make her start spewing after the first swallow," she responds. "I mean, which of the lame-ass concoctions I was coming up with would have done that? And afterward, neither one of us wanted to go to jail."
"Yeah, but you're not the one who swan-dived into psycho after that either."
"No, just splashed about in the shallow end." She lays her head back down on his chest. "Actually, I'm not sure I ever stopped. I mean, I feel bad about Heather's death, but she was my friend, and I miss her. But Kurt was just this guy I knew. I feel worse about making Kimmy cry than I do about shooting him. How's that for fucked up?"
"Well," he says slowly, "making little girls cry is a pretty shitty thing to do. Not feeling bad about it would be even more fucked up."
She lifts her head to look at him again. "Thanks," she says dryly. "I feel so much better now." She lays her head back down on his shoulder. "Apparently Ram volunteers down at the Humane Society. Used to volunteer."
He looks down at her in surprise. "Really? That seems uh-"
"Out of character? Yeah."
"I'm surprised nobody mentioned it at the funeral."
"Heather said he didn't like people knowing. Thought it was bad for his 'tough guy' image or something. The only reason I know is because I got her good and drunk after her suicide attempt and honestly, she's kind of a maudlin drunk." She grimaces. "I probably shouldn't have told you about that. She doesn't want anyone-"
"Wait whoa back up. What suicide attempt? When? Why?"
"Hot Probs again," she answers, raising her head to look at him once more. She sits up, using her arm to brace herself. "You're actually upset."
"I like her," he protests. "She's a sweet girl when she's not um- not-"
"Not around the rest of us?"
"Well, Heather and Heather anyway."
"You do realize she would have been killed along with everyone else, right?"
He grimaces. "Yeah, I know. It's just- Like I said, she's a sweet girl. The idea that things were so shitty she'd rather die..." He shakes his head. "I know it shouldn't make a difference- dead is dead, after all- but it does."
"So you'd rather kill someone yourself, and make it look like a suicide, than for them to actually commit suicide?" she asks slowly.
"Yeah. I guess I would."
She shakes her head. "I'm not sure what's scarier: the way your mind works or the fact that what you said actually makes a weird kind of sense."
"Hey, it's not just murder," he protests. "I'm cool with people having fatal accidents or dying from some disease."
"You forgot old age."
She rolls her eyes, but lies back down, pillowing her head on his chest once more.
"You and my Pop seem to be getting along," he notes.
She wrinkles her nose. "He's still kinda creepy, but he seemed honestly worried about you, so..." She shrugs.
"He wasn't always... like he is now. He changed after- after Mom. I guess we both did."
She says nothing, just snuggles closer and takes his hand in hers, interlacing their fingers.
"I didn't want them dead," she says, breaking the silence. "But, at the same time, I also wouldn't have minded if they had just... happened to die."
"Just... happened to die," he repeats.
"Yeah. And either way, I definitely wanted them humiliated. Publicly humiliated." She sighs. "I'm starting to think that I might not be a very nice person." She lifts her head when he remains silent. "Well, don't-"
"I think maybe we should stay broken up."
She sits up, bracing herself on her arms once more. "Excuse me?"
"Something my dad said- all it would have taken was for one of those blanks to have accidentally been a real bullet. I was riding the edge- I've been riding the edge- and all it takes is one little mistake, one moment of carelessness, and someone's dead. If it hadn't been Heather, it would have been someone else. Sooner or later, I would have killed someone, somehow. But not you. If I hadn't climbed in your window that night, you'd be- I don't know, picking out your prom dress or something- instead of covering up for a multiple murderer. Look, you said once you needed to bring yourself back. Well, maybe this is your chance to, I don't know, have a normal life of some kind."
"And what about you?" she responds, swinging her legs around so she's sitting cross-legged on the bed, facing him. "Don't you deserve that chance as well?" She points to herself. "Murder. Accessory to murder."
"Mass murder," he counters.
"Attempted mass murder," she corrects. "JD, if we could go back in time, if you had the chance to do everything over-"
"We can't," he says flatly. "So it doesn't matter." He sighs, running his good hand through his hair. "I'm not so sure I could change anything, even knowing what would happen. I was so, so sure I was right. Everything was so clear. Even now, I know the only place different social classes can genuinely get along is in Heaven. I know that. And there's still a part of me that thinks sending everyone there is the only real solution. That misses that- that sense of clarity. Of purpose."
"A part of you," she repeats. "And how strong is that part? What are the other parts of you saying?"
He stares at her for a long moment. "After Heather's funeral, I went for a ride," he says finally. "It helps me think, sometimes." He laughs. "The whole time, I was kind of half-expecting her to sit up in the coffin and, I don't know, denounce us or something. Guess I shouldn't have chosen The Tell-Tale Heart for my extra-credit essay, huh?"
"Let me guess, Mrs. Ramey's on a Poe kick again."
"Yup. Gave me an A on it, too. Anyway," he continues, "I stopped at this little country store, needed to get some gas and some smokes and take a piss. Someone had left a newspaper behind, and it was open to this story, this little three or four paragraph blurb, about how one of the fraternity houses at Remington had burned down and it was like, the universe was saying that what happened was supposed to happen, and I was- we were- just an- an instrument, really, making the world a better place. And then Kurt-"
"What? Was anyone hurt?"
"Didn't say. I'd think they'd have mentioned it though, so probably not."
"Did they say how it started?"
"Something about some trash cans catching fire, I think."
She buries her face in her hands. "Oh God."
"I kind of accidentally set my drink on fire and um, kind of tossed it out a window. I'm pretty sure there were some trash cans out there."
He laughs. "My little arsonist. What were you drinking, straight Everclear?"
"Shut. Up." She lifts her head from her hands. "Is that why Kurt and Ram died? Improving the world by getting rid of a couple useless bullies who were good for nothing but date rapes and AIDS jokes?"
"After the funeral, Ram had some kid down on the ground, some nerd barely half his size, and Kurt was standing over them and I just wanted to go over there and-" He shakes his head. "I had to ride away before I did something stupid. At that point I really, really wouldn't have minded if they'd just... happened to die."
"What changed?" she asks softly.
He grimaces. "Phys ed. A couple of the jocks were talking shit and well, your name came up." The corners of his mouth lift slightly in a humorless smile. "I knew it wasn't true, what they were saying, but of course me getting upset was just what they wanted. And it's not like I could tell them 'Actually, I was the one who got a blow job from Veronica last night, not Kurt. Or Ram'."
Her mouth twists in a wry smile. "Thank you for that at least."
"Yeah, well." He shrugs. "Anyway, I thought it was just, y'know, them talking shit. Then after class, I went out to catch a smoke. That stoner chick, what's-her-name-"
"Yeah, her, was out there and she was like 'Dude, I heard. Totally sucks. Always-' ah, how did she put it? Oh yeah- 'Always thought there was more to her than the rest of the air-head bitches. Guess I was wrong.' Then she offered me a hit."
She laughs and shakes her head. "Great. Even the school burn-out thinks I'm a tramp."
"Anyway, I declined, stuck with my smokes," he continues. "And, I don't know how else to explain it, but while I was smoking that cigarette, something in me went from 'the world would be a better place if they just died' to 'they need to be killed to make the world a better place'." He looks down at his hand. "That's when I realized my mistake with Heather hadn't been a mistake. Not really."
"Your real feelings," she says slowly, "were too gross and icky for you to face. Or had been. And Heather Chandler was one bitch who deserved to die."
"So you convinced yourself that feeding Heather a drain cleaner cocktail wouldn't be fatal."
"More like wouldn't admit that it might be- that it probably would be- but yeah. And once I'd admitted that to myself-" He shrugs. "There didn't seem to be a reason to hold back any longer. I was... right. And it was obvious, what I had to do."
"Yeah." She rests her chin on her folded hands. "So, the 'they need killing' pile started out with Kurt and Ram and just... grew?"
He nods. "Pretty much. I mean, we'd already killed one person, so what were a couple more?"
"Or a couple hundred?"
"I may have gone a bit overboard there."
"Just a bit."
"There were a couple people I felt bad about but," he shrugs, "necessary sacrifices for the greater good and all that."
"Now the 'need killing' pile's a lot smaller."
"Yeah. Now it's mainly the apartheid government in South Africa, New Kids on the Block, that asshole who gets in the 'ten items or less' line with twelve items, you know, people like that."
She laughs. "Oh come on, New Kids aren't that bad."
He gives her a sidelong look. "You like New Kids on the Block? I may need to reconsider this relationship."
"I didn't say I liked them, just that they're not bad. Besides," she leans forward and plucks a cassette from the box on the table, "Kenny G?"
"Hey, the man does have talent, even if he's not at the level of an Ornette Coleman or a Charlie Parker."
"Right," she drawls, tossing the cassette back in the box. "You realize I have no idea who those people are."
He shakes his head. "Your musical education has been sadly neglected."
"Well, I guess you're just going to have to teach me what I'm missing, Schroeder."
"He plays the piano, Lucy. An infinitely less cooler instrument."
She rolls her eyes. "Good grief." Her eyes go to his bandaged hand. "Are you- Did the doctor say if..."
"Said it was remarkably clean, right at the joint," he answers. "Won't know for sure until the bandages come off and I start physical therapy, but it doesn't look like there's any nerve damage or anything. My hand should work fine. Fingers too, the ones that are left."
She visibly winces, then asks, "So you think you'll be able to play again?"
He nods. "I think so. Might have to make a few adjustments, learn some alternate fingering and such, but it shouldn't be too difficult."
She smiles. "Good. You still owe me a concert, remember?"
He smiles back. "Yeah, I remember." The smile fades from his face, and he says softly, "Hey, you did what you had to do."
She ducks her head. "It was supposed to just be a warning shot," she mutters.
"I don't think a warning shot would have worked. I was too far gone. Even actually getting shot was barely enough." He shakes his head. "You're not going to do the smart thing, are you?"
She lifts her head. "You did go too far, JD, no question. But you're not the only one."
"It's not the same," he answers. "Veronica, look, you're basically a good person who got involved with someone who isn't-"
"Would a good person fake a suicide note to cover up her part in her best friend's death? Would she let her desire for revenge blind her to what her partner was really doing? Would she abandon her oldest and truest friend, just to be part of the 'in' crowd?" Her lips curl in a mirthless smile. "Or how about that whole gets-horny-after-killing-someone thing?" She shakes her head. "The last thing I am is a 'good person'."
"You're still a better person than me."
She flashes him a quick smirk. "True." She looks down at her hands again, obviously gathering her thoughts, then lifts her head, her face solemn. "A truly good person would confess to all her crimes, accept whatever punishment... I'm not that person, I'm just not. But maybe I can be a 'good enough' person. And maybe part of being that 'good enough' person is not just bringing myself back, but helping someone else bring himself back as well." She holds out her hand.
He looks at her hand in silence. "I don't know if that person can come back," he answers finally. "He's done- I've done... too much. I don't think 'good enough'- hell, any kind of 'good'- is an option, not anymore. Not for me." He lifts his eyes to meet hers. "But I think maybe, just maybe, I can manage 'not too bad'." He brings his hand up to grasp hers.
She smiles and leans forward, pressing her lips against his. "I can live with 'not too bad'," she murmurs. "If you're willing to work at it."
"I am. Just not exactly sure how at the moment," he confesses.
She settles back and regards him thoughtfully. "Have you ever considered," she says slowly, "keeping a- a diary, a journal of some sort?"
He shakes his head.
"I find it helps when- when things in my head get overwhelming," she continues. "They don't go away, not really, but it's like the very act of writing about them makes them less powerful, less likely to push me into doing... things. Like- like shoving a lighter into my palm."
"Or a knife," he says softly, reaching out and tracing a line across the inside of her thigh.
"Razor blade," she corrects. "And, only a few times. I thought-" She swallows. "I hoped you'd be too distracted to notice."
He shakes his head. "I noticed. I just- It took me a bit to put it together." He pulls his hand back and settles back against his pillows. "What you're talking about, about things in your head pushing you to do stupid things, like- like challenging the entire fucking football team to a fight-" He smiles slightly as her eyes widen. "Yeah. At one of my old schools. Went about as well as you'd expect. What you said about writing, it sounds a lot like what music- what playing music- can do for me, sometimes. It's like, those urges don't go away, but they're... pushed into the background. If that makes any sense."
She nods. "But sometimes it's... not enough, is it?"
He laughs. "Pretty sure we wouldn't be here if it was. But, this journal idea of yours, I'm willing to give it try. If nothing else, it won't hurt. And maybe, if I can keep everything on a- a theoretical level, talk about having fantasies of blowing up the school, for instance, maybe talking with someone could help too. A bit."
"Maybe." She leans forward and kisses him again. "And, thank you for being willing to try."
"Don't really care for any of the alternatives," he says, returning her kiss. He draws back slightly. "Just out of curiosity, what would you have done if I hadn't been willing?"
"Well, I do have the letters you wrote me," she answers. "Including your threats against my parents."
"So I coerced you into helping me."
"And if I claimed that you faked them? That you were a willing participant?"
She smirks. "I never said the letters were all that I had. And, dear?" She leans forward and kisses him again.
"If anything ever happens to me, everything comes out."
He pulls back, his eyes searching her face. "You're bluffing."
Her smirk widens into a grin. "Am I?"
An answering grin spreads across his face. "I knew there was a reason I loved you."
She just laughs before lying down and pillowing her head on his shoulder again.
"Moving on to more practical matters, I'm not going to be able to ride my bike until my arm heals up."
"Mm," she responds absently, idly twining a lock of hair around her forefinger. "I hear the bus is nice."
He scowls down at her. "May I have a ride to and from school until my arm heals? Please?"
"I guess it's not that far out of my way."
"I'll even take you to find a tux," she adds, grinning up at him.
"So I'm taking you to Prom, huh?"
"If you behave."
"Got it. Speaking of tuxes, I saw this sweet little lime-green and baby-blue number with-"
"Don't you dare!"
He grins down at her. She narrows her eyes at him in response.
"Or I suppose I could just stick with your regular, boring old black monkey suit," he continues.
"Classic," she corrects.
"Elegant and sophisticated," she declaims. "A true gentleman's gentleman. At least by the time I'm done with you."
"'Cause every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man," he warbles.
"Maybe you should stick with playing your sax."
He pouts at her, but before he can say anything a knock sounds and the door opens. Nurse Rivera enters, shooting Veronica a stern look over the tops of her glasses. Veronica gives a squeak and scrambles out of the bed, managing to fall to the floor in the process. Rivera steps forward and holds out a hand for Veronica to take. "I'm sorry, dear, are you all right? It's just that it's time to change Jason's bandages."
"Just my pride," Veronica answers. She accepts the older woman's hand and stands, turning to glare at JD, who is not bothering to hide his amusement.
"It's my fault entirely, Nurse Rivera," he says.
"Oh, I have no doubt of that, Mr. Dean," Rivera responds tartly and now it's Veronica's turn to smirk at him. "Although if I find any of his stitches have torn, young lady, or even been stressed..." Rivera trails off meaningfully.
Veronica's eyes go wide, and she shakes her head frantically. "I didn't- We didn't- JD, you would have said something if-"
"I feel fine," JD yelps. "Better than fine in fact. I feel great, see?" He leans forward and kicks the bedsheet off of one leg. "I could walk out of here right-"
"Stay in that bed, young man," Rivera barks. Her expression softens as JD settles back. "I don't mean to frighten either of you, but Jason was seriously wounded. He's recovering quite well, and I'd like to keep it that way."
Veronica bows her head. "I'm sorry, ma'am."
"Just be more careful in the future," Rivera instructs. Veronica nods. "Now," Rivera continues, "I'll let you have a few minutes to say good-bye, then you need to be getting home and Jason needs to be getting his rest."
"Yes, ma'am," Veronica answers. Rivera lets herself out, and Veronica turns back to JD. "So, tomorrow then?"
"I'll be here," he answers. "And Veronica? Thanks." She tilts her head inquiringly. "For taking a chance. Back at school."
She glances toward the partially-open door and moves closer, lowering her voice. "You could have done anything down in that boiler room, after I left. You came up. Maybe I'm seeing what I want to see, but-" She gives him a level look. "Please don't fuck this up, JD."
"Wasn't sure if you'd be here or not, after Friday," he says as he pulls the door shut.
"Told you I would be," she answers, shifting the car into drive and pulling away from the curb.
"Hi, JD. How's your arm? And... stuff."
He turns to see Heather McNamara in the back seat. "Oh hey, Heather. It's- Well, it's getting better. Veronica didn't tell me the two of you rode together."
"Cool," Heather answers. "We just started actually. I used to ride with Heather Chandler but..." She shrugs. "Veronica was nice enough to rescue me from the bus."
"Yeah, she does things like that," he responds, looking at Veronica as he speaks. She turns her head to meet his eyes, her face expressionless, then turns her attention back to the road in front of her.
"Oh hey," Heather says, "I just realized, you're not wearing your coat."
"Yeah, well, it got kind of messed up with everything that went on," he answers as Veronica stops the car at a red light. "Plus it's starting to get warmer now."
Heather nods. "Probably just as well. I mean, don't take this the wrong way or anything, but that coat kind of made you look like some kind of mad bomber out to blow up the school or something." Veronica and JD exchange glances, both of them wide-eyed. "Or maybe a flasher," Heather adds.
Veronica bursts into surprised laughter as JD settles back in his seat with a truculent scowl on his face. "A flasher," he mutters. "Great."
"I don't mean like, the creepy kind or anything," Heather adds hastily. Both of them turn to look at her. "Um, the light's green," she says as the car behind them honks.
Veronica reaches across and rubs his thigh as they drive through the intersection. "Well, I thought you looked all sexy and mysterious, that day in the caf." In the back seat, Heather rolls her eyes.
JD gives Veronica a level look, then turns to Heather and deliberately sticks his tongue out at her. Heather blinks in surprise, then sticks her tongue out at him, crossing her eyes as well. JD responds by bringing the thumb of his good hand to his nose and waggling his fingers.
Veronica laughs. "Don't make me stop this car and separate you two. Anyhow, what did your Dad say?"
"We'll be here through the fall at least it looks like," JD answers. "Maybe longer." He shrugs. "Depends on how long the lawyers manage to drag things out."
"Wait." Heather leans forward. "If you're only here through the fall, does that mean you'd be doing your last semester before graduating at a new school?"
"Well that sucks."
"Welcome to my life."
"What about doing early graduation in December?" Veronica asks.
"I'd need to talk to Mr. Hyde, see if enough of my credits transferred for that to work," JD answers. "And even if I can, I still won't be eighteen yet." Heather and Veronica both grimace in sympathy. "Anyhow, to completely change the subject," he continues, "my arm should be pretty much healed up by the time school lets out. I was thinking; it might be cool if I taught you to ride over the summer."
"Ride?" Veronica glances over at him. "Your bike?"
"Well, eventually your own, but yeah, to start off with."
Veronica shakes her head. "My parents would freak."
"It's just like riding a bike when you were a kid, except this time you've got an engine and-"
Veronica shakes her head again. "That's not- Look, Heather's parents and mine both promised to buy us cars for our sixteenth birthdays. Heather's parents bought her that Mustang. My parents bought me this- this tank."
"Oh." JD blinks. "I figured this was like, your family's old car or something."
Veronica snorts. "In that case you'd be riding in a Mercedes right now." She sighs as they turn into the school's parking lot. "They said they wanted something big and heavy that would protect me in case I got in an accident or something. I think if they could have gotten me an actual tank they would have."
"Driving an actual tank might be kind of cool," JD says. "Use the cannon to make your own parking space. There." He points, and Veronica wheels the station wagon into the empty space. "Oh well, it was just an idea."
"I didn't say I didn't want to," Veronica says as she shuts off the engine. She turns to JD, her lips curling in a conspiratorial grin. "We'll just need to be careful they don't find out too soon."
JD grins back. "I think we can manage that."
"Veronica the Biker Chick. I love it!" Heather opens her door. "Poor Kurt never had a chance, did he?" Both Veronica's and JD's eyes snap to her. Heather freezes, then shrinks back into her seat. "Umm... guys?” She laughs nervously, her eyes darting back and forth between them. “Guys?”
"Wh- Wh-" Veronica clears her throat. "What?"
"Asking you on that date with him and Ram after the funeral was really his idea," Heather confesses in a breathless rush. "I think maybe he was interested in you a bit, but he um," she glances over at JD, "figured you'd say no if he asked, especially after last time?”
JD's eyebrows rise. "Last time?"
"We double-dated Kurt and Ram this one time, before you got here." Veronica turns back to Heather. "Which also ended with the two of them getting drunk and molesting farm animals."
Heather winces. "Sorry? I mean, I know he turned out to be gay and stuff but like, maybe he was confused too, y'know?”
Veronica shakes her head. "Never mind. Go on, I'll catch up with you later."
Heather glances at JD, but says nothing as she gets out of the car, slamming the door behind her.
JD and Veronica both sag in relief as Heather dashes away. JD runs his good hand through his hair. "Holy crap."
"No shit." Veronica presses a hand to her chest. "I think my heart actually stopped for a second." She looks over at JD. "Um, for the record, Kurt and I never... did anything."
He shrugs. "Hey, our love is God, right? It forgives. But, I am just as glad. For the record."
She smiles slightly. "Yeah. So am I.”
He tilts his head. “Maybe he was confused too?”
She grimaces. “She um, she kind of kept wondering why Ram always wanted to have sex with her if he was really gay.”
“So you told her... what? That Ram was sexually confused? Thank you, Dr. Ruth.”
“I had to get her off the subject somehow, and it's not like I could tell her he really wasn't gay, now could I?” She narrows her eyes at him. “Let's see you come up with something better.”
He opens his mouth, then closes it again and looks away. He blows out a breath, runs his good hand through his hair again, then turns back to face her. "Look, forget about Ram and his- and all that stuff. Getting back to what we were talking about on Friday-”
She slumps forward, pressing her forehead against the steering wheel. "I can't be your moral safety net, JD. I can barely be my own."
"I get that, Veronica, I do. That wasn't what I meant. But there's more to- to us than just, y'know, the whole murder thing and-"
She straightens and turns to face him. "And I'm not disagreeing with you. I'm just saying we should take it slowly this time, instead of rushing into things."
"That... makes sense." He frowns. "So what hell were we fighting about?"
She smiles wryly. "'Cause we're both a couple of idiots?"
His answering smile is equally wry. "Yeah, probably." He starts to lean toward her, then stops, drawing in his breath with a sudden hiss.
"What's wrong? Are you all right?"
"Yeah, yeah," he answers. "Just moved wrong, that's all." He massages his ribs with a rueful smile on his face. "Looks like we'd be going slow in any case."
"Yeah, well, come on, slowpoke," she says, opening her door. "We're going to be late."
"Shit, wait, hold up. I almost forgot. Your parents came to see me Friday."
"Yeah, I know, they told me."
"I don't think they believe the homeless guy story."
"What!" She pulls her door closed. "Why? What did they say?"
He grimaces. "It's more what they didn't say."
"Damn it, JD-"
"I think they think we're covering up a suicide attempt. Specifically, yours."
"Gee, I wonder where they got that idea from?" She slams her hands against the steering wheel. "Fuck!"
"Look," he says in a low, calm tone, "this might actually be a good thing-"
"A good thing? How?"
"Let's face it, the whole homeless guy thing has some holes, the biggest one being that there's no homeless guy. So what happens when the cops can't find him?"
"Sherwood cops? Probably go back to jacking off to the latest Chuck Norris movie." She blows out a breath. "You're saying we need to have something ready, in case that falls through."
He nods. "Exactly."
"All right, fine, that makes sense," she answers. "But why do I have to be the one attempting suicide? Why can't I have been the one stopping you from-"
A sharp rap on Veronica's window cuts her off. One of the teachers is standing beside the car, and he motions for her to roll the window down. "You must really enjoy detention, Veronica. First you and Heather go rushing out of my class-"
"Veronica was just helping me, Mr. Drake," JD interjects, indicating the sling immobilizing his arm. "I got a little tangled up and it took longer than we realized to get everything straight again."
Mr. Drake raises a skeptical eyebrow, but merely steps back from the car and orders, "Get to class, both of you."
"Hey, Martha, wait up."
Martha turns her scooter and brings it to a halt. "Hey JD. Welcome back. How's the arm?"
"Doing okay, thanks." JD scratches behind his ear. "Martha, look, I um, I figure I kind of owe you an apology. About those pictures and-"
Martha shakes her head. "I kept telling myself that Heather Chandler was a bad influence, that if she were gone Heather would be like- like she used to be. Back when she and I were... best friends."
JD draws in a breath. "But she's not."
Martha shakes her head again. "If anything, she's gotten worse." She smiles sadly. "I guess maybe, there had to be something there for Heather Chandler to influence in the first place, right?"
"Yeah," JD answers quietly. "Right."
"I should have burned them myself, years ago. I just kept them because..." Martha wipes at her eyes. "Anyway, I need to get to class. Catch you later, okay?"
"Sure." He watches Martha trundle away, then turns his head to see Veronica watching him. He goes over to where she's leaning against a bank of lockers. "Hey."
"Hey," she answers. "What's going on?"
"Oh, nothing much." His mouth twitches in a humorless smile. "Just wondering if maybe we were a little hasty in shit-canning Moby Dick."
She looks sharply at him.
"Wondering," he repeats. "That's all."
"Hmm." Her gaze turns to where Martha has disappeared, then back to him. "JD... you didn't have anything to do with-"
"No!" He turns so his back is to the other students in the hallway. "Not... intentionally," he continues in a softer voice.
"I hope not."
"A few you... regretted," she says quietly, "but necessary sacrifices, and all that."
She studies his face, then links her arm with his and starts walking down the hallway.
"My next class is back that-"
"This won't take long," she says, halting by another bank of lockers. "Hey, Betty."
The girl seems surprised, but pleased. "Veronica. Hi." She gives the combination lock a final turn and opens her locker. "What's up?"
Veronica shrugs. "Oh, same old. Hey, have you guys met? Betty, this is JD. JD this-"
"Is the estimable Ms. Finn," JD drawls. "Greetings and salutations. I've heard so much about you," he adds with a quick glance at Veronica. He suspects he knows what her motivation for this sudden introduction is. The students he had regretted (potentially) killing, even in his madness, had been those few he had interacted with, had gotten to know as individuals. Being in the hospital gave him some time to think, and he doesn't like the person he became then. Perhaps getting to know more of his fellow students will help keep him from slipping back into that mindset. He tilts his head slightly. "You're in my German class, aren't you?"
Betty blushes and looks down. "Um, yeah. I didn't think you'd noticed me." Her glasses start to fall down her nose and she shoves them back up with one finger.
"I wish I'd known who you were. I'm sure you have all sorts of fun stories," he responds with a wicked grin, deliberately shifting his gaze toward Veronica.
Betty's blush deepens, but her lips curl in a sly smile as her eyes turn to Veronica as well. "Maybe one or two."
Veronica grins. "Hey, don't make me regret this, you two."
"JD, welcome back. What's the word on our petition?"
He turns to see Heather Duke, still wearing that red hair bow thingie, and accompanied by that chick who usually sits with the country club set- Cor... delia? No-
"Veronica. Betty," Heather acknowledges with a tight smile.
"Heather. Courtney." Veronica's smile is equally tight and devoid of warmth. Betty turns away, reaching into her locker, her eyes cast downward as Courtney sneers.
He glances toward Veronica. "You didn't tell her?"
Veronica shrugs. "I thought she should hear it from you."
"Well..." He scratches at the back of his head. All Veronica has told him about the mass suicide note is that it is now 'somewhere safe'. Presumably it's part of what will 'come out' if anything happens to her. Lowering his arm, he grimaces and continues, "We, uh, we kind of missed the deadline. Plus it got a bit blood-stained and stuff with everything that happened. But if you really want-"
"Ugh." Heather holds up a hand. "Never mind."
Courtney turns as Heather McNamara approaches their group. "How'd you do on that Spanish quiz?" she asks with saccharine sweetness.
Heather McNamara scowls. "Oh, fuck you."
Heather Duke laughs. "Math and Spanish, Heather? Better be careful or you'll be stuck doing junior year over again."
Courtney smirks. "La lengueta de Cervantes es muy dificil, right Heather?"
He hears a soft but unmistakably derisive snort. Unfortunately he wasn't the only one who heard, and Courtney is now glaring at Betty. “What?”
Betty glances at Courtney, then quickly drops her gaze. "Th- The word you want is lengua, or maybe lenguaje, not-"
"Oh, what do you know, dweeb?" Courtney takes a step forward, crowding Betty against the lockers. "Do you even take Spanish? What class are you in?"
"Hey!" Veronica snaps. "Back-"
Betty straightens, her back against the lockers, and shoves her glasses back into position. "Yo no tengo que," she responds. "He hablado español desde que era una nina pequeña. Tu, por otra parte, obviamente no sabes mierda de la lengua de Cervantes. " She slams her locker closed. "Gilipollas."
Heather McNamara gives a delighted laugh as Courtney's jaw drops and she takes a hasty step back. "Wh- Wh-" Courtney sputters, turning to Heather Duke, who looks equally shocked. He's surprised as well, but he can't help smiling at this turn of events.
"Oh that's right, your mom's from Spain, isn't she?" Veronica asks with a grin. "And you've actually been there a few times, visiting your grandparents at their coll- coll- um, that winery thing."
"Colleiteiro," Betty supplies automatically. Her eyes are wide behind her glasses, and she seems as surprised as anyone by her actions, but a broad smile starts to spread across her features. "Sí. Vamos a ir allí este- um, I mean, we're going there this summer, for my cousin's wedding and stuff."
Heather McNamara bounces up on her toes. "Oh my God, that is so cool!"
Courtney stamps her foot. "Oh fuck all you losers." She whirls and storms away.
Veronica places her hands on Betty and Heather McNamara's shoulders and gives each girl a gentle push. "You guys better get going. You don't want to be late for class. Oh, and Betty's pretty good at math, too."
Heather McNamara avoids Heather Duke's eyes as she turns away, linking her arm with Betty's and pulling her down the hallway. "I don't think I've ever met anyone from another country. Except Canada, but that doesn't really count. How'd your mom end up here? In Ohio?"
Betty glances over her shoulder at Veronica, but allows Heather McNamara to pull her away. "My um, my father's from here. Well, Toledo. He used to be in the Air Force and-" Her voice cuts off as the two girls round a corner and disappear.
Veronica sighs. "Damn it, Heather, do we really have do this?"
"Trying to make Betty Finn cool? Dream on, Veronica."
"Easier than that gossip-mongering little skank," Veronica answers evenly. "Besides, did it ever occur to you that maybe Betty isn't the only one I'm trying to help?"
Heather flushes, two spots of red blossoming high on her cheeks. "Do you really think we're the only people at this school who listen to Hot Probs? The only ones who'd recognize her voice, especially after she gave her real fucking name?" She shakes her head. "Heather dug her own grave."
"Yeah, but you didn't have to shove her in it. She was your friend, Heather. Damn it, we all-"
"Oh, screw you," Heather snaps. "You and that stupid, pretentious monocle of yours. Always scribbling in your little notebook like some cut-rate Harriet the Spy-"
Veronica scowls, her fists clenching as she takes a step toward Heather. "That's not-
"What are you going to do, Veronica, hit me? Again?" Heather smirks. "Better be careful, JD. Your little girlfriend here can get violent." Her eyes go back to Veronica. "Oh, and you might want to keep her away from sharp objects as well."
Veronica smiles thinly. "Nice try, but he already knows. More than you do, in fact."
"Really?" Heather's eyebrows arch. "I just might know more than you think I do, Veronica. You may think you have everyone fooled, but I know exactly what you did." She flicks a glance at JD. "You and Jesse James here." She spins on her heel and stalks away.
"Jesus fucking Christ, how was I ever friends with her?" Veronica blows out a breath, then turns to JD. "Our love may be God, but I am so glad you went the blackmail route with her, rather than seduction."
"Not sure I even needed that, the way she reacted when I pulled that hair thingie out of my pocket," he responds absently as he watches Heather walk away. "But that's not what worries me."
Her eyes widen and she draws in a sharp breath. "Oh. Oh fuck."
He turns his head to look at her. "Yeah."
She stares at him, then her shoulders slump and she gives a mirthless laugh that sounds uncomfortably close to a sob. "Guess we're back to slitting her wrists and making it look like a suicide, huh?"
"Yeah. Guess so."
"So much for 'good enough'."
At the far end of the hallway, Heather has stopped to talk to a pair of jocks. Basketball players, he thinks. "Look, it might be easier, um, less messy, to use a gun." He scratches the back of his head. "I ah, I could probably handle it myself if-"
She shakes her head. "Heather's terrified of guns. She won't even touch a cap pistol, much less a real one."
"That's... good to know. I guess."
"Yeah.” She gives him a smile that doesn't reach her eyes. “And... thanks.”
He shrugs, and they turn their gazes back to the far end of the hallway. Heather and the two jocks are looking back at them, then Heather jerks her chin up and turns away, disappearing around a corner. The two jocks follow in her wake.
"No." Veronica squeezes her eyes shut and shakes her head fiercely. "No. No. No. She doesn't know anything. She's bluffing. She has to be."
She opens her eyes and looks at him. "We're not in jail, are we?" She takes a deep breath, then lets it out slowly. "Heather Chandler always said everyone has a secret they don't want anyone to know. It doesn't matter if you know it or not, as long as they think you know it, you have power over them. It was one of her favorite ways of keeping people under her thumb."
"And you think that's what Heather's trying to do."
"I know it is."
He looks away, running his good hand through his hair, then turns back to her. "You know her better than I do. I just hope you're right."
"Yeah," she answers quietly. "So do I." She bites her lip. "We'd... better get to class." She places a hand on his chest, right over his heart. "JD,” she says, looking up into his eyes. “Promise me..."
He covers her hand with his as her voice trails off, pressing it into his chest so she can feel his heartbeat. "Of course."
She kisses him then, her mouth hot and fierce on his, then the late bell is ringing and they both have to rush off to their separate classrooms. It's 19th Century American Literature for him, and he usually enjoys it, but right now his mind is on other things.
He's been given a second chance and he intends to make the most of it. He wants to be- he will be- a better, saner, less homicidal person. He wants to grow up, become an adult and- well, he's not too keen on the whole dying part, not anymore, but he'll worry about that later.
And yet, he can't quite escape the thought that she could be wrong. That Heather may not be bluffing, that she really might know something and worse, have evidence she could take to the police.
No. Veronica's right. Heather's not stupid. If she really knew something they'd be in jail already.
And speaking of Veronica, what did he just promise, exactly? What was it she couldn't bring herself to say out loud? And why? As much as she might deny it, a Veronica who feels threatened is a dangerous Veronica- three corpses and the gap where his left middle finger used to be is proof enough of that. And while Heather Duke may not be a threat now, she could be if she starts looking in the wrong places. To both of them.
And really, considering the misery she and her sycophants spread, the scorn and derision they heap upon those they consider their social inferiors, wouldn't Westerburg be a better, nicer place if Heather Duke just... happened to die?
Betty's Spanish dialogue is courtesy of Google Translate. I apologize for any errors.