Answering Prayers (Chapter One)
Joyce isn’t sure exactly why she’s here – or why she didn’t turn back any of the three times she got lost trying to find this place – but here she is. She’s at the large, dilapidated house Willow referred to as ‘The Mansion.’ The name is accurate, she supposes, but there’s nothing very Gatsby about it and that’s still Joyce’s benchmark for the term, all the ‘McMansions’ sprouting up like weeds all over the suburbs notwithstanding; though she must admit that at least this place has spacious grounds, unlike the lot-line-to-lot-line monstrosities she’d fled to live in what she once naively believed was one of the last affordable, pure, wholesome cities in California.
Sunnydale. What a name for a town that seems to give new meaning to the term ‘nightlife.’
Explain to her again why she hadn’t chosen Sierra Madre? There were dozens of artists living there, great gallery space, and a charming home in the foothills that, if she had resigned herself to never again buying herself a pair of shoes anywhere but Payless, she could have just managed to afford. Oh, that’s right – the school district was lousy and her idealistic hippie side hadn’t wanted to be one of ‘those’ people who sent their children to private schools.
Right now, she’d give anything to go back in time, bite the bullet, and send Buffy to Flintridge Prep.
One foot in front of the other, she edges slowly down the crumbling steps toward the entry, almost melodramatically slow and careful, clutching the stake she found under Buffy’s bed. She’s been told that Angel’s been gone since the night that Buffy ran away, but are there other vampires here? Willow said something about creatures called ‘minions’ and Joyce’s eyes dart frantically, even as she realizes she has no idea what she’s looking for.
She should have asked Willow more questions, though she probably asked her a thousand the past few nights over tears and cocoa, trying belatedly to understand a daughter she isn’t sure she ever knew… a daughter she might never get to know… a daughter who’s gone.
Her only child – her baby – is gone.
Unbidden, tears fill her eyes. Why is she even here?
She knows why she’s here.
This is the place her daughter was. This is the place where – according to Willow – Buffy fought Angel to save the world.
Why? Why did it have to be Buffy? No one asked her – no one asked her! She’s Buffy’s mother, damn it, and there are laws about child labour and about permission and this Slayer thing isn’t… the tears have become sobs as she stands in the doorway, looking in, wondering… wondering.
Her sobs quiet sooner than they should, because she’s a mother and a divorcee and she’s used to reining in difficult emotions so that they won’t upset her child, make her want to live with her father instead. She thinks now, though, that maybe that was a mistake. Was she too perfect? Is that why Buffy hadn’t…
Flashback to a ‘treatment center’ and now she collapses. That’s why Buffy wouldn’t tell her… couldn’t tell her. She was terrified that Mommy would lock her up again in that terrible place… that place for crazy people.
Buffy isn’t crazy.
Buffy was never crazy.
There are vampires and demons and … oh my god, there was one in her kitchen drinking cocoa right where Willow sat last night and… Yes, her daughter had sex with one.
Her Buffy, her baby… slept with a monster. Slept with a real monster who lost his soul because of it and she must have been so hurt and so scared and she couldn’t come to Joyce with any of it. She had to carry that pain all by herself.
What kind of horrible mother has Joyce been?
Can she handle the truth?
Getting up, she brushes the dirt from her legs and tries not to think about what might be in that dirt – Willow’s babbling inevitably veered into what the kids call TMI – as she makes her way into the house.
She looks around. If she were watching a movie or a TV show about vampires, this is exactly what their lair would look like. It’s almost too stereotypical and she wants to chide Angel for his lack of imagination. The part of her that once wanted to be the artists whose work she now sells wonders why a vampire with centuries of experience and travel and knowledge couldn’t have bought himself a smart little pied-a-terre with gleaming modern fittings and lavishly comfortable furniture… oh, and a fine collection of art, as well.
Another flashback, this time to something she found in Buffy’s room – a sketch with an elaborate A for a signature – and she wonders: Is Angel an artist?
Willow says he has his soul back, that the spell she cast… Oh dear. Willow. The girl she’s thought of almost as another daughter, Buffy’s best friend, the shy girl with the eager grin… she’s something different too, something that can cast spells and restore souls to dead, evil things.
Is anything what it appears to be in this town? Mr. Giles isn’t really a librarian, Willow isn’t really an awkward schoolgirl, Buffy isn’t really…
But she is! No matter what name those people who forced her to be this Chosen Person call her, Buffy was, is, and will always be first and foremost Joyce’s baby and all she wants is the chance to hold her little girl close and tell her that, to tell her that she’s sorry, that she’s not perfect and she was scared and she lashed out, but she didn’t mean it and… why won’t she just come home so Mommy can fix it? Whatever ‘it’ is.
Where is she? Where is Buffy?
It suddenly occurs to Joyce to wonder… what if she’s here? What if she’s hiding out in this place? Holed up with some food and clothes and terrified that Joyce is too angry at her for it to be okay for her to go home.
That’s a very real possibility and Joyce’s heart leaps with the hope that maybe, just maybe, she’s found her child. Still, she needs to be careful… and quiet. So she makes her way cautiously further into the house, looking around, trying to see if there are any signs of life.
She goes upstairs, tiptoes, looks in every room, but aside from dust and dank and… a wheelchair (?), she finds nothing, certainly nothing to show that anyone, even a Slayer, has been living here for the past few weeks. With a heart now heavier than it was before, she trudges back down to the main room, her eyes once again full of tears.
Joyce doesn’t pray, or at least she hasn’t in a long time, but as close as she’s come to it, she’s closer than that now, hands clasped, eyes heavenward as she hopes something good and wise and powerful is listening to the plea of a desperate mother: “Buffy,” she says softly, “if there’s something… some way I could show you that it’s okay, that you can come home, if there’s some way to make you want to come home.”
Suddenly she hears a noise and she jumps back as a blindingly-bright beam of light shines on the hearth. She pulls the stake out of her purse as the light fades and…
Oh god! It’s Angel. It’s Angel and he’s...
Why is he naked? Where did he come from?
And wherever it is, could Buffy be there now?
To be continued…