(Melissa and Veronica)1

"Thirty-five dollars? They're crazy," Veronica snorted, shaking her head as she stared at the season of House she held in her hand. "Guess I'll have to use my five-finger discount."2

Glancing casually over her shoulder and seeing that, although the Wal-Mart was crowded with throngs of people, none near her were paying attention, Veronica slid the DVD set into her oversized black purse- the purse that Melissa had just given her for Christmas. Melissa stared at her, stunned. The seventeen-year-olds spent nearly every day together, but Melissa had never seen Veronica attempt to steal before. She would never have considered her capable.3

"Veronica!" she sputtered. "You can't do that- that's stealing!"4

Veronica raised a carefully shaped eyebrow, her mauve lips curving into a sardonic smile.5

"No shit, Lissa. Lower your voice- you're too loud and hysterical-sounding, someone might notice you."6

"ME?" Melissa sputtered, lowering her voice slightly to an indignant hiss. "What about YOU- you're the one who just shoved $35 worth of DVDs in your purse!"7

"Yep, loving your gift, Lissa," Veronica said, still smiling almost mockingly. "I could practically fit a whole ham in here if I wanted to."8

Her face grew suddenly thoughtful. "Speaking of which, I know mother dearest isn't going to cook for tomorrow, obviously. I wonder if-"9

"No! Veronica, what is the matter with you?!" Melissa hissed, grabbing her friend's shoulders and squeezing them somewhat tightly.10

It was 10:00 on Christmas Eve, and as usual, Veronica had been spending the day with Melissa and her family. As the youngest of her siblings and the only one still living with her dysfunctional parents, she spent as much time away from them as she could manage, considering that she had no job and no car. Usually Melissa was more than glad to be with her friend, felt like she knew and understood her better than anyone else in Veronica's life. But it was moments like this, moments that displayed Veronica's impulsiveness and unpredictable nature, that made her think that maybe she didn't know her at all.11

Now Veronica was still smirking at Melissa, smiling the trademark careless grin that Melissa sometimes found so endearing- and sometimes utterly frustrated her. She brushed Melissa's hand off her shoulder casually, squeezing her fingers in hers briefly.12

"Lissa, I was joking. A ham would be fairly heavy and obvious, even in this bag. Besides, TV dinners are almost as good, right?"13

Even as angry and incredulous as she was, Melissa had to cringe at Veronica's tossed-off words, for she knew she wasn't joking. Between her depressive, nearly catatonic mother and her often volatile father, a ham TV dinner and a few cheap gifts from the thrift store or dollar store were about all Veronica could expect the following morning- if she was lucky. Melissa would have asked her to spend the night with her, but she knew Veronica would not have accepted. Between her father's possible anger and at such an acceptance and Veronica's pride, not to mention the sadness she'd have to feel watching Melissa's more average family on Christmas morning, she never would have agreed to. 14

The most Melissa had been able to get her to do was spend Christmas Eve with her, driving around to look at lights. It had been Veronica's suggestion to go to Wal-Mart; it must be a zoo in there, she'd said. All the last-minute shoppers would be hysterical to watch. But now, Melissa was far from amused.15

"Veronica, I told you that you could come eat dinner with us tomorrow. Mom practically expects it. You're more part of our family than Aunt Ruth and them. You definitely come over more," Melissa said, momentarily distracted from the DVDs in Veronica's purse.16

"Nah," Veronica said casually, shaking her head. As usual, she had to toss her long bangs back from her face, for she refused to wear her hair up in any style. "Family bonding time and all that, personal celebration of Baby Jesus and the like, I get it. I'm not all that interested, honestly, Lissa."17

Still, there was an odd gleam in her eye that faded quickly, but not too quickly for Melissa to label it as hesitation. She knew Veronica would desperately rather be at her house tomorrow; but she also knew that she would never allow herself to go.18

"Veronica," Melissa said instead, deliberately dropping the matter and heading back to that of the hidden merchandise in her purse. "You can't just walk out with DVDs in your purse. Put it back- please."19

"It's not that big a deal, Lissa. It's not like it's a thousand dollars or something in a museum. It's just a Christmas present for myself, you know? More than what they'll be getting me," she said, rolling her eyes. "It's only $35, and it's not like it's going to hurt anyone. It's definitely not going to hurt Wal-Mart any. Look at all the people in here getting crap. They'll probably make half a million in less than an hour. Thirty-five dollars is not going to put them out of business. No one even saw me- they're too busy getting crap to care."20

"That's not the point," Melissa said through gritted teeth, gripping Veronica's shoulder again as she lowered her voice, trying to sound firm yet gentle at the same time, as though she were talking to a child instead of a girl three months older than she was. "Look, Veronica, if you want that so much, I'll buy it for you, okay? I have money. Just don't get yourself thrown in jail on Christmas Eve for something you can watch reruns of on TV."21

"You mean when one of the parental units isn't claiming it, right?" Veronica smirked. "But right, Melissa, and wait in one of those monster mob lines? You already got me this purse anyway, I don't want you spending more on me."22

"I don't mind if you really want it that bad, Veronica. Just don't STEAL the fricking thing," Melissa said in exasperation. She didn't know what she could possibly say to get through to her- Veronica could be so freaking stubborn. 23

"Look Lissa," Veronica said, sighing as she met her friend's eyes with her own, "I won't get caught, okay? No one saw me, and the thing at the door won't go off on me. Even if it does, there will be so many people going out at the same time right now they won't notice it was me. If I keep walking real casually no one will suspect. Even if by some fluke they got me and were by some freak of nature going to actually prosecute me for $35 on the busiest night of the year, YOU won't get in trouble. So relax."24

Melissa continued to hold her friend's eyes with her own, looking at her steadily.25

"VERONICA."26

For a little while Veronica just looked back at her gamely, smiling, her chin lifted almost in defiance. But when Melissa just kept looking at her, not knowing what else to do but bluff it in this manner, Veronica finally dropped her gaze in a rare show of discomfort, sighing loudly.27

"Oh, you're no fun," she muttered. "Bah humbug, Ms. Grinch." She dug the DVDs from her purse and slapped them back onto the shelf, scowling.28

"Happy?"29

"Much," Melissa said evenly.30

"You're not fun," Veronica repeated, her tone half teasing, but Melissa heard the real resentment in her tone as well.31

"Sorry if I don't think stealing is exactly at joy. Sorry if crime doesn't thrill me," Melissa shot back, her words less joking and more sarcastic than she'd intended. It bothered her more than she'd thought even at first that Veronica would not only be willing to steal, but would resent Melissa stopping her. What if she'd done this before? What if today was not her first time- for she certainly hadn't seemed nervous. But then, Veronica faked confidence as often as she truly felt it.32

"Well, I guess not, if you're rich and your parents hand you anything your heart desires. I guess I'd think stealing was pretty pointless too if that was me," Veronica muttered, and Melissa looked over at her, startled. Tomorrow's approach and her lack of events to look forward to must have been bothering her more than she let on, for she never spoke of Melissa's comparably better life and family in a way that let on she seriously meant what she said. In spite of herself, Melissa found herself starting to feel bad for her.33

"Veronica-" she began, but Veronica held up her hand, cutting her off.34

"No, it's okay, Lissa. I'm sorry- I'm being a bitch. It's okay. Just- let's go, okay?"35

She gave Melissa an awkward, one-armed hug across her shoulders, than began to walk away from her. Melissa followed, troubled, but not knowing what to say to her.36

The girls were quiet as they squeezed their way through the crowds of the store and then the parking lot, finally getting in Melissa's car and driving away. It wasn't until they were a mile or so from the store that Veronica reached into her purse with a sly grin, pulling out a pair of purple beaded earrings.37

"See, I told you no one would notice," she said smugly. "Not even you, and you were right behind me, Lissa. I thought about it, and you were right, the alarm might've gone off on the DVDs, and who could explain walking out with them in your purse? The earrings are more plausible. And they're only worth $8 anyway."38

Melissa could only stare at her, her mouth dropping open comically.39

"Veronica!" she gasped.40

"Chill, Lissa- and watch the road, you're gonna get us killed. It's fine, no one saw. If you really feel bad, donate $8 to the Children's Miracle Network next time and it will all even out."41

As Melissa continued to drive, unable to think of anything to say to her, her mind numb with worry for her friend, Veronica said casually, "Now if I could just get my ears pierced I'd be all set…"42