“That doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person, does it?” Willow suggests, briefly resting her hand over mine in reassurance. “I mean, he’s been trying to help, hasn’t he?” The look in her eyes is so intense, so earnest, like she wants me to tell her it’ll be okay—that I’ll be okay.
I’m not sure I can. I look down, focusing on my hands, the table, my glass, anything but her.
“Bad people aren’t helpful, are they?”
That’s her third question. There should be a limit to the number of things people are allowed to ask before they’re forced to take a break and give the other person a chance to weigh in.
Not that I can.
I’m pretty sure becoming a vampire makes a person not a person at all, but I can’t tell her that. She’s trying to be nice. And I’m being a wet blanket, moping around in the near dark, with the loud music and the glaring, colorful, directional lights that could be programmed to do something less annoying than illuminate our table every few minutes. You’d think I could find a better place to sulk than the Bronze.
I can’t exactly tell her that bad people can be helpful either. Or they can seem to be. Bad people are pretty big on scheming and conniving. But she’s too sweet to understand that the kind of helpful they are usually furthers their own ends, while undermining any good the good guys are trying to do. Or maybe she does get that much—what with movies and TV.
I just hope she stays this sweet. There’s a chance that me and my craptastic luck will wring the sweetness out of her.
So what can I tell her?
“I’m okay, Will,” I say and immediately wonder whether I sounded sincere.
I guess. I tried. I s’pose I even kinda, sorta meant it, but only because I don’t believe that was what Angel’s been trying to do. I think he actually meant well, even if he did mistake me for dinner.
And not in the fun, figurative, blush-worthy way.
Though there were smoochies. Nice smoochies. Then he was all ‘grrr’ and I was all ‘eek’ and badness ensued.
“Can we change the subject?” I ask through a sigh, regretting it seconds later.
She positively beams at me. “Sure. Whatcha want to talk about?” she replies, touching my hand again. This time she doesn’t pull away. Without thinking I turn my hand over.
She’s been awfully touchy-feely lately. Well, not lately. Lately I haven’t been around much. We’ve been—
I shouldn’t have stopped her. She used to talk about boys all the time. And that was almost like girl talk. Our ‘girl talk’ time has been suspiciously absent since—
“I don’t know,” I say, half to myself and half to her.
Since she decided that I—
I don’t know, but I’m smiling too. No clue why. I sure don’t feel like smiling. There’s just something about her that’s—
She’s caressing my fingers. I’m so preoccupied it barely registers. Yet I’m caressing hers and she’s caressing mine. She’s been caressing mine. I pull away.
The way she’s looking at me is just—
That’s exactly it. She adores me. It’s right there, written all over her face.
I mean, I’ve seen it. I just never really saw it. It never occurred to me that she could be—with the—and the—
I get it. The annoying thing is that the ‘it’ that I get isn’t something I can even explain. It’s a ‘behavior’ thing. It’s how I’ve been responding to her and how she’s responded to me.
It was all there in that smile moments ago. That smile I’ve seen dozens of times. Maybe dozens and dozens of times.
Of course her smile’s gone. Now she’s looking at me like she’s debating whether to ask me what’s wrong.
I just never put it together. I wasn’t looking for it. It didn’t even occur to me that she—
She’s been flirting with me since the day we met. She probably didn’t even know she was doing it, or what the ‘it’ she was doing even meant. And I was right there, happily oblivious, doing what I do.
Flirting back. I didn’t even notice. I held her hand. I smiled too.
God. I even liked it. I thought it was cute.
I’m on my feet.
She looks alarmed.
I back away, announcing, “I’ve gotta go,” starting to turn. I snatch my jacket off the back of my chair. By the time I’ve finish saying, “I just remembered—” I’m dashing for the rear exit.
I weave past obstacle after obstacle, some of them the ‘people’ sort of obstacles, some of them not. The Harmony-shaped obstacle sneers, “Hey! Watch it!” I hear her mumble, “Freak,” or maybe she snaps it like she did the rest. When she finally gets to the actual insult, I’m too far away to know for sure.
Like I really care. Harmony is the last thing I worry about, ever.
Besides, my hands are full. I’ve got Willow to think about and her latest revelation. I’m too busy dodging trash, running through the grungy, grubby alley, past the dilapidated warehouses that surround the Bronze.
I feel awful. I led her on. I didn’t even know I was doing it.
I stop and slink into an alcove, part of a warehouse that’s encrusted in at least a decade’s worth of grime and graffiti. I don’t want to get too far from the Bronze. Willow might come looking for me, and while I don’t necessarily want her to find me, I don’t want her to get hurt either. These alleys are a bad place to be alone.
I don’t know what to do about her.
I thought that maybe if I backed off—if I did my thing—my ‘hanging out in the shadows, just out of reach, lingering on the edge of life, not quite tangible, intensely healthy, highly social’ thing—and she did hers, that things might get better. Things seemed to be going—well, not well, but I thought things seemed normal enough to be at that stalemate stage where everything’s frozen in a tolerable state of brokenness and everyone’s afraid to poke anymore for fear of breaking things worse. Nothing really gets better because all of the solutions seem impossible. Or at least so hard it might as well be impossible.
How do you make someone uninfatuated with you without hurting them?
Because that’s worked great so far.
The wind picks up, sending a discarded fast food bag pinwheeling past me. I put on my jacket and lift my hood. It sucks out here tonight. I should just go home.
I’ll give it a few more minutes. I want to be sure she’s okay.
Like that’ll happen. I ran out on her. She isn’t going to be okay. Maybe she bought my excuse. I sounded stressed, but I always sound stressed when I’ve forgotten something. I always run off too. Hopefully she’ll just think it was me being me—the me that can’t handle life, not the me that can’t handle her.
What am I going to do?
It isn’t like I can avoid her completely. We have some of the same classes. And there’s the Scooby thing. She wants to help. After all the fuss I made—my insistence that I need friends, friends are healthy, I need a life away from slaying—shunning that life would just be—
So, I’m stuck with her.
Not that that’s bad. I love her. I miss her. She’s my best friend. I just wish she felt the same way about me.