"The fear of loss is the overriding reason for failure to adapt to change." R. Heifetz
My sister sipped her cappuccino casually, but her tone wasn't casual at all. There was a tension there, the beginning of something I wasn't going to like, I could tell.
"La nostra casa non a cosc gracias - wait, that's grasso."
"Fat? Really? I mean, yeah, we've gotten addicted to the groceries from Lara down on Via Boccea. You've seen their pasta section - right?" I caught myself gesturing with my hands emphatically. "I mean, you haven't been home much, but if you haven't been over there, we should totally go after this. They have this one-"
"Wait, Dawn," she cut me off. "Big, not fat. What I really meant was that while our house here is a lot bigger than the Revello house, it's not that much bigger."
I starred past her to the stone fountain on the square. It wasn't an especially historic or famous one. Its main ornamentation was a pair of cherubs holding hands, standing on either side of a dolphin that spat water. The first of several horse-drawn carriages appeared at the far corner of the street. Inside of it sat a pair of beaming newlyweds, dressed in white.
It was a neighborhood thing. Every local couple took a carriage ride around the fountain after their wedding ceremony. It was supposed to be good luck or something. It was like a parade, usually five to ten carriages, all in white and celebrating.
Once Buffy and I discovered this tradition, we never missed a Saturday at this cafe when she was around. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, all those couples, all their love, all their happiness. It was a tradition decidedly non-imbedded with blood, death, or destruction.
"Look at that one," I squealed, pointing to the second carriage in the line. "Look at the little kids. Oh my god, the cuteness, it's cute overload!"
Three flower girls crowded onto the front seat of the carriage. They were all maybe about five years old and each wore a huge white bow in her hair. They threw handfuls of rose petals into the fountain and onto the street.
Across from them in the carriage slouched a little boy with blond curls who held a wicker basket in both hands, looking bored and kind of miserable. Then one of the girls began pelting him with rose petals and he laughed.
"And," Buffy continued, ignoring the kids, "not being such a big place? Well, people notice things after a while. They hear things, even in our house."
I didn't like where this conversation was going. I poked at a piece of the omelet we were sharing, but I didn't want it any more. I had prayed to every deity I could think of that she would just leave me alone. I leaned back in my chair, trying to focus on the action in on the square instead.
"So, Dawn," she set her cup down with a hard thump on the table. "Is there something I need to know about?"
Apparently petitioning the Powers with prayer really was a waste of time. I shrugged and didn't look at her.
She leaned forward, obscuring my field of vision. "Look, I know I said I was gonna stop trying to micromanage your life and everything, and I know it sucks when someone's pushing you to share more than you're ready to share, but you know our world, it's...different. Sometimes normally private stuff can't stay private with us. You know why we have to be all cards-on-the-table. You've seen...so, just tell me what happened. Not asking for intimate details here, just the basics."
She was right. It had been a long time since she had treated me like a child, or anything other than an equal. The passage of time could do that sometimes, at least I hoped so.
"The two of you were...um...heard. Not by me though!" The last part tumbled out of her too quickly, as if she was trying to avoid getting all accuse-y and judge-y. Which, of course, meant she was about to get really accuse-y and judge-y, and that was infuriating.
"Summers, Dawn. Little Sister. X dash two zero, zero, zero."
"What is that supposed to be, name, rank, and serial number?" She snapped. "Look, please try to be a little more mature about-"
Now she was pissed. Fine, so was I. The situation was unraveling and neither of us could stop it.
"Shut up! Just shut up, Buffy! I am so not talking to you about this!"
She grabbed my wrists. I tried to pull away but she was too strong. "Oh yes you are! You are because your only other choice is me asking him about it and I don't think you want that!"
"No! No, you leave him alone! Do you hear me?" The emotion that had been knotted in my chest uncoiled. I had promised myself I wasn't going to cry about this anymore, but the tears came in a hot flood.
People sitting at the tables nearby began murmuring uneasily. We were making a scene. Correction, I was making a scene. Must be Tuesday.
Buffy smoothed her thumbs over the tops of my wrists. I knew she was trying to soothe me and that just made me angrier. "Oh honey, did he hurt you? Did that-"
Her tone had changed and it was all too familiar. That tone meant violence. I had never been more afraid of her. Not for myself, but for what she might do to him.
She was supposed to be one of the good guys, but sometimes she was just scary. What she did to people. Well, they were all evil and they all pretty much deserved it, but he wasn't and he didn't and I had promised to protect him. Hand down the mouth of the monster and everything.
"No! It was my fault. All me. Just me."
She was so much faster than me. If she took off for the house I would never be able to catch her in time. He would never see her coming. With determination I wrenched my hands from under hers, seizing her forearms, my nails digging into her flesh. She grunted with surprise.
"Buffy, you touch him and I will end you!" It came out more hysterical and desperate than menacing, but I got her attention.
She sat back in her chair, looking at me like I had grown an extra head. Bloodletting averted, at least for the moment, I pushed my plate onto the floor, laid my head on the table and sobbed.
Our waiter and another man, probably the manager rushed over to us. Underneath the wailing in my head, I could hear my sister apologizing and pushing Euros into their hands and struggling in Italian. "Va tutto bene. La mia sorellina ha appena perso il grande amore. Lei si calma in un minuto."
The big love? Why couldn't she just stick to English? Everyone around here spoke English anyway. The big love. My humiliation was complete, but at least neither of us was mad anymore. A loud screech interrupted the white noise in my head when she scooted her chair beside me and put her arm around my shoulders.
"Hey. Hey, Dawnie. I'm sorry. It just seemed like you kind of forgot who we are - you know? We made a pact because surprises get us into trouble. Surprises tend to put us and the people we love in danger."
I nodded against the red of the tablecloth. It smelled like bleach.
"So, and I'll try and make this quick. You were, um, involved with him, right?" She cleared her throat, obviously as uncomfortable with the topic as I was. "It was a...thing?"
"No. Well, kind of. God, I don't know!"
The waiter had finally, mercifully disappeared. There was no question, however, that we had an attentive audience for my testimony. I wanted an invisibility cloak, or maybe a giant anvil could fall out of the sky and crush me. That would be even better.
"And you were safe? Please tell me you were safe! You know condoms break, but the contraception ritual Will showed you, performed each month-"
"Yes! Yes, of course!" Oh god. This was never going to end.
"And he never forced, never coerced-"
"No! He never-" I gulped. "It's all over now anyway." This was the first time I had said it out loud to anyone but him and it stung.
"And you wish it wasn't."
I tried to swallow and nodded.
She shook her head. "Never let it be said that Summers women are known for the sanity of their choices."
Studying the blue embroidered roses on her peasant blouse, I wanted so much to be able to explain it, at least to myself.
"I screwed things up, I really did."
She nodded. "And now you need to deal with it. I saw him last night after I got home from the Malta conference. He doesn't look well, Dawn. I don't think he's taking it very well."
"What, no recriminations? No what-were-you-thinking? No this-is-an-intervention?"
She paused, as if her own words tasted sour in her mouth, then she shrugged and it was almost convincing. "You're an adult, mostly. And I promised you that I was going to stop, that I was going to butt out on the personal stuff."
"And this is you, butting out? Nice job."
"I'm trying, but this, this smells like the beginning of an issue, the kind that affects all of us. Can you try and work it out? Or maybe you need closure? Something? I just don't want to see things get out of hand. We've all worked too hard to get here. If this is your mess, you need to put on your big girl pants and clean it up."
I nodded again. The movement left me dizzy. My head ached.
"Okay, that's my kick in your ass for the day." The atmosphere shifted. She pushed her chair back from the table, slinging her red leather bag over her shoulder.
"Awkward conversation done now. I can tell when I'm being over-bearing and crazy-making, I can take a hint." She stood. "Shall we adjourn for the afternoon? I saw this gorgeous dress over at Zara that would look-"
"No thanks. I think I need to just, I don't know, take a walk or something." I stretched a weak smile across my face and she bent and gave me a half-hug.
"Okay. Ciao bella ragazza." She winked at me and sauntered out of the cafe.
I let out a sigh, resting my face in my hands. I wished she would just speak English. And somehow and I hadn't even gotten around to explaining what happened in the apartment, never mind the whole demonic infection thing.