Joyce Summers stood on the ladder, changing the last burnt out bulb in the string of twinkle lights, and fighting to maintain her balance. She’d kicked off her heels hours ago, shortly after she’d flipped the “Open” sign to “Closed” while she finished paperwork, filed invoices, and freshened the Christmas decorations.
“Holiday decorations,” she reminded herself.
The tap on the front door startled her, and Joyce nearly lost her balance on the ladder, swearing as she grabbed for the wall to steady herself.
When she turned, Joyce was surprised to see Giles looking through the door, appearing both concerned and sheepish.
Joyce sighed, not really wanting to let him in, and yet knowing that she had no choice. They had both been avoiding each other for the past six weeks, but it appeared that time was over.
Turning the lock on the door, Joyce allowed Giles to enter. “I’m sorry,” he said immediately. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“No harm, no foul,” Joyce replied lightly, trying to hide her discomfort. “How are you, Rupert?”
“Well. And you?”
They stared at one another for a moment before both of them began to laugh nervously. “I really am sorry,” Giles repeated. “I wanted to come—before, but…”
“I wish I could tell you to forget about it,” Joyce replied. “But I imagine you’re finding that as difficult as I am.”
Giles flushed, and Joyce suddenly wished that the night with the band candy had never happened, that they’d had the opportunity to get to know one another without the interference of cursed chocolate that caused them to revert to their teenage selves.
He was attractive, intelligent, and he loved her daughter; she might have done worse.
Giles raised his arm, revealing a bottle of wine that she hadn’t yet noticed. “I, uh, brought this. For you.” He appeared adorably flustered. “I believe that we should be able to work together, given that we both want what’s best for Buffy.”
“Of course.” Joyce noted Giles had brought a very good bottle of red, and she motioned towards the back room. “I have glasses in the back.”
He nodded and followed her back, and Joyce tried to ignore just how aware she was of Giles’ body, particularly now that she knew just what lay beneath the layers of tweed.
Giles produced a corkscrew from a pocket and opened the bottle; Joyce found two plastic cups and allowed him to pour.
“To Festivus,” she said, raising her glass.
Giles’ eyebrows went up. “I beg your pardon?”
“Not a Seinfeld fan, then?”
“Ah, I may have caught a few episodes here and there,” Giles admitted. “Is that what it’s from?”
Joyce shrugged. “If you watched it last week.”
He seemed to relax marginally. “And what does one do for Festivus?”
“I believe it starts with the airing of grievances.” Joyce lifted her cup to her lips, watching Giles carefully. “If you’d like to go first?”
“I think I’ll pass,” Giles replied gracefully, taking a sip. “Perhaps we should try something else?”
Joyce gave him a challenging smile. “We don’t know each other very well. Maybe you should tell me something you’ve never told anyone else.”
Giles studied her for a moment. “Something I’ve never told anyone?”
Joyce simply lifted an eyebrow and took another sip.
“I had planned to ask Jenny to marry me.” The admission was hoarse and sounded as though it had been ripped from him. Joyce could suddenly see the burden of it. “I was going to wait, until we were easier with one another, but I had planned to ask.”
He met her eyes fully, and she could see his sorrow. “I still miss her.”
“Hank was having an affair.” Joyce had never admitted that aloud, not even to herself. “I found receipts and—” She paused, thinking about the condom she’d found in Hank’s wallet, long after they’d stopped having sex with each other. “Other things,” she finished.
Giles nodded knowingly, compassion in his eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“So am I.”
Their eyes met, and most of the discomfort dissipated between them. Once again, Joyce thought it too bad that things had happened the way they had, but she thought they might have the beginnings of a friendship.
And maybe that was better.