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I think I’m surviving in all the wrong ways

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She comes into the diner in the middle of a down pour that has chased most of their regulars away and has instead invited her inside. The rain is hitting the windows hard, shaking the building and the other waitresses jump whenever there was a clash of thunder.

Caroline sits herself down in Buffy’s section before anyone can direct her where to sit or what to do. Already stripping herself of her jacket (leather and definitely not made for the rain) and digging through her bag.

Buffy forces a smile onto her face, takes the pen resting above her ear and wanders over to her. She ignores the looks from the other waitresses. The ones who blame her for something she can’t control.

“Hi, how can I help you today?” Buffy asks, but it is Anne’s voice that comes out.

“I, um, coffee.” The blonde blinks up at her, “And maybe some pie. I don’t care what kind, just something to remind me why I came to the state of perpetual sunshine when its doing that outside.”

She makes a gesture that’s probably supposed to represent rain and Buffy’s lips tug just a little as she looks at the girl.

Her hair is soaked, the blonde locks sure to turn curly when it dries. She's dressed like Cordelia all matching colors and everything just right, but there is something disheveled about her. Something heavy.

Something.

“I’ll go get your coffee and—peach pie sound good?”

“Sounds sunny.” The other girl shrugs and Buffy returns to the counter.

As she pours the coffee and waits for the pie, she watches the other girl.

(There’s nothing better to do, is there?)

She is digging through the bag with her, a paperback novel making its way onto the sticky diner table, and a hairband wrapping around the blonde hair making it into what seems like the perfect bun. (Like she has done this all before.) Usually this is when the cellphone comes out too, but it doesn’t this time. Instead the other girl pushing the bag away from her.

The bell rings and the pie is there and Buffy carries it over to the other girl.

“Thanks.” She says offering a bit of a smile of her own.

“I’ll be over there if you need me,” Buffy motions to the counter and the other waitresses with nothing to do.

“Thanks.” The girl says again, lifting the coffee to her lips still black, before picking up her novel.

(The hero has just saved the heroine.

Everybody, inside the story and out, seems to forget that the man was in the car that hit the girl.

In the end everybody forgets. Even the girl.)

 

--

 

The blonde comes back, her hair straight and dressed in clothes that a part of Buffy would envy, but Anne can only think is a waste of money. Money for rent, for food, for laundry.

She sits herself down in the same booth, in Buffy’s section. Repeats her past movements. The same beat up novel on the sticky table. Her hair going up into a ponytail and out of the way. No cellphone. No anything to say anything about this girl really.

(Caroline will pay in cash.)

Buffy comes over, ignoring looks from a construction crew who had been in there for a while, and tells her welcome back.

“What would you like today?” She asks it’s with a small smile but more genuine than the ones she had been giving that day. More genuine than any she had received.

“I…the same.” She says like she’s a regular there now. Like Buffy should remember her. And Buffy wants to hate her for assuming things. But she’s right. She does remember her.

The blonde in front of her is different from the rest of the customers somehow.

And Buffy knows its not just how she looks.

“We’re all out of peach.” Buffy tells her, and it’s a little bit of a white lie, because there’s one piece left that one of the other waitresses had called dibs on, and honestly Buffy and Anne are both a little petty. One is just more violent than the other. They are equal amounts petty though. And they think people who assume things shouldn't get the last piece of pie.

“That’s fine,” She shrugs and her eyes narrow in on her name tag. “Anne.” The name rolls out of her mouth easily, “Whatever you suggest.”

Buffy suggests that the girl get as far away from this dinner, from this town, from this state, as fast as she can.

Anne suggests apple.

Buffy turns away and Caroline opens her book while she waits.

(It is much later in the book and the heroine is having nightmares. Wolves chasing her through the forest, nipping at her heels.

Across town the hero dreams of the same things. He smiles in his sleep. Content. Connected. He will be the one to save her after all.

It’s supposed to be romantic. Symbolistic of things to come. All she can see is a girl having nightmares.)

 

--

 

Buffy isn’t used to having a regular of her own. She is used to their being some at the diner, but they usually sit at the counter, each of the waitresses taking their turns serving them.

Caroline is different.

This bright flash of blonde that enters, not like sunshine or lightning but still noticeable all the same, and she sits at the same booth every time. Drinking coffee, sampling all their different kinds of pies. Reading that same damn book that Buffy still couldn’t read the name of.

(Water spots and worn pieces made it impossible to read.)

“Hey, your regular, right?” Buffy appears at her table.

The blonde’s golden locks are already tied up, two pins on the side of her head to hold the hair back with little pink flowers on them.

Look, something did change.

“You’ve never steered me wrong so far, Anne.” She says and then smiles. “Anne. That’s a nice name.”

“Thanks.” Buffy says tensing up, “Um, the blackberry is fresh—”

“I bet you didn’t get teased a lot growing up,” She continues, “That must be nice.”

“You’d be surprised actually.” Buffy says her eyes going to the ground.

“Most of mine started somewhere between middle school and high school,” She says, “Trust me no matter how many times you here it ‘Sweet Caroline’ is not a good pick up line. It’s just frustrating. My name is Caroline by the way. This was my not so subtle way to tell you.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“I know, but I know yours,” Caroline shrugs, “It only seems fair.”

“Well, thanks, I guess. I can call you something other than blonde girl in my head now, that’s nice.” Buffy says playing with her pen.

Knowing Caroline’s name meant knowing a piece of her. And knowing a piece of her meant something more than Buffy thought she was ready for. She was still learning how to be Anne, she didn’t know how to make friends as her. And even if she did, she didn’t know if she was ready.

“It’s a nice upgrade.” Caroline smiles. “Nicknames like Blondie are never good.”

She cringes, just a little but Buffy can see it, after she says it but she can’t take it back now.

Buffy lets her out of it easy though, telling her she’d go get her coffee and pie and leave her to her reading in peace.

(“Sweetheart,” the hero will call the heroine.

“Sweetheart, it will all be okay.” He will tell her, his arms wrapped around her, pulling her closer to him. Trapping her body against his. “It’ll all be okay, I’m here.”

How will it be ok, when he’s the reason she is crying in the first place?)

Later Buffy will realize that knowing about her coffee, about her pie order every day she came in, that she will read that novel again and again—she knew pieces about Caroline long before she had learned her name. She had known them since the second day she had come in and the bell had jingled above the door.

 

--

 

“Why do you keep coming here?” Buffy asks, breaking routine. Caroline hasn’t even had time to wrap her hair up yet.

“I…”

“I just, I know it’s not for the pie.” Buffy says. And it’s Buffy, not Anne, its Buffy fighting her way to surface and desperate for answers about a girl she doesn’t know. Desperate for a reason for the two of them, for the passing connection, for the way her name rolls of Caroline’s tongue.

There is no real way to escape yourself. No matter how hard you try.

“Well…maybe it’s the coffee.” Caroline says carefully.

Buffy nods but pushes forward still. “But why? Why here? Why now?”

“Why not here? Why not now? Why not a different kind of pie every day? I’m not running out of them.”

There’s something there, something that triggers something in Buffy’s mind, but she ignores it and all the instincts fighting their way towards the surface. She doesn’t want them anymore. Never really had. And all they had done was brought her death and destruction and devastation. All they had done was bring here there.

“Are you running from something?” Buffy asks, “From someone?”

Caroline laughs, and there’s an edge to it, bitterness and tiredness creeping in, as she picks at the book still in her hands.

“I know people who could write books about running,” Caroline smiles just the same as she laughs, “But none of them would tell you the truth. That running is far easier than standing still. Standing still, that’s what’s going to kill you in the end.”

“So you’re standing still?”

“Actually I’m just waiting for my coffee and my pie.” She smiles with too much wisdom, too much history in her eyes and Buffy is forced to flee.

Who knew smiles could be weapons all on their own?

No pointy end required.

(Chapters in and there is a boy the heroine has known since she was three who had promised to love her forever.

He is leaving now. He does not expect to come back. His bags are packed and waiting in the cab in her driveway as he stands in her doorway his hands in his pockets.

He’s sorry. He really is. He can’t stay.

How can the story continue if he does?)

 

--

 

Buffy comes to refill Caroline’s coffee, but she can see a blonde bouncing ponytail heading into the restrooms from over the empty table.

The book she always brings with her is there. At closer look, Buffy can see pages folded down, for Caroline to remember, to find them easily.

Buffy can’t help but take a better look, opening it at the middle.

(The hero of the story gives the heroine a necklace, an antique that fits her perfectly, as he wraps it around her neck.

Her hands go to the stone, tries to find breathing room as it takes its place around her neck.

“It used to belong to another pretty girl.” He breathes, “Royalty. Until a sword took her head.”)

Buffy drops the book back on the table, flashes of ring in her mind. A ring she still wears on a chain underneath her clothes so no one can see. So she won’t look at. So she will know it was there.

She remembers a time when it hurt to look at it more than to be apart from it.

Now she cannot remember which is worse anymore.

Only that sometimes it seizes up, the metal cold on her flesh, and she forgets how to breathe.

She forgets to fill the coffee before Caroline comes back and she avoids looking at her incase the other girl has some sense of what she has done. Of the affect it had at her.

 

--

 

There’s a heat wave in the city and Caroline comes in, the bell jingling, with her hair already up. Some kind of intricate weave of braids and locks of golden hair that formed a bun.

She is dressed differently too.

A plain white tank top and jeans. Though Buffy is sure the heels she is wearing could pay rent for her crappy apartment for the rest of the year. Maybe more.

“Do you still want coffee or…” The diner didn’t have air-conditioning. Or not the kind that worked anyways.

“I think it’s more of an ice tea kind of day,” Caroline says pushing an invisible lock of hair out of her face, and Buffy’s eyes narrow in. “You guys do have that, right? I never actually looked at the menu just the signs outside.”

“Yeah, we do.” Buffy’s eyes on Caroline’s wrist. “That’s a pretty bracelet. Good costume jewelry’s hard to find around here. Where’d you get it?”

It’s funny how the lies come easy enough in conversation, but being Anne, fully, completely was still so hard.

“It’s…Its nothing.” Caroline shrugs, “It was my mother’s.”

“Those…those are infinity stones, right?” Buffy asks looking at the bracelet closer.

She wants to reach out and touch it. But she stops herself. Tells herself that Anne would never be that brave, never be that presumptuous. And she was Anne now, no one else.

“Yeah, it’s stupid,” Caroline shakes her head and for a minute Buffy thinks that intricate bun might come loose and her hair come tumbling down for all of them to finally really see. To hang around her face and reveal the whole girl. “It’s supposed to represent forever and infinity or something.”

“I guess it all depends on who it’s coming from.” Buffy says, her mind going to the silver ring lying against her chest and hidden away. “I’ve never seen you wear it before.”

“I…I—actually I’m always wearing it.” Caroline say, her hand on the bracelet, gazing down on it. “The clasp broke and I can’t—I can’t get it off…not without damaging it. And like I said it was my mom’s.”

It doesn’t take Buffy’s superpowers to know when someone is lying.

And Caroline, Caroline is not very good at it. Not at all.

“Well, I’ll go get your ice tea and pie of the day.” Buffy says giving the other girl an out, heading towards the counter.

“Thanks, Anne.” Caroline’s voice follows.

(The hero proclaims to love for the heroine forever in front of everyone, there friends, there family.

He says that he might not be her first love but he will be her forever love.

No matter what might happen.

She can’t help but think it reads more of a threat than anything else.)

 

--

 

Three days pass and Caroline does not come back into the diner.

Buffy spends them wondering if she had pushed too hard or if Caroline had known that she had snuck a peak at her book that she reads but never talks about. She wonders if the girl is okay. If she had left the city. Or if something bad had happened to her and she would never leave again. If she had found someplace better to drink her coffee and eat her pie.

Someone better to serve it to her.

Buffy wonders for three days before golden blonde hair, perfectly done, comes through the door and takes her normal spot in one of the booths.

One of Buffy’s booths.

(Buffy is surprised when Anne actually smiles at the sight of her.)