It’s Veronica’s second year at Stanford, finals are looming close, and like at the end of every semester, her roommate Daphne prepares a mix to listen to during their studying sessions. Their first semester as roommates, the fall of 2007, the mix was pretty fucking horrible, and Veronica was dreading the mix she prepared for spring 2008 – but that one turned out kind of nice, if Veronica tunes out the bluegrass songs Daphne invariably includes. This semester though, Daphne is “just swamped,” as she says earnestly with her thick southern accent, and she’s resorted to curating a few albums they’ll listen to instead of a long playlist. Veronica doesn’t mind, she’s not that invested in the music they listen to.
But Daphne is from Tennessee and really into country music, which is fine when it crops up occasionally in her mixes, but listening to full albums of it is kind of distracting, honestly. She’s not especially looking forward to it, but she listens nicely when Daphne introduces the first of the albums she’s selected.
“It just came out last month, and it’s already, like, a classic,” she says, which Veronica highly doubts, but whatever. “This girl is 18, she went to high school with my little sister, and she’s mad talented.”
Veronica almost groans, because, great, an 18-year-old they’re probably only listening to because of their vague connection to her. But she lets Daphne put the CD in – Fearless, it’s called, and Veronica can’t help but think this girl is damn lucky if she can be fearless, and it’ll bite her in the ass soon, probably when she breaks in her dead best friend’s father’s house, although maybe that’s just a Mars thing – and opens her textbooks.
And it’s – well, it actually doesn’t suck, and there’s a few songs she kind of likes, and sure, it’s country, which is a lot sometimes, but she thinks maybe she’ll actually listen to it again, and not just because that girl (what’s her name?) is her roommate’s sister’s classmate.
When the tenth song rolls around, Veronica is almost enjoying herself, and that one seems to have a nice intense feel to it, like what the singer is feeling is all-consuming, which Veronica likes. Anger and passion have always grounded her, in a way she tries to pretend she forgot, because she’s a new person now. But it’s the lyrics that give her pause.
He says everything I need to hear and it's like I couldn't ask for anything better
And at first she thinks the singer is just gushing, over-the-top, about her perfect little boyfriend and it makes Veronica want to shut her up. But she keeps listening.
And I feel perfectly fine
But I miss screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain
And it's 2:00 a.m. and I'm cursing your name
So in love that you act insane, and that's the way I loved you
Breaking down and coming undone
It's a roller coaster kind of rush
And I never knew I could feel that much, and that's the way I loved you
And she fucking swears this girl must have dated Logan.
Which she immediately hates to think about, not because it’s plausible this Taylor-something dated Logan, because it’s not, but because Logan isn’t supposed to still make her feel things, for crying out loud. She left him behind, for her own damn good, over a year ago. And his, too. And this song is exposing everything she actually feels, which is kind of rude, truly.
He can't see the smile I'm faking, and my heart's not breaking
'Cause I'm not feeling anything at all
And you were wild and crazy
Just so frustrating, intoxicating, complicated
Got away by some mistake
In that exact moment, Veronica develops a love/hate relationship with the song because it feels like someone plucked it right out of her heart and decided to face her head with it, like, look, this is how you really feel, this is what you’re running from. She’s always liked uncovering the truth, but not the truth she buried herself.
Daphne must notice how Veronica is transfixed, because she looks up from her textbooks and smiles, tucking red curls behind her ears. “She’s good, ain’t she?”
Veronica absently nods, because, yeah, sure, she’s good. “What’s that one called?” she asks.
Daphne hands her the CD case and points to the name with her long, bright pink nail. “The Way I Loved You.”
Veronica extracts the lyric booklet from the case and flips it to the track she cares about. She stares at the words, as if to convince herself she didn’t hear them because she wanted to, that they’re actually the lyrics. They are.
“So you like it, huh? I knew I could convert you to country music, Mars,” Daphne boasts.
“I just think it’s well written,” Veronica weakly defends herself, still scanning the lyrics.
“Right. She writes all her stuff herself, you know.”
“Good for her.”
And, honestly, yeah, good for her. If she once had someone that made her feel like Logan made Veronica feel, good for her. If she can make that void feeling that comes post-Logan into art instead of wallowing and moving away, good for her.
Over her years at Stanford, thanks in large part to that one song that reminds her of Logan, and facilitated by her Tennessean roommate, Veronica develops a small affinity for country music. Small. But still, in her new life in Palo Alto, no one can connect the song she plays on repeat after each disappointing date to her actual life, her actual experience, which feels like freedom. If she played it at home, it would be instantaneous, her friends and her dad would know who she thinks about, and doubt her commitment to the new version of her: calm, collected, normal Veronica Mars.
Clinging on to the song is the only way she lets herself admit that no one has ever made her feel the same way Logan has. It’s the only during those chunks of 4 minutes and 6 seconds that she lets herself admit she doesn’t particularly like the normal, good guys she dates.
She keeps up, loosely, with the singer over the years, mostly through Daphne, who moves to New York for grad school at the same time Veronica does for law school. Daphne gets into to an MFA program at NYU, Veronica gets into Columbia Law. They get an apartment together because Daphne’s boyfriend dumps her just before they’re supposed to move and Veronica procrastinated finding a place for too long.
It’s four years after the Fearless event, 2012, that Daphne comes home from Target with a red CD – aptly titled Red – and tells Veronica they just have to listen to Taylor’s new album. She says it like that, like they’re old friends, her southern accent receding after the years spent living away from Tennessee, but not as much as “Taylor’s” has. The girl who went to high school with Daphne’s little sister actually managed to chart a number 1 single that got stuck in her head all summer, and it’s on this album, so Veronica figures listening to the album won’t hurt. It’ll get her mind off Jackson, the guy she recently broke up with, for a moment. And isn’t Taylor Swift known for her breakup songs? Certainly Veronica can find one on there to make her feel something about Jackson, to reassure her that she’s a normal person and feels enough, thank you very much.
And by the second track, she does find reassurance. She can feel. It’s just not quite about Jackson.
Memorizing him was as easy as knowing all the words to your old favorite song
Fighting with him was like trying to solve a crossword and realizing there's no right answer
Regretting him was like wishing you never found out that love could be that strong
In that moment, she kind of hates Taylor Swift’s astute songwriting because if she could stop writing about Logan, Veronica would appreciate it. It takes her back to freshman year at Hearst, to every useless fight that led to their fallout, to the years since and realizing it’s never as simple, as easy, as obvious to fall into step with men as it was when she was with Logan.
Remembering him comes in flashbacks and echoes
Tell myself it's time now, gotta let go
But moving on from him is impossible
When I still see it all in my head
In burning red
Veronica sighs, absorbing all the words. It’s been five years since she last saw Logan. Since she last left Logan and made sure she wouldn’t see him again, would be a more honest formulation. It would now be time to let go, it was time to let go years ago. But she can’t, because when she hears a love song, she thinks of him. When she hears a sad song, she thinks of him. When she goes back to Neptune, she thinks about running into him. On the anniversary of Lilly’s death, she thinks of him. When she eats crab cakes, she thinks of him and the great EpiPen incident of ‘02. When she sees a surfboard, she thinks of him. All the memories, all the moments are still branded in her mind.
And they stay branded, stark against her heart, through depressing song after depressing song. The album puts Veronica in a bit of a funk, a Logan funk. It’s five years too late, but it’s the look back that fits them like a glove. Song after song, line after line.
We blocked the noise with the sound of “I need you”
And for the first time, I had something to lose
And I guess we fell apart in the usual way
And the story's got dust on every page
But sometimes, I wonder how you think about it now
And I see your face in every crowd
There’s something eerie about the listening experience. There’s Daphne, nursing a glass of red wine (because “haha, get it, Veronica, RED wine” – that was at the third glass) and thinking about how Brett dumped her before they moved to New York, and there’s Veronica thinking about how living in New York is the farthest she’s lived from Logan, and then there’s Taylor Swift singing about romance lost in New York. All the while, Veronica gets stuck on one lyric after the other, trying to understand why she still thinks of Logan when she’s had four boyfriends since him, why he’s the one who made her disregard the fact that everyone in her life hated him (except maybe Mac), yet she broke up with Dan senior year because Daphne said he gave her stoner vibes. And, yeah, she wonders if Logan still thinks of her the same way, too. If he’s managed to move on like a normal fucking human instead.
Tonight, I'm gonna dance for all that we've been through
But I don't wanna dance if I'm not dancing with you
By the time the song dwindles down, in a flurry of uncharacteristic enthusiasm, Veronica exhales shakily.
“Which one was that?” she asks Daphne, who usually follows the lyric booklets religiously when she listens to new albums.
“Are you gonna add it to the playlist you won’t tell me who it’s about?”
She considers lying, but she figures Daphne already knows, anyway. “Yes.”
“Man, that guy messed you up,” Daphne replies with a shake of her head, loose curls bouncing around as she hands her the booklet.
“Yeah.” Or maybe she messed him up. She can’t really tell who messed who up, but she does know it’s a mess, after all those years.
By some miracle, a few years later, the mess gets less messy. Well, no, it doesn’t. It’s still just as messy. But it’s a happier mess, because they’re together and they actually kind of communicate now, and she barely ever listens to her Logan playlist anymore, except when he’s on deployment and she thinks maybe she dreamt it all up and they’re still not talking.
The first time Veronica comes home with a CD with the groceries, it’s almost two years into their relationship.
“Taylor Swift?” Logan questions, amused, when he picks it out of the bag to help her store everything away. “Wouldn’t have pegged you as the type.”
Of course, he doesn’t know she doesn’t like the mainstream radio hits, that she discovered her because she missed him. That’s her secret. He also doesn’t know she knows he got starstruck when he ran into the pop star at the Grammys as Carrie’s date, in 2015. But she was watching, and it was on camera before a commercial break, one of the two glimpses of him she got that night. (The other was when the camera panned to Carrie when they announced the nominees for Song of the Year and Logan was in the frame.)
“It’s supposed to be her big comeback, her fuck you to everyone,” she justifies. If anyone understands revenge and the need for petty retribution, it’s Veronica.
But as she realizes as she listens, it turns out the album is more about finding what truly matters in the chaos, rather than pure revenge, which Veronica appreciates is a message she probably could use. At the penultimate song, she unplugs her headphones and starts it again, to make Logan listen with her.
All the drama queens taking swings
All the jokers dressing up as kings
They fade to nothing when I look at him
And I know I make the same mistakes every time
Bridges burn, I never learn, at least I did one thing right
I did one thing right
I'm laughing with my lover, making forts under covers
Trust him like a brother, yeah, you know I did one thing right
Starry eyes sparking up my darkest night
She curls up against him when they listen together, and he starts looking down at her halfway through. He kisses the tip of her nose when she squeezes him tighter.
“So you bribed an international star to tell me how you feel, huh?” he teases when the song ends.
She elbows him in the ribs and he laughs. Because, honestly, the idea isn't that outlandish.
“She’s been writing about you for years,” she mumbles.
That seems to confuse him, and he frowns. She wonders if he’s picturing his short interaction with her, years ago.
“My college roommate made me listen to her country albums,” Veronica tries to explain.
Logan’s eyes go wide. “You listened to country music?”
“Shut up. There was this one song that made me think of you. So I kept listening to her, just in case. Then she became huge so I didn’t have to make an effort to hear her music anymore.”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
The next time Taylor Swift releases an album, Logan buys it and they listen together, the dreamy pastel colours of the album cover an accurate reflection of their newlywed state of mind.
Honey, without all the exes, fights and flaws, we wouldn’t be standing here so tall
So, kiss you once ‘cause I know you had a long night
Kiss you twice ‘cause it’s gonna be alright
Three times ‘cause you waited your whole life
Veronica looks at Logan throughout their entire listen-through, marveling at how they ended up where they are. It’s almost magical, how their journey seems to have been so well documented, from the helpless feeling of being away from the one man who made her truly feel anything, to the bliss of being together now. The peace.
Maybe no one writes songs about the ones that come easy, but most importantly, no one writes songs about the ones that aren’t worth sticking through the hard times to find the good.
Maybe you ran with the wolves and refused to settle down
Maybe I’ve stormed out of every single room in this town
Threw out our cloaks and our daggers because it’s morning now
It’s brighter now
I don’t want to look at anything else now that I saw you
I don’t want to think of anything else now that I thought of you
She’s pretty sure Logan is worth it, and as much as she liked having songs in which to wallow about having lost him during those nine long years, she likes having songs telling Logan how much she loves him, too. She’s still not the best at telling him how she feels, but she’s trying, and maybe stroking him arm at certain lyrics and kissing his cheek or his palm or his lips at others and hugging him close the whole time is a good start.
Hopefully he knows.
I want you, bless my soul
And I ain’t gotta tell him, I think he knows
I think he knows