DISCLAIMER: Another day, another…they don’t pay me anything at all. I just do this to amuse myself and you. That’s what allows me and mine to slip under the radar while playing with characters created by those more fortunate than us.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to Howard Russell for all of the lovely commas.
ARCHIVING: A master list of my fiction can be found here. Please do not archive or distribute without my permission.
This is pathetic. It isn’t even dark and I’m sitting at the foot of my bed staring at my window. Not out it because, as views go, this one’s pretty lacking. There’s just a tree and the neighbor’s house. It’s the ‘out’ I’m into. A way to get away.
Not to mention a spectacular way to make my life tons more fun. The best. Mom would kill me if she caught me. And the ‘catching’—
Short of some unthinkably disastrous weirdness, Mom would have to be majorly unmom-like to miss me going ‘poof’ at just after seven on a school night. But what’s a little weirdness in a place where teachers are really great big bugs; zoo animals are really demons (in the classic Exorcist sense); actual demons are into cyber-dating; and the cutest, most dateable guy I know is more than a little literally bloodthirsty and probably old enough to be my great-great-great-great-grandfather?
He’s not even a minority. Lots of the residents here think I’d be better bottled.
Yeah, and when morbidity starts to look like realism, that ‘poof’ might just be headed for a ‘boom.’
I’ll ask. She’ll probably say ‘no.’ Then I’ll get sneaky. Only bad things lay the way of choosing desperate measures first. I should at least make an effort, even if the last thing I feel like doing is letting Mom stir my crazy.
The obvious flaw in my plan doesn’t occur to me till I’m halfway out my door. Mom would never buy that I’m going out dressed in chinos and a dumpy u-neck tee. I turn around. She probably wouldn’t let me go to the Bronze anyway. Not on a Wednesday night.
Excuses are a whole lot easier to change than clothes. I cross my room, grab the bag with my books from my desk, plus bonus stake and holy water, and hitch it over my shoulder. Master Guard. Don’t leave home without it.
Judgment call time. Looking for options.
I could tell her I’m going to the library to study, like I even know where the one outside of school is. And the one at school is in ‘between crisis’ mode. Well and truly closed.
Yeah. No. Buckets and mountains and oceans of ‘no.’
As I bound down the stairs, showing no signs of stopping or even slowing down, the lie just comes to me, “Mom, I’m headed over to Willow’s to study.” Natural. Automatic. Pretty as you please.
Her answer smells of the same roteness. “Don’t be out too late.”
Yahtzee. I knew I missed this for a reason.
Besides the obvious reason.
I should be ashamed.
At the end of our walkway, I hang a ‘west,’ heading off into the sunset, mirroring the cliché finale of many a bad movie. The sky’s kinda pretty. Peachy orange, pink lemonade blend like a ginormous smoothy. With the soporific pitter-pat of illusionary rain from the neighbor’s sprinklers, some of the spring-like, too-tightly-wound tension in me melts away. Mostly it’s just that I’m outside and there’s nothing I’m supposed to be doing. Expectations: zero. Freedom is like a drug.
A couple of blocks and one left turn tell me I’m doing exactly what I told my mom I’d do. I’m just not doing it consciously. The scuff of my tennies against the concrete, the flow of the lines, one after another under my feet and the simple act of breathing, all conspire to lull me into familiar habits. I look up and I’m on Rousseau headed for Willow’s, or if I hop one block over, the Restfield Cemetery, whichever comes first.
By this point, the cemetery always seems to sit up and offer me a convenient, not-so-cozy excuse. Never mind that there are quicker ways to get to there. Like the front entrance which is just a hop, skip and jump from my house. Going the extra mile is good for me. And the side entrance is—umm…charming in a Dracula’s Castle, uber-creepy kind of way.
Whatever. The cemetery’s a good excuse. One I’ve been using lots. It keeps my guilty conscience from navigating those last few blocks. Why take steps to fix things when there might be a monster to stab with a stick?
Not that I think I’ll find any answers. Not that I have a single clue where to start. Stabbing is so much easier.
As I make the right that leads to stabby things—the universe, or my small corner of it—conspires against me. The gate shrieks, releasing a suspiciously Willowy shape onto the sidewalk just across the cross street ahead.
Actually, Willow isn’t so much a shape. She’s more a color. Chartreuse and fuchsia today. Fashion for the blind.
She hasn’t seen me—what with the block separating us, lined by trees and cars. I could probably stand here and watch her walk away.
Which is exactly what I shouldn’t do.
It feels like so much instant karma when I call out, “Wait up.” I pretended to be sick and I got sick. But I can’t very well let her walk home alone. It’s getting dark. If something happened, I’d—
I could’ve tailed her.
Seconds linger seemingly like minutes. I feel like such a fool. Even from here I can see that she’s curious, maybe even hopeful. Finally, the sickness takes hold and I go to her.
‘Sickness’ is right. I know as I pad up the sidewalk, I’ll be kicking myself for this momentary lapse of reason before the night’s out, yet the ‘going’ makes me feel happy. I’m happy to see her, even though I know this is going to end badly. She scares the hell out of me, like none of the creeps on the other side of that fence can, yet here I am, grinning like the idiot I am.
I stop. She stares at me. I stare at her. We stare past the point of comfort, though that fled when I opened my big, now-unsmiling mouth. This is just bonus sickness. I draw a blank as awkwardly long as our stare. All I can do is wonder if this was something I wanted. Did I secretly, subconsciously follow this chain of events knowing I would end up here?
I don’t know. But if that’s the case, I must have something to say. Knowing what would be nice. Helpful even.
How about the obvious? The truth?
The wishy-washiness of my voice makes my, “I’ll walk you home,” more of an offer than a statement.
She doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, she’s happy to lead me to my doom.
Now if only the silence between us was comfortable like it used to be. But ‘no,’ this silence is full of all sorts of expectation. Unasked questions buzz in the air, making my skin crawl. She’s going to expect me to say something. Sooner rather than later.
Not that she’s in the wrong. I should have something to say for myself, right? What with my big disappearing act. I didn’t even have the good manners wait around for her to tell me how much she loves me. That’s the word that usually sends people scrambling. Scrambling pre-declaration was erratic, twitchy and weird, not to mention rude.
So what can I say?
Again, I could tell her the truth. I should tell her the truth. I owe her that.
The trouble is the truth. To me, love isn’t something you should even have to think about. It should just happen.
It didn’t happen. Not in the way that she means.
Maybe it’s just me and my silly expectations. I always saw myself married with children. And not in the Bundy sense.
My days of blissful conformity are over. Instead of a future, I got a grand destiny. And the hots for a guy who isn’t exactly the family guy type. Can vampires even have children?
Probably not. Where would the sense be in that?
It’s sad. I do love her. That part’s easy. For all her jumpy, wiggy, weirdness, Willow’s still one of the sweetest people I know. But could I fall in love with her?
Not so far.
Do I owe her rejection?
Would we even survive rejection? The thought of losing her makes me feel—
So I chose the coward’s way out? I pushed her away so I wouldn’t lose her. Like that’s even sensey.
The thing is that, if it was Xander, I wouldn’t even think twice. Sad but true. Rejection for guys is just sort of something that happens. What worries me is not knowing how Will would take it. I know how it’d go with Xander. It’d be rough at first, but I’d let him down easy, and in time, he’d get over it.
It’s different for girls. The guys who’ve rejected me haven’t exactly remained on my radar. Not that there have been a ton of them. And none of them have been friends. I don’t fall for my friends.
Well, except for that one time, but that was years ago. I was a kid. We both were. And we weren’t really friends. We became friends after all the moping and the learning and…
And I should say something. She hasn’t, which means she won’t. It’s up to me to break the ice.
Oh, I know. I could make some inane comment about the weather.
Yeah, that’d go over well. I could shoot myself in the foot for an encore. Too bad I left my crossbow at school.
I snicker. She glances. The tension grows. Yay! Best of all we’ve still got blocks to go. But hey, at least it’s a pretty night out.
The worst part is I’m not even sure if I want to reject her. I’ve never thought of myself as any other way other than the way I am. How would I know now if I’m some other way? I mean, I think Willow’s pretty, even if she doesn’t see herself that way.
Actually, the attraction is probably mostly that. She needs someone to show her. That part of this is something I’d love to do. I want to.
Rejecting her would go so well with that. ‘Will, I think you’re beautiful and wonderful and warm and kind, but—’
It’d make my life easier. Maybe. If she ever spoke to me again. Avoiding her was easy too. That doesn’t make it right.
So, I don’t know what I want, but I want to be around her and I want things to be uncomplicated.
Oh. And while I’m at it, I should ask for a pony too.
I don’t snicker this time. She glances anyway. This is going well.
It’s stupid to ask, “So how’ve you been?” I know, but it’s the best I can come up with.
And it’s a huge mistake. One glance fills me with dread. She’s obviously biting her tongue. Not literally, because ‘ow,’ but—
“Good,” she says. It’s all too obvious from the overdose of ‘chipper’ she doesn’t mean it. Like I needed another sign.
I say, “Good,” too and mean it even less. Mostly because I feel like a heel on Pay Less pump.
She rewards my shortage of grace and sense with more silence.
And even more.
Not that it’s quiet. We’re still walking with all the subtle swishy, scrapy, thumpy sounds that involves. The town’s awake too. It’s full of people who are just as good at being quiet as we are. Better even. Add the dogs and cats, birds and squirrels, and quiet isn’t something that ever really happens. Life goes on around us. In fact, the only thing that’s actually is silent is us.
Not that we’re quiet.
The silence between us is so far from comfortable that it makes our previous silence seem positively cozy. The silence that came before I decided that my foot might make a fine hors d'oeuvre for an entree of crow.
I wait and I walk. I match her pace step-for-step, ignoring the niggling feeling that tells me that ‘scarce’ is where I really want to be. Not that ‘scarce’ is a place. Scarce is more of a region that includes anywhere but here.
I could be on a beach with—
The beach is good—a little unimaginative, but good—I like beaches—but my options for company are pretty slim. No one comes to mind. The standard celebrity lineup holds no appeal. Not right now. It’s kind of fun when I play this game with other girls to try to pick guys who are not only cute, but seem interesting. That’s fine for fantasy. Right now, for real, the only guy I can see myself on my fantasy beach with is—
He’d need one of those fire suits, the kind that makes people look like they’re wrapped in tinfoil. And I’m not sure if it’d be to hold the fire in or keep the sun out. Anyway, sunny beaches aren’t exactly his thing.
I think I’d rather be there with my friends. Giles would be funny. I bet he’d wear tweed. I’d ask him along just for that. And Willow would be happy. She’d be all bubbly and full of life. Xander would be silly. It’d be—
“I don’t believe you!” Willow erupts, turning on me and almost knocking me back. “How’ve I been? Really? That’s the best you can come up with?”
Go figure. Her place is almost in view. She has just enough time left to be scathing without attracting anyone’s attention but mine. And she makes the best of it. Huffing and puffing…
“I’ve been doing great. All except for the part where my best friend can’t stand to be around me. The part where I said ‘good,’ which was so obviously a lie that—”
…seething and ranting…
“But I’m too polite to say anything else. And my friend’s so avoidy that she accepted my lie without even so much as batting an eye. It’s no wonder that nothing ever gets any better.”
…and I deserve every bit of it. “I’m sorry,” I croak past the lump that formed in my throat during her tirade.
“So am I,” she replies.
The frigid edge to her voice makes me want to crack even more. I don’t. I plead with her instead, “I just don’t want to hurt you,” hoping against hope that she’ll understand. Maybe she’ll read between—
She comes back with, “You don’t?” working to stare me to embers, “’Cause you sure have a funny way of showing it.”
Being let off the hook was too much to hope for. I can’t even bear to look near her, let alone at her. The only thing I can do is try to explain. Like I think that’ll do a bit of good as mad as she is. I’m left with the truth after all. That’s all I’ve got. “I know,” I admit. “I’m just afraid that I can’t be what you need me to be.” I end up staring at a beat up, old, rusty-red car that looks as if the earthy, peacey, ‘coexisty’ bumper stickers are all that’s holding it together. It’s the sort of junker a teenager would drive. Which means it isn’t junk at all. “I don’t want to hurt you,” I repeat, pleading. Maybe she’ll understand now. “I don’t want you to expect something from me that I’m not sure I can give.”
Willow doesn’t say anything. She turns and starts to walk. I match her stride again. She doesn’t shoo me away or bite my head off, so I guess she doesn’t mind. I follow along, so twitchy with anticipation her house sneaks up on me. Her patio—the one with the door to her room—is right around the corner. I could watch her go and know she’s safe, but I cling to hope and trail along.
She leads me up the walk, through the maze of shrubs and stops by her door, facing me again. “You’re not sure?” she asks. Her expression’s totally changed. She’s curious now.
I answer automatically without really being certain what I’m saying, “No,” to. It’s safe to agree that if there’s something I should know, I’m not sure. That might even be a universal constant, like gravity or something.
“Does that mean you’re willing to try?”
Her question jogs my memory. She’s talking about the last thing I said. Funny, that feels like an hour ago.
“No,” I reply honestly. “That means I’m willing to do what we were doing. I’m willing to spend time with you.” I laugh. “Actually, ‘willing’ isn’t right. I want to spend time with you. I’ve missed you.”
It isn’t exactly the answer she was looking for. That isn’t why she’s giving me that look—the one with one eyebrow cockeyed, kind of sneery, but in a cute way.
I crumple like tissue paper. “I know. I know.” What else can I do? “Your’re right. I’m the bad.”
A little bit of time slips by. I use it to demonstrate my guilt with the right amount of sheepishness. It’s the thing to do before I push my luck.
“Truce?” I ask, still hopeful.
“Truce,” she agrees.
One of those proverbial weights lifts. I feel lighter. Happier. Better. Better than I have in weeks. Giddy even. So giddy I ask, “What are you doing Saturday?”
She responds to my change of mood, answering at first nonchalantly, “Nothing,” then changing her tune too, “Nothing during the day, but I was planning a big night.”
“Really?” My surprise shows, which isn’t exactly fair. Willow having plans without me shouldn’t come as some huge shock. It’s actually insulting that I treated the news that way.
She doesn’t seem to notice. Her dignity intact, she explains, “Yeah, I thought I’d pop some popcorn and watch ‘It Happened One Night’ for the millionth time.” She’s playing hard to get. It’s kind of adorable.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to disturb you,” I reply, teasing too. “But I thought that maybe if you’d like we could—” I stop, starting to stammer, suddenly tongue tied, which so isn’t me. It’s weird. I get over it. “Umm…I owe you dinner…and maybe a movie.”
“Okay,” she agrees. “I can spend the evening with Clark Gable anytime.”
I turn away, looking over my shoulder. “See you at seven?”
End of Part Six: Crossed Paths
Continued in Part Seven: Lines Crossed
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