Inhaling the destructive toxin into her lungs at a slow and comfortable pace was this young woman's favorite part of smoking. Addiction was, and forever will be, a reliable go-to. One could always count on it to return, sticking close through thick and thin. There was no need to ask upon it, for it was always giving; feeding rapidly to her censors. It was like a friend, both hated and appreciated. Both backstabbing and loving.

Class started in something along the lines of fifteen minutes, if Verity's watch rang true. It was a fifty-fifty chance. Nonetheless, whether it was right or wrong, she had plenty of time. The high school was merely across the highway cutting across the small Iowan town and right in front of her apartment building. Verity did not care much for it, the town; it bore uncomfortable reminders of what once was. She was better off not wallowing in the past. As soon as that last bell of the year rang next year, as soon as they hand her the stupid diploma that she deserves, she was out of there like a bat out of hell.

Taking one last drawn out drag on her cigarette, she cleared her throat and spat to the side, running her tongue over her crooked teeth. She had once longed for braces like all the other kids, wishing for the straight teeth that were seen on models and actors; it had not lasted long. Flicking the nub away, she watched it spin rapidly in the air until it landed quietly on the curb next to her. She reached out her sneaker-covered foot and smothered the dying flame until it was nothing but ashes and a filter. Verity turned her face into the freezing wind to clear her mind. Today's gray skies were what were causing her to reminisce was all, she consoled herself, nothing more.

Instead of crossing the street towards school, she swung a left, headed for Pizza Hut to see if she could mooch a two-liter Pepsi from Jeff, the manager. He had always had a shine for her mother and now that she had passed, he turned his attention to Verity and coddled her as a father might a daughter. Even at piss hours of the morning. Tucking her coat closer to her chin, she shivered. I was going to be a cold winter.

***

Cort Amery stood tall and lean against the lockers next Samantha Harris, his girl friend. She was standing in front of her open locker, facing the mirror that hung there, smudging some shadow shit at the corner of her eye. He'd once asked why she wore it, why she took so long at making sure she looked a certain way—never again would he 'ask such nonsense'. It had been such a frightening conversation. However, if he thought about it, it was good that he had gotten that little tête-à-tête out of the way. All girls that he knew wore some form of it. Well, most.

At the snap of a compact, Cort came to attention and moved his gaze to Samantha's prettily placed golden-brown ringlets. The top of her head reached his nose, so she was a good five-foot-eleven. He liked tall girls, preferred them even. There were no awkward reaches to kiss her, just a gentle lean. His hand fit into her back pocket without him having to hunch. But the best part was the long, smooth legs that Samantha often presented with her short, frilly skirts.

"Cort?" Though she was tall in height, her voice was rather high pitched; just high enough that it had taken him a while to get used to it. Though, whenever she called at odd hours of the night in tears…well, it wasn't the voice he wanted to hear when half asleep.

"Hm?" He snaked his arm around her back, cinching his hand against her waist. She followed suit and they moved down the crowding hall.

"I think that we should dress up as a princess and her knight for the Famous Couples Dance at the end of the month. Don't you think?"

They were both seniors moving through their last year of high school. Neither of them shared an off nor a class, which had thrown them off in the beginning because last year they had had four classes and an off together—that had been how met and eventually gotten together.

"Well, I was hoping that we'd be…" He sentence trailed off when he had noticed her big-eyed big-lipped look. It would forever win him over. "…The same thing. How strange," he finished hastily. Then threw out a quick smile for added effect. She, of course, fell into order. That was just the type of person she was in school surroundings. She'd even told him one day that she'd never make a public scene with him for it 'ruined one's images' as she put 'and no one wanted to be friends with a known bitch'.

After stopping and talking to some friends, Cort dropped Samantha at her English class with a quick kiss and hug. His first two classes of the day he had off, which worked excellent for him during baseball season. He could practice pitching and hitting with a few friends. For now, seeing as it was the second week into December, it was pretty shitty. He couldn't even take the chance to sleep in because he had to come to school and circle around Samantha.

Slipping in his 1980 Chevy Pickup, he quickly started the car waiting impatiently for the heat to spread throughout the car. As he waited, however, he pulled out his cell phone and moved through his contacts. The further he got through the list, the deeper his frown became. A few female friends and cousins were missing and the list no longer ended at V. While beginning to back out from his spot, he moved through his photos, only to sigh with relief when he reached the raven-haired girl smiling lazily back at him. The relief was quickly cut off, however.

Something, or someone, had smacked against his right bumper when he had jerked out of his parking space. He took a deep breath, settling himself, and then lunged out of the car.

"Oh, Jesus." His fingers shoved into his hair, which was now surely sticking up on ends now. Before him was the small girl who not only knew every depth and corner of his soul, but who he also knew all too well. She was on her back, one hand clutching her head, the other clutching a two-liter of Pepsi.

***

Verity wondered if John Entwistle was in pain before he died. Obviously, he hadn't moved all that much when the heart attack was happening or the stripper he'd taken to bed would have woken up. Maybe he'd had the attack in his sleep and just never woke up. She wished that she could go to sleep now.

"Are you okay?" Verity felt fingers press against her jaw. Air hissed through her teeth and she jerked back, slapping the hand away. A sharp pain was spiraling through her whole body, centering around the back of her head where it had smacked against the concrete.

"What the fuck," her voice came out rough, her teeth gritted. "Try looking in your mirror's next time assho—" the rest of her words slid right back down her throat. Before her stood the biggest piece of shit she'd ever met. It was funny really, the irony. So she laughed. Bright white circles popped into her vision, and the pain sharpened. She continued to laugh nonetheless. She sounded crazy, probably looked it too; clutching to the two-liter in both hands now and rocking back and forth with her howls.

"Verity, I think you hit your head. Ah…your ankle is swelling, too. Let me take you to the hospital." Silence followed, she almost didn't respond; didn't' really want to anyhow.

"No." There was nothing funny about this anymore. "I don't need to go the hospital. Just get back in your little car and don't," she smacked the hand he'd put on her shoulder away, her words a scathing hiss, "don't touch me."

"Your ankle—"

"No." She pushed up awkwardly, wishing that she had more to say to him. Sure, she had things to say, things to scream. She thought about those callous words she would shriek to him one day. Yet they were not coming out. After fourteen months of constant brooding, the stupid words were caught. She reached out to collect the smokes that had fallen out of her pocket, only to have them snatched up by Cort. "Give me my smokes, Amery, or I'll gladly shove this bottle so far up your ass that you'll be burping up the carbonated bubbles for weeks."

"I thought you quit."

"And I thought you were a nice guy. How wrong we both were."

The muscle in his jaw twitched as it tightened. She snatched the cardboard box away from him, tucking it safely into the depths of her pocket. Without another word, she unscrewed the cap on the Pepsi and started past him, taking a large drink of the beverage. There was no way that she was suffering through school after this. Home was to be this incidents remedy. She tried to look nonchalant, as if her whole body wasn't throbbing in one big pulse with each limp she took. The white circles continued to bubble around in her vision making it hard for her to concentrate.

"Verity," she heard Cort call from behind her, "at least go to the school nurse or something. You hit your head…" He trailed off. On the other hand, she could have just stopped listening. Sometimes she couldn't tell.

About fifteen long minutes later, she was fishing for her keys in her pockets. She had made the painful trek to her apartment and was ready to pass out, swollen ankle and pounding head be damned. There had been those odd moments when lying down on a random patch of snow would have been perfectly acceptable. In fact, she had even started to sit down in one of those moments of lapsed judgment.

Six pockets into her search Verity was ready to flip out. Her keys weren't in any of her pockets. They had probably fallen out when that asshole had backed into her. Leaning back against the door, she slid down and pulled out her pack, flicking a cigarette out, and lighting it. She quickly brought it to her lips and took a much-needed drag, her eyes closing. Perhaps her keys would come to her as a puppy goes to its owner. They always seemed to know how to get home. She took a couple more drags off her lovely white stick of joy, crushing the end into the ground shortly after.

Maybe she would take just a little nap here. Surely, no one would care.

***

Eleven years earlier;

"Verity, look, love." The familiarly thick accent warmed the small girl. She gripped her mother's fingers as tight as she could, looking onward to what she was pointing toward. They had arrived in Red Oak, Iowa about a month earlier and had just recently finished unpacking their belongings. Verity had not been so keen to move away, and she still was uncomfortable with her surroundings. Now they stood on the sidewalk downtown in this area called 'The Square'. It got its name for there were four streets that all intersecting in a way to form a square in the middle. "A little boy just your age. Maybe you should go say hello…?" She felt a nudge at her back, forcing her to release the security of her mother's hand and take a step forward. She stayed rooted to the spot, turning back.

"But, Mama, look at his hair," she spoke in a small voice, the French inflection in her words slight and hardly heard, "it's red." She shifted from foot to foot, pulling at the braid that her mother had done for her.

"Yes and your hair is black. Mine is brown. His is red. There's nothing wrong with differences, love." She took her daughter by the shoulders and urged her forward towards the playground where the boy was playing. She stumbled forward making her way slowly to the boy. He was elbow deep in the sand, digging a hole she assumed.

"You trying to get to China?" She clasped her hands in front of her as she waited for him to look up and acknowledge her. He continued to dig, saying nothing for the longest time. She almost repeated the question when he finally spoke without looking at her.

"Everybody knows that you can't get to China," he scoffed. Verity sniffed in disdain; people here sure were rude.

"I thought that maybe you hadn't heard or something. I tried once, and only got to the mud at the bottom of the sandbox."

"Yeah, that happened to me once, too." He finally looked up at her, freckles were scattered across his nose, a smudge of dirt across his cheek. His eyes twinkled a milk chocolate brown and when he smiled at her, she saw that he had really cramped teeth, too. Instantly connected, she kneeled down next to his hole, holding her knees in her arms.

"What are you doing, then?"

"Treasure hunting, of course!"

"Maybe I could help?" She reached in and shoveled a handful of sand out, not waiting for his reply. Together they worked on their hole until they couldn't reach anymore, only to move onto another spot. Then another and another and another until the sun began to go down and Verity's mom called for her. She stood and dusted the sand away from her knees.

"You got to leave?" She nodded. He looked a little disgruntled at losing his treasure-hunting partner, but stood, too. "Maybe you could come again tomorrow?"

"Maybe." When she started away, she heard him call for her again.

"What's your name?"

"Verity," she shouted back, taking her moms hand, "what's yours?"

"Cort. And, hey, don't lose that penny we found!"

"Never."