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It Must Be Hers

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Two days after she returns to Los Angeles, one day after Wesley does his civic duty and calls the police, Fred's parents come to take her back to Baton Rouge. "We're coming for you, honey," her mother promises during that first teary phone call, and Fred doesn't fight it.

Cordelia packs tacos and enchiladas for her in a soft-sided cooler, and Wesley gives her three books for the plane: two on physics, by Stephen Hawking, and another on linguistics. Angel stays upstairs, grieving for the one he lost. Fred doesn't know much about the girl—that she was a Slayer, which means that she killed vampires for a living, and that she and Angel were together and that he'll probably never get over it.

She goes upstairs to say goodbye. He's lying on his side, facing away from her, and she isn't sure what to do. "Um," she says. "It's me. I... I have to leave now."

He doesn't turn, and he doesn't speak. So she keeps going. "I just... thank you. For rescuing me. And everything." She leans down and gives him a tentative, awkward hug, one arm under his neck, the other across his chest. He puts a hand over hers and she feels the chill of his skin, and then he lets her go.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The first shock about Baton Rouge is that she doesn't remember what her neighborhood looks like. It's not the stark, bright brick and stone of L.A.; instead, it's wooden houses with paint faded from the wash of the rain and southern sun. She sits up in the seat and looks out the window of the car, waiting for them to turn into their driveway, and when they do, she thinks they've gotten the wrong house. There's nothing familiar about this squat place with the small square yard. But her father turns and says, "Look, baby, it's just like when you left," so it must be hers.

She lets them lead her inside. Her mother drops her purse on a chair and bustles around the kitchen, insisting that Fred needs something to drink after her long trip. Fred pays close attention, trying to remember where things are kept. It doesn't seem logical that the glasses should go there, so far from the sink or refrigerator. "Is this how the kitchen's always been?" she asks her mother.

"Since the day you were born," her mother assures her. "We didn't change anything while you were gone." As though it has been a week or two, and not a double-digit percentage of her lifetime.

"Maybe Winifred's tired," her father suggests. "Do you need to rest, sweetie?"

"Yes," Fred says. "That would be— I would like to rest." And as she's looking around, placing the locations of patio and living room and home office, she's completely unable to locate her bedroom. She knows she had one—she remembers being asleep in a warm, dry bed—but the precise geography of that bed is now unknown to her.

Her mother hands her a glass of lemonade. "Let me take you upstairs, Freddie. It'll be nice for you to see your old bedroom."

Upstairs, they pass a door on the right, which upon Fred's surreptitious peek reveals itself as a bathroom. Good to know. Her mother opens the next door, and Fred takes this as a signal to go in. This will be her room. She lived here for a long time.

But could this really have been hers? The bed is enormous and white and canopied, and there's a heavy floral border around the top of the walls, which are painted a deep lavender. A row of pillows and stuffed animals decorates the bed's head, and Fred wonders how long it will take her to move them—and where she will put them—in the event that she does want to rest. There are two windows looking out on their street, and a desk beneath them. The desk, too, is white, and above it, between the windows, is a picture painted in pinks and blues of a small girl holding a watering can. "We kept it just the way you left it," Fred's mother tells her, and then she crumbles. "We always knew... we always knew you'd come back to us."

Fred puts her arms around her mother, and realizes how awkward it feels to touch another human being; maybe it wasn't just situational with Angel. She feels her mother take deep shuddering breaths before she stands straight again and kisses Fred's forehead. "Just rest as long as you like, honey. Your father and I will be downstairs."

She leaves, closing the door behind her, and Fred sees that there's a poster on the back of the door. She goes closer to inspect: it consists of three attractive long-haired men whom Fred doesn't recognize. One of them is holding a guitar. They must be a band. She must have listened to them, and liked them well enough to search out such a large picture of them—more than half her height—and affix it to the back of her door, where she would see it every time she sought privacy.

Fred finds the copyright date on the bottom, and does the math to place it as the year before she left for UCLA. It strikes her then: they always assumed, or maybe at least hoped, she would come back. They kept a bedroom waiting for her even after countless people must have hinted, some less subtly than others, that their daughter was doubtless dead.

She has forgotten this place, but clearly it has not forgotten her.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It's at breakfast the next morning when her mother finally asks her where she's been. The police did, after Wesley called them, and Fred blinked innocently and told them lies. She lies again now, in the way that Cordelia helped her prepare: "I don't remember. I just remember being in the library, and then it was like I came to on the street. I was just standing there, and I didn't know why."

"But what made you go to that hotel, honey? Why not the police or the university?"

"I was so confused. I didn't know why I was there. It wasn't even a part of town I knew, and I sort of felt like I was going to pass out. So I went in, and they called the police."

"It was five years, honey. You're sure you can't remember more than that?"

"No. It wasn't five years to me. It was maybe five minutes."

She doesn't stammer, but her mother doesn't seem to notice.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

She wakes on the third day with the grievous need to talk, to speak the truth, to hear that someone else knows what happened and that she hasn't imagined it. It's early morning, sun still slightly beneath the horizon, which makes it the middle of the night in California. But she calls the hotel: Angel, she's sure, won't be asleep, and if anyone else is there, they won't be, either.

It's Wesley who answers, awake and not sounding at all surprised to be phoned at this hour.

"It's, um, Fred," she says.

He sounds glad to hear from her. "How is home?"

She tells him how strange it feels, how she doesn't remember anything, how her parents circle her as though she might break or explode. She talks for longer than she intends.

She can hear the breath that Wesley takes as he gathers his thoughts. "Perhaps you should come back to Los Angeles," he says.

"And do what?"

"Call the university. You were in good academic standing when you left, and there's no reason you couldn't go back."

He sounds as though he's thought this out. It's not a bad idea. She would like to go to school again, to re-remember the concrete methods of study, experiment, report. Wesley looks up the number for her, and Fred writes it down to call later.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

She hangs up the phone and turns to see her mother in the doorway, her arms crossed against her chest. "Who were you talking to?"

In a flash of memory she didn't know she had, Fred starts to put her hands on her hips and prepare for battle. But then she remembers how to defuse: she puts her hands by her sides and breathes twice slowly. "I want to go back to Los Angeles," she says.