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These and Other Differences

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I watch from the bed as Buffy moves around the room, collecting her things, unhindered, immodest. Weird, I feel like a Peeping Tom and she just whispered ‘morning’ in my ear. Moments ago we were in the same bed. Not that it seems to matter. My heart gives a fluttery thump when she stretches to reach for her robe. The curve of her waist, the swell of her bottom, the glimpse of still swollen flesh between her legs…

That one little peek—all those sexy, silky, dimpled, rippled, lightly coppery, curvy parts—fire off a chain reaction in me. My face flashes hot. I stretch to cover my flush and other embarrassing stuff I’d prefer to ignore. I’m still on my side so my belly pooches out. I go the other way. My spine bows, like a cat’s. It’s a terribly satisfying thing—that stretch—the way they always are first thing in the morning. My spine crackles, up between my shoulders toward my neck. My ears fill up, or seem to. A sleepy, lazy burr hums through my head, filling it with haze.

I realize as I settle, lower my arm and slip it back beneath the covers, that the thump triggered a flurry. My heart took off like a bird freed from its cage. Or a mouse. The trap door opened and it dashed, racing for the treat at the end of the maze.

She is a treat. Really. Her sweet, musky scent clings to my skin, lingers in the sheets, recalling phantom flavors. I swallow. My head swims with the dust motes she stirred. They swirl in the sunbeam that pours in through the open curtains. My attention remains stubbornly on them. She puts on her robe, oblivious of me, smiling as she leaves the room, off to get cleaned up.

I close my eyes and wonder again for the umpteenth time how I got here. Why did this happen?

How? How’d it happen?

I mean, I get how it happened. I’m not completely stupid, just partly. She was a bit tipsy. I was a bit—

Well, I was me. I have impulse control problems sometimes. A pretty girl kissed me and my brain got all confuddled. My good sense went the way of that one white sock on laundry day. I don’t know what it is with that, but one always comes up missing. And I always act like a flibbertigibbet where pretty girls are concerned. Yup, I’m an idiot, especially when it comes to her.

It didn’t occur to me until it was much, much, far, way, way too late that having sex with my best friend might not be the best idea ever, probably because we haven’t exactly been the best of friends of late. Except here. We’ve been really, really friendly here. Too friendly.

But that didn’t matter. Until I felt it did. Until I took a moment to think.

And here I am again, making the same mistake. I don’t get it. How am I here? I was so certain that the first time would be the last time. It hurt—the idea that that would be it—that we’d agree to view it as an accident—as some sort of embarrassing incident. We never did. We never even talked. Not about that. About us. Meaningless things were fine. Daily life was better. We went on with our lives, our duties, doing our collective and respective things. Now here I am again wondering what this means.

Could be that she’s like a drug. Could be that it’s normal. She leads and I follow. I’m just so—

I want to think ‘malleable.’ That’s the first thing that comes to mind. No, more like gullible. It makes me mad. Which probably means it’s true. I just don’t want to see of myself that way, as just some sort of sidekick, even if I know it’s true. I follow. She leads. That’s how it is. When she leads me to take off my clothes, and her clothes, and she’s kissing me in all those—I don’t stand a snowball’s chance in….

I’ve had it. I’m done for.

The worst part of the whole mess is that I want more than anything to ask her what this is. What it means.

If only I wasn’t a big fat chicken. I can’t make myself form the words. I’ve tried. I’m terrified. My mouth dries out, feels parched, all pasty and gross. My leaden tongue sticks. It’s awful. I just—

I know there’s just no way this could possibly mean the same thing to her that it does to me. I don’t want to know that, but I do. I know it just like I know that I’m a follower. I’m a pushover. I was smitten from the moment I first met her.

I remember how that was. I remember feeling I knew her better than anyone else, even Xander. We were so close once. I remember feeling I didn’t know her at all. Now look at me. It’s like in the absence, with the closeness, all of those initial feelings—those silly, smitten, crushy, girlish feelings—have been revived, revitalized, intensified, like some relic from the past. Sometimes when I look at her, it’s like my heart’s too big, swollen like a balloon, light with helium. I ache to tell her. I want to—

I can’t. I can’t any more now than I could’ve then.

That seems like ages ago. It hasn’t been that long at all. Only a few years. I was elated. Giddy. Stupidly so. I was out in front of the school waiting, like I always did. Xander always met me. And I guess Jesse did then too. It was a thing. Our thing. I had this nice shady spot just off the sidewalk. No one ever noticed me because of the shrubs and the trees. Of course, it could’ve been that no one ever noticed me because no one ever did unless they wanted someone to pick on or someone to do their homework. I was mostly okay with them not noticing.

The doors would open and people would spill out. It happened hundreds of times. It was always the same old faces—or more like, from that vantage, the same old profiles and backs of heads. It didn’t matter. I didn’t have to see their faces to know them—the same boring people, all primped and poised in a mockery of perfection, like cheap plastic dolls. They moved in chaotic oneness, jumbled in ranks.

That day was different. Moments later, behind the throng, the door opened again, just the right one. A single straggler slipped out. I recognized her too. Even obscured by the door and the bushes the way she was at first, I knew her. It was her hair that did it. It glistened like spun gold when the sunlight hit it.

I love her hair. It feels like silk in my hands. Unconsciously, I rub my thumb across my fingers, imagining, remembering.

My heart gave the same little thump. My breath caught. She was so beautiful. So special, even then. Like a taste of water in the desert. She was fresh and clean and new.

She didn’t see me. She still doesn’t know I watched her. Which was good then. And is probably still good now. I was breathing fast, sort of panting to match the gallop of my heart. Nervous. Unseemly. Better off unnoticed.

It seemed to me right then I knew. She wasn’t like the others. There wasn’t anything false about her—well, anything besides the average things. She wore a pushup bra, but who am I to complain about that? Perish the thought. She was gorgeous.

I was nervous. Part of me saw how genuine she seemed. Another part—a part that was more cynical—wondered whether she’d ever speak to me again. I had to wonder what she saw in me. I wondered why she’d singled me out. Was it just what she said, she needed help getting caught up with her school work? I wanted so badly for it to be more.

What a fragile thing hope is, like a candle flame. I always cupped it with my hand, protected it, sheltered it, held it close to my body. Someone mean always came along to bump my hand, trip me, distract me—to blow it out, but I had to try.

I still try.

I wanted her to notice me. I wanted her to be nice to me again. She was so sweet. So kind. Not that I was paying attention to any of that then. I was as pervy as a boy.

Still am.

I smirk. I remember it so well, so many times. I’ve watched her that way as long as I’ve known her. I don’t think she’s ever noticed. Or at least, she’s never acknowledged it. I just couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t make myself not watch. She’s so graceful. I didn’t understand it then. I just knew she wasn’t trying. She wasn’t posing. She wasn’t one of them.

Like I know she never thought of me like that, not then. Not later. Not really. Maybe not even now. I’m not sure what, if anything, has changed. What do I know? I feel like I know everything about her and nothing at all. Not the most important thing.

Well, I guess that isn’t fair. She has to be attracted to touch me the way she does. It just doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that same. I guess it’s always like that. One person’s more attracted, has different goals, different ideas, different passions… One person says or does the wrong thing and it snowballs. Differences end up adding up and getting in the way.

Maybe it won’t be like that this time. It’s impossible to know. We can’t even get over this.

All I really want to do is bring her flowers. Maybe take her out, have a thing. I’m afraid to even do that. I’m afraid that making any gestures—plain old, not-so-grand, romantic gestures—would be like admitting something, shoving it under her nose, forcing her to examine what we are, what we have, what this means. It’d be like saying, ‘Here, have something to remind you about what we’re not talking about.’ That might be bad. She might arrive at that ‘mistake’ thing. Decide after all that this was an ‘accident,’ a doubly damnable ‘fluke.’

I shouldn’t push. I should just let this be whatever it is. Can I do that? Do I even know how?