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: This plot bunny has been sitting around collecting dust for years. It comes from an idea that Howard Russell had that never came to fruition based on this Xander quote from the episode The Witch: “Alright. Into battle I go. Would you ask her out for me? No. Man. Me. Battle.” Special thanks to Howard Russell, as well, 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.
She’s doing that thing. That thing she does where she’s right in front of me, but she’s nowhere to be found. Something at the end of the hall is more important than me.
I hate that thing. If it wasn’t for that thing, this’d all be over. Instead, I got to listen to Xander beat himself up. A day of that would drive anyone to act.
And day after day…?
I sigh. Extreme measures just don’t seem that extreme anymore. I need to get this over with. Someone needs to ask.
All I need now is the courage.
I’ve been trying to tell myself I’m doing this because I’m a bigger person, but that’s just not true. I want her to say ‘no.’ And she probably will because of me. She knows how I feel about him.
So much for my courage.
But what do I do if she says ‘no’? What do I do with that information? Will it change anything? Can I break the news to Xander? Can I let him down gently?
No. He’d probably hate me for that.
I can’t really advise him either. Trying to steer him would end badly too. If she says ‘no,’ nothing will change. I’ll have to do what I’ve been doing. I’ll listen, I’ll support him—though I’m not very good at that ’cause this is the last thing I want—and when he finally finds the courage, I’ll comfort him.
I’ll know. That’s the thing that will change. I’ll know that I can have him all to myself…if he ever notices me.
I need to know for sure, so I have to be really honest with her.
But she might say ‘yes’ if I am. What then?
Well, at least one of us will be happy. I want that. I want for one or more of the three of us to actually be happy, even if their happiness means I’m unhappy. I truly want that.
But I don’t. I really, really don’t.
My brow’s all scrunchie.
She doesn’t notice. She’s moved on to the next distraction. And I even said, ‘Hi.’ I acted like I wanted to talk. I was engaging. There were pleasantries. I—
I’m putting this off. I’ve been over all of the scenarios—all two of them—a zillion times in my head. They haven’t changed. I had the same doubts yesterday that I still have today.
I have to believe that this is a good thing. It’s the right thing. Besides, he asked me to. He wants me to help.
’Kay, so…moment of truth…and I’m nibbling at the dry skin around my thumbnail. I stop that. It’s an icky nervous habit. I need to ask the silly question. We need to talk. Instead of that, she’s ignoring me and I’m eating my hand.
I rally my nerve and find my voice. “Buffy.” Good start. No squeaks. She even faces me. Now for the hard part. “Would you like to go out, uh—?”
“Sure, Will, when?” she replies without missing a beat. She doesn’t even have to think about it.
I didn’t get a chance. She totally cut me off. My mouth’s still open. I shut it.
I was gonna say—I was s’posed to say…with Xander.
She wants to go out with me?
Of course she wants to go out with me. I’m her friend. That’s what friends do. We go out. We see movies. We get coffee. We talk. We listen. We…
So, how do I—?
She’s looking at me. Like really looking at me now. Giving me that look—that ‘I’m waiting, the clock’s ticking, what’s up with you, why are you so weird’ look.
“I’ve gotta get to class,” she says. Her demeanor positively oozes impatience.
I should add that part—the part about Xander.
I said that. I didn’t mean to say that. I should fess up. I should tell her—
“So, Saturday?” she offers.
“Saturday,” I hear myself confirm and can’t really believe that I—I was the one who said that. I said it brightly, happily—
She turns away, glancing over her shoulder to add, “It’s a date.” She even gives me one of those smiles—those cute little half-smiles that are just—
She’s a vapor trail.
And I’m still standing here like an idiot. Her choice of words bowls me over. I know it’s a common turn of phrase, but I just can’t help it. We have a date. A Saturday night—date night—kind of date. She picked Saturday. Maybe that just means she doesn’t have anything better to do.
Maybe, but that doesn’t stop my knees from being all gooey. They’re doing what they do when she looks at me that way and…
Me and my gooey knees turn and shamble through the doorway into Mr. Fulton’s English class. It’s a miracle I don’t bust my butt. He smiles when he sees me.
I say, “Hi,” as I pass him on the way to my desk. Or not so much ‘say’ as ‘mumble.’
No one else even looks at me, but I’m used to that. I take my seat—my usual, strategically chosen seat—along the wall and halfway back. The mean kids like to sit in the back. Here I don’t have to look at them, but I’m not right up front. Upfront makes me feel exposed. I only have one neighbor and a nice window to look out of. It’s a good seat. I do what I can to get by.
And the teachers mostly let me.
I take out my book and the homework that’s due and open my notebook to the correct page. I’m ready. Or I look it. The last thing I really am is ready. I stare at my notes and all of the squiggly little colored lines blur.
It’s not fair. My heart’s still fluttering, there’s a lump in my belly and my mouth feels pasty. I should’ve gotten a drink before I sat down, but walking to the water fountain would’ve been—
I sat down. My knees aren’t so rubbery when I’m sitting.
The desk next to me squeaks. Amanda just sat down too. I wonder if her knees are all wishy-washy.
I doubt it. She’s not as silly as I am. She doesn’t have two friends and two crushes. That’s just me. How can I have two friends and two crushes—both the same—with the same people? Do I just fall for anyone who pays attention to me?
Did Mr. Fulton just say something about the homework?
No, he’s talking, but he’s not talking about that. I open my book. I think he wants us to do that. I have no idea what page, but I open it and find the next chapter.
I didn’t fall for Jesse. He was just a friend.
I s’pose the first one’s not all that surprising. I’ve known Xander practically my whole life. I love him. But I’d love him even if I didn’t have a crush. He’s just—
He’s my Xander. I can’t imagine ever being without him.
Ryan taps my back. I turn around and take the papers he offers me, adding mine to the pile and passing it forward.
There are times when she looks at me and I feel like my whole world might just get better. How can I help falling in love with that?
And I have a date with her.
But what does that really mean? Neither of them knows. How could I possibly talk about something like that?
I might tell Xander. Maybe, if things were different. He’s the only one I could tell, but he’s smitten too.
What would I say?
‘I agree’? She’s one of the most beautiful, strong, brave, confident, warm, wonderful women I’ve ever met. She’s got this amazing heart. And there’s nothing she’s afraid of. She just—
She’s Buffy. And she wants to go out with me. I have a date with Buffy.
The lump in my belly grows wings.
I catch sight of Xander. It doesn’t matter that he’s on the other side of the quad and I’m—
No, this isn’t weird. Not a bit. Chasing someone down when you’re already late for class is perfectly normal, right?
I’m slipping. He’s already in the building when I catch up. Just on the other side of the door. I don’t quite run him or anyone else over.
“Hey, Buff,” he says.
He didn’t expect to see me. That part’s not all that surprising. I shouldn’t be here. But he’s happy too. He acts like he’s genuinely pleased to see me. That’s a little strange, considering the general level of avoidiness.
I reply, “Hey,” because that’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m s’posed to be friendly, not wiggy and weird. That’s what they’re doing. I’ve been everywhere I’m supposed to be—where we usually are together—but I’ve been there alone. I’m being friendly, not weird. Not even a little. Though, there is one minor flaw in my brilliant plan: I’m now on the other side of campus from where I need to be. I have to make this quick, so I ask my question, “Is it me, or has Willow been acting weird?” My slightly altered question. It’s not him. He’s smiling. So, it must be Willow, right?
This is all Mom’s fault. If she wasn’t so determined for me to learn a foreign language, I wouldn’t have this problem. I’d be over here with everyone else, not over there in the language lab with all of the overachievers. I’m so not—
He says, “You’re gonna have to be more specific,” through one of those goofy, snarky, lopsided Xander-grins.
Last year it was German because it was easy to tell her I hated that. So this year it’s Spanish. Her idea. And what with the actual usefulness and the lack of strange guttural sounds, ‘I hate it’ won’t be such an easy sell. Next year, if she hasn’t given up, I’ll try French, ’cause while disappointing her is an issue, I’m as determined as she is. Though my determination is a little bit different. I’m determined not to get saddled with a second year language class. They look like too much work.
Xander said something. I was having a conversation with a friend like a normal person.
Weird he makes me doubt. Just that quick. “I don’t know,” I admit. Maybe it’s just me. I’m probably overreacting. Still, I put it out there. “I’ve barely seen you guys today.” Voicing my concerns is a good thing, right? “And when I have seen her she’s been—”
Any hope I have that there’s a simple explanation gets quashed when he says, “You do understand that you’re talking about Willow, right?”
It’s pointless to explain. He’s as clueless as I am. I should get my tardy self to class. It’s just…I have this thing for lost causes…and beating on things that are dead. “Yeah, but this is—”
I stop short when Willow emerges from a cross corridor at the other end of the hall. Maybe I’m wrong. Looks like she’s headed this way. But as I raise my hand to wave, she turns around and ‘poof’ she’s gone. “There. Did you see that?” I ask.
No. How would he? His back was turned.
“Nothing,” I reply. She was there and gone so fast, I wonder if I saw her myself. There are a lot of people in the hallway. Maybe I just saw someone who looked like her?
No, that was her. No one else would wear that many different shades of pink. Nobody could, not and look that adorable. I think that’s why they don’t.
Maybe she missed us?
No, she knows our schedules. She knows pretty much exactly where we’ll be on any given day. It almost feels like she forgot. Then she thought better of coming this way because she didn’t want to run into us.
Maybe she forgot something? Could be she had to go back and get it.
Maybe, but probably not. I’m not even s’posed to be here. She saw me and bolted. Ergo, it’s me she doesn’t want to see.
“This is different,” I say. It really is. “It’s like she’s avoiding me.” Did I do something wrong?
Xander ‘umms’ and ‘ers.’ He’s clueless.
And I’m insecure.
I’m actually being insecure—which is like the last thing—
I’m insecure and I’m late. Timing never was my thing. “Never mind,” I say. “I need to get to class.” I turn to head back across the quad.
And of course, the bell rings before I’m even halfway there.
I’m late and I don’t care. I hate feeling like this. I can’t imagine what I might’ve done wrong. Obviously something. Who knows?
Guess I’ll find out tomorrow.
I don’t even know what time we’re s’posed to meet. I’ll try to call. If she avoids me, I’ll just show up.
I can’t do this. I give up, turn away from the mess I’ve made, sit down at my desk and take my head in my hands.
She wants some tall, dark, mystery man. What use is she going to have for an awkward, introverted little girl with a complexion like Casper?
A tear splashes my desk when I blink.
I’m a mess.
No wonder Xander doesn’t see me.
She sees me, but she’ll never see me that way. It’s like, if by chance, someone does notice me, they’ll never in a million years find me attractive. I’ll always be exactly the opposite of everything they want. Xander wants someone vibrant, beautiful and self-assured. I’m none of those things.
I’m a parody.
Anyone else who notices me laughs at me. All I’m really good for is comic relief. I get nervous and I say the stupidest things. I can trip over my own feet with the best of them. Need a giggle…or someone to do your homework? I’m your gal.
Mostly I’m just invisible.
I take a couple tissues from the box on my desk. The first one goes to dry my stupid eyes and my stupid cheeks. As I blow my stupid nose with the second one, someone taps at the glass in my door with their nail. My nose is so loud I almost don’t hear it.
It’s Buffy. I don’t have to look to know. We have a ‘date.’
She taps again.
I’m not ready. I may never be ready.
She calls out, “Willow, please. I just want to talk,” breaking my concentration and snuffing my consideration of the most tactful way to tell her to buzz off.
The hurt in her voice makes me feel selfish, cruel and insensitive. I go to the door. I didn’t mean to hurt her. Somewhere between my checking to make sure it’s her—which is stupid—and my opening the door, she finds a smile for me.
I’m a brat. She’s relieved that I’m going to let her in. That’s how she looks. And I’m pouting and throwing a fit.
Her smile lasts for a second or two. Prettiest smile in the world and I put it out. Now that’s true talent. I’m a talented, selfish, insensitive, mean, rotten brat.
I hang my head. Hopefully she won’t notice that I’ve been crying. I’m so selfish that I don’t want to talk about it.
She asks, “Are you okay?” Then she sees the mess I’ve made and changes her tune. “What’s wrong?” It looks like a rainbow threw up on my bed. Pretty much all the clothes I own are piled there. I tried them all on. Stupid things. The more I tried, the sillier I felt.
I lie through my teeth, “I’m fine,” and step aside, gesturing for her to come in. It’s a pretty flimsy lie. I don’t sound fine. I sound tired.
I am tired.
And I’m a terrible liar. I guilt too much to lie well. Even the teensy little white ones make my belly feel rumbly.
“Are you sure?” she asks.
I won’t lie again.
When I don’t answer, she looks from the bed to me in my robe and back again several times.
I skip the rest of the inspection by returning to my desk to mope. That’s all I’m good for.
That, and homework…and acting stupid and making people laugh—not with me, but at me. I’m a mean, selfish, absurd parody of a person.
She takes off her jacket. I hear the debate even though she doesn’t say a word. She’s trying to figure out what to do about me. I’m a problem now—another problem she feels compelled to fix.
And of course me, being the stupid schmuck I am, I feel awful about it. Buffy has enough problems without adding my drama to the mix. But what can I do? I’m stuck. Trying to convince her I’m fine would be fun, now wouldn’t it? I’d have to lie my patootie off.
I assume the ‘sleeping in class’ position, using my forearms to cushion my head from the desk. I have a nice view of my lap this way. My robe’s soft against my skin and it cuts off most of the light. The pressure and the darkness make my head less throbby.
She moves. My closet door opens. It’s either that or the door into the main part of the house. She isn’t leaving, though she should. The outside door sounds different. It’s heavier and the seal makes this sucking sound. I can’t imagine her wanting to have a sit down talk with my mother, so…
It’s my closet. The scraping hangers give her away. She emerges, after several minutes of rifling through the dregs, with something I forgot I had. I have to look when I hear her brush past the door. I’m just too curious not to. Which pretty much cinches it: I’m officially bad at everything, even sulking.
I haven’t seen that skirt in almost a year. My mother bought it for me last time we went to Arizona. It’s one of those. One of the few things I own that she got for me because she wanted me to look like a grownup. Showing me off to her sister is different from school. Heaven forbid that anyone there takes me seriously. We wouldn’t want that. But when it comes to family, my mom’s all over touting how successful she is, what a perfect daughter she has, a perfect marriage, a perfect life…
Buffy holds the skirt out at arm’s length to look at it. I can tell by her expression that she likes it. The silky chiffon fabric has a wild rose print that’s still pretty colorful like the rest of my clothes, but it’s the ‘pretty’ kind of colorful, not the ‘excessively vibrant’ kind.
She brings the skirt to me. “How ’bout this?”
Her tone’s so unassuming I can’t refuse. I reach out and accept the skirt without meeting her eyes. She goes to my bed to look through my heap as I stand up to dress.
Or half dress. She gave me a skirt. That’s half a dress, right?
I wonder what she’ll find for the other half.
Curiosity stinks. I want to know, but not enough to watch. Course there’s the standard ‘we’re both girls,’ so my stance to stand with my back to her makes me look tetchy and weird. I just don’t think I could bear feeling that vulnerable now.
The last thing I need is to hear about how my lips are too thin, or my nose is too big, or my legs are too skinny, or my freckles are too many. Connect the Dots can turn into a game of ‘any picture you want’ on me. Or there’s my widow’s peak. That’s an old favorite. Count Rosenberg at your service. People are so mean.
Not that I think Buffy would pick on me for any of those reasons, or anything else for that matter. It’s just—
I don’t want her to look at me ’cause she might give me a look and I—
I’ll pass. I put on my skirt and tie my robe closed.
When I sit down, Buffy’s opening my dresser drawers one after another looking for something else. I don’t have the energy to care. I thought I did.
It takes her a moment, but I guess she finds what she wants ’cause she says, “Here, try these.”
I turn around to find her holding out my green cashmere sweater and a white cotton camisole. I accept them. This sweater’s more cyan than green. It has a blueish cast like that. She’s good at this. The color almost matches some of the leafy greens in the print on my skirt. Similar hue, just lighter. I never would’ve noticed…which is sad ’cause the sweater even has three little roses embroidered on it near the bottom.
She disappears into my closet again. My first guess is for shoes, but she comes out with hangers. Lots of them.
I’m pretty sure that stealing chocolate from a child would involve less actual guilt than Buffy cleaning up after me. I’ve never been that evil, so I can only speculate, but it seems like a pretty fair guess. “Buffy, you don’t have to do that.”
Saying anything is pointless. She just replies with the obvious, “I know. I want to.” She picks up a blouse and shakes it out. “Get dressed. It’s fine.”
Alrighty then. Not much I can do, except turn my shameful, shrunken self around and do as she asks. Doubtless she never meant for me to button my sweater up to my throat. I want to put my robe back on when I’m done, for that additional big frumpy layer of protection, but I know that’d be pushing it.
She’s coming out of my closet when I face the room. A third of the mess is cleared away and she has more hangers. She smiles at me before she puts them down. It’s that smile again. That sweet little half-smile that makes me feel all gooey. I think it means she thinks I’m cute. I’m not sure…mostly because I can’t imagine someone like her finding me cute.
I try to join her in cleaning up my mess, but she waves me off. “Finish getting ready. I’ve got this.”
I should do something at least.
What I do do is what she asked after I hang up my robe. That one small thing makes me feel a little less like I’m completely useless.
I go to my bureau, take a seat and stare at my reflection in the mirror. My face is sticky and gross. I want to wash it, but I need to avoid another run-in with my mother even more. Sometimes I feel like she sits in wait for moments like these when I’m feeling more yucky than plucky. Because what every teenage girl needs to make things better is a little psychoanalysis from their mother. A stringent pad, makeup remover, thingamabob provides a compromise. I get to deal with the worst of the salty slimy mess in a mom-free environment. Between that and some moisturizer, I look okay. Not great.
Accentuating the human with colorful pigments sometimes helps, or so I hear. As I prepare to paint on a happy face, Buffy asks, “So whatcha wanna do tonight?”
“I don’t know.”
My reply is less than enthusiastic, so much less so that it’s met with the clack of hangers and the rustle of clothing. That doesn’t bother me so much, other than that’s just another reason for me to feel guilty. She’s trying to be friendly and I’m being a big ol’ party pooper. I wonder if she’ll get sick of me.
Wondering that makes me feel sick of me.
I don’t need to wonder how that would go. I’m not new to being lonely.
Dwelling doesn’t help either…and trying to put on makeup when you’re weepy is really counterproductive, not to mention messy. I take a tissue in hopes of wiping away a black smudge from beneath my right eye. My hands are shaking, so taking it off goes as well as putting it on. I give up even trying to clean up. If I don’t, I’m gonna end up looking like Jackson Pollock made up my face.
There’s nothing for it, except to hang my head and let go.
She interrupts my fretting by resting her hand on my shoulder.
I raise my head and the contact ends. That’s worse. I want to say so. I want to tell her that just that little bit of compassion made me feel better. It helped. Trouble is, every bit of me feels thick and wooly all the way down to my toes. It isn’t easy, but I swallow. The lump in my throat doesn’t budge an inch. Mumbling, “No,” is more than I can manage. My voice breaks. I sound like a frog.
She misses my meaning. Somehow I catch her arm as she tries to leave.
“No, you’re fine.”
That wasn’t much better, but at least I finish my thought. As I let go of her arm to reach for a Kleenex to dry my eyes, she touches me again. It’s the same simple gesture. The only thing affectionate about it is her intent.
I find the courage to look up. Naturally, because she asked me to make it better, I made it worse. That’s how this is supposed to work. I’m opposite girl, backward is forward, right is left and good somehow always turns bad around me, so instead of us having fun together like normal friends would, I get stupid and sullen.
My eyes are too puffy. I think it’s a lost cause, but I have to try. An icepack wouldn’t hurt a bit, but leaving my room still sounds like an awful idea, so I make do. And as I do, something kind of wonderful happens. She starts to play with my hair and we fall into this thing—a rhythm of sorts. I like it when someone else brushes my hair. It reminds me of when I was little, back before things got so complicated. With me distracted, everything else gets better and before I know it she’s urging me to turn around on my stool.
I get another smile for my trouble. She wants me to stand, so I do. I look down as she unbuttons the top button of my sweater.
“Xander’s a really sweet guy,” she says. Her hands move lower. She unbuttons another button. “Not very smart, but sweet.” She looks up at me, grins and moves to the next button. “What do you expect? He’s a teenage boy.”
My mouth is dry. The ‘unbuttoning’ is a weird, suggestive, intrusive… It doesn’t help.
She doesn’t seem to notice. My sweater’s half open when she finishes. I follow her lead and she turns me around. “His loss,” she says with a smile.
I look at myself in the mirror ’cause that’s what she wants. She put my hair up. My makeup looks okay. I guess I look okay.
It’s apparent from her expression that she thinks so.
“Now what do you want to do?”
I feel the nervous energy rolling off her as she fumbles with the door lock.
She was fine until we got back here.
I’ve done everything I can. She knows it’s not all bad. There are people who care.
We had a bite to eat, saw a show, had coffee…and for awhile she was okay. She laughed and she smiled. We talked. It was good.
Weird she insisted on paying for everything. I tried, but she said she invited me out so she should pay. I felt so bad. It’s not like either one of us has tons of money. We’re teenagers. We’re not supposed to. So I guess next time I fight fire with fire by asking her out.
I just wish I knew what was wrong with her now.
She opens the door to her room. I expect her to invite me in, but instead she gives me a quick peck on the cheek. And just as quick, her door shuts and she’s gone.
I guess that’s it. She’s such a strange girl. I turn and walk away.
Sweet, but strange.
End of Part One: Crossed Wires
Continued in Part Two: Cross Words
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