Faith’s so rude.
I want to like her. I want to show her the same forgiveness and support everyone’s shown me. At the same time, I wonder if she’s even housebroken. She’s been so bad lately…spilling things, leaving messes. It’s only been a couple of days, but I can’t help wondering what’s wrong, what happened, can I do anything to help? That is, until I open the fridge and find the milk carton she just used sitting in there empty.
She’s hopeless. And obtuse too. She doesn’t even notice when I glower.
I’m almost glad. Silly me. I don’t want to be mean, no matter what. I want to make things better. The best I can do right now is throw the carton away and scribble a reminder that we need more milk.
Now, about breakfast. As I look through the cupboards, Faith leans back on her stool, balancing herself by placing one foot on the edge of the countertop. Her foot is on the countertop. That’s just rude. People eat there. Not me. Not now. But other people do, or may.
I try to ignore her.
Buffy, not so much. “Faith, really, can you just not?” she says, placing a hand on Faith’s shin and pushing down.
Faith capitulates with a dramatic, thuddy, arching forward fall. Somehow she manages not to spill any milk. She leans forward. The way she wiggles makes me wonder. I think she’s doing something with her legs, not just waving her boobies and wiggling her butt. Whatever she’s up to—whether it’s finding inventive new ways to show off her cleavage, or something else—she’s still the picture of nonchalance.
Maybe it’s that Buffy handles her better? That was polite, kind of…but also it was way more confrontational than I can usually manage. Maybe it’ll help. She actually got Faith to stop.
I grab an apple and take a bite. This is as close to breakfast as I’m likely to find.
Doubtfully maybe—on the help. Faith’s smirking, like this is some sort of game to her. I hesitate to guess what kind.
I lean back against the counter in the corner by the fridge, trying out a little nonchalance for myself. I’m pretty sure all I manage to look is bored.
Boredom is a mask frustration wears.
Faith’s fine. She takes a big spoonful of her actual breakfast—the last there is—and noshes noisily. “Shit, B.,” she says through the mouthful. Miracle of miracles, she actually stops short of flying ickiness to swallow. “You should lighten up. Live a little. Have some fun.”
The same old tune. I imagine all the things Buffy might say to that. There are tons. Having fun won’t keep the household running. It won’t keep people safe or fed. It won’t keep things from falling apart. It won’t keep us from doing the same.
Buffy just rolls her eyes.
Faith is inconsiderate. Ye gods and little fishes, she’s so full of herself.
What makes her think that Buffy would go out with her for ice cream of all things? To patrol or train maybe, but ice cream?
Why are they moving toward the door? It’s hard to tell what’s going on with all the commotion. This room’s too small for so many people. There’s so much chatter—
Did Buffy say ‘yes’? They’re seriously going out for ice cream? But Xander’s— And the Slayers, they’re— She’s got responsibilities—to her friends. She’ll be shirking. She’s never been a shirker. This is just wrong. They’re gone. The door shuts. This is—
This is so wrong.
Or maybe—less judgmental—it could be that it’s that Faith sees that Buffy’s under a lot of strain. She and me and Giles have been working night and day to coordinate—to plan our next move. Maybe Faith thinks a break will do Buffy some good.
That’s pretty thin. She said ice cream and tequila.
First of all eww. Second, there’s nothing thin about that. Both are fattening. Really fattening. Alcohol only happens because of sugar. And ice cream too. If it was just ice cream, that’d be different. That’s like comfort food, not comfort food and drunken debauchery with lots of superfluous calories.
Xander tries to catch my eyes with his one good one.
I turn away. I can’t face him right now. I step back into the adjoining room, our ‘conference’ room, my not-so-shiny new sanctum, what serves as an office…and a favored shortcut to the ‘training area’ that everyone tromps through so I can’t get anything done.
The tromping begins about the same instant my laptop wakes up. I barely take in the display before some young girl-type someone asks, “Did they seriously just go out for ice cream?”
Since there are so many, I look up to be sure it’s Dawn. It is. Only she could wring that much incredulity out of so few words. It’s like an art with her. “It would seem so,” I reply, countering wryness with blandness. Going totally Giles on her—with all the personality of a teabag—is the only thing that really seems to disarm her. I’m not sure my head could take that other thing—the thing she’s apt to do if I engage her.
“That’s what I thought,” she replies, calmer. Good. That would be my charm having its effect. Her brow furrows, a sign that deep thoughts are taking place behind it. I cross my fingers. All she does is ask, “Are we going to do something about that?”
Okay, maybe not so deep. Again, I say, ‘good,’ followed by a more audible, less animated, “I don’t think we can.”
“Yeah,” she says, “maybe you’re right. Just checking.”
Faith is a pretender. She only feigns understanding, or even caring what Buffy tells her.
I can tell just to look at her face. She’s distracted. So distracted, Buffy almost clocks her with a crossbow. I smush my lips together, hold my breath and duck my head behind my laptop screen. I’m good. I don’t laugh. The smile happens anyway. I can’t help it. At least it’s hidden by—
Buffy wants me to construct psychological profiles of all the girls. I wonder if she realizes what a nightmare that’ll be. I mean, I know. It makes sense…sort of. ‘Sort of sense’ in that we can kind of, sort of, maybe put complementary personality types together. It might save some strife along the way, maybe. But I’m going to have to interview them all.
And that’s only after I manage to put together a questionnaire that’s worth a flying flip. I doubt a meme will do. I love to hate the Internet. Hate to love? One of those.
Why is she bothering?
Why am I bothering?
“What are you doing?”
That last question was directed at me. It’s accompanied by a pair of arms that come to rest on my shoulders, snaking down, joining hands above the between of my breasts. I tilt my head to make room and turn to briefly meet Kennedy’s eyes as she hugs me. Kisses follow. She’s in a playful mood. I can tell because of the grinning. She’s grinning while she’s kissing me.
Something’s up. Or she’s up to something. One of the two.
She whispers in my ear, “They’re flirting.”
Did I say that? I hope I didn’t say that. I didn’t have to. Kennedy cocks an eyebrow. She’s giving me that look. The look that means, no matter how crazy I think she is, she’s right. I must be missing something. She is smarter that I am when it comes to this stuff.
I look where she’s looking, again at my friends, trying to see what she sees. I see two people talking. Two people who are the last people I would ever expect—
“Faith wouldn’t be half so interested if she wasn’t interested,” my helpful tutor tries to explain.
Even if she is right, which she probably is, Buffy isn’t. I don’t bother with bubble bursting. Kennedy can have her little indulgence. She’s welcome to it.
Our observations lead to other things. They aren’t cooperating, or so she informs me. Her breath tickles, sending little shivers down my spine. The obvious flirting is over…for them. For us, necks become involved—with more tickling and kissing, which leads to laptop folding and even different things—things where the others are forgotten. One slayer is enough trouble to keep track of for now.
Faith is completely clueless. She’s never going to see that Buffy doesn’t like her like that…until Buffy stomps the stuffing out of her.
In fact, from what I’ve seen—and been shown—it’s a wonder that Faith hasn’t been rebuffed by Buff by now. I grin. I can’t help it. ‘Rebuffed by Buff.’
The ‘shown’ part is umm…
I’m not sure. It makes me wonder if I’ve ever acted that way—with the naughty peeking, the coy looks, the ‘casual’ touches—usually on the hand—and that ‘forward leaning, cleavage showing’ thing. I’m pretty sure I’ve never done that. My boobies aren’t so good for showing off like Faith’s are. Actually, I sort of thought that was the whole point. I thought she was saying ‘my boobies are better than your boobies.’
So that was flirting? Was she flirting with me when she did that? She’s done that to me. And the ‘hair flipping,’ ‘finger combing’ thing—she’s a really flippant flipper. She flips everyone. That’s flirting? No wonder I was confused.
I look at my laptop, not out the window. I’m doing what I should be doing, only not. The information on the screen blurs. Words fuzz together.
I think the ‘flipping’ thing is only a thing if her hair isn’t in her eyes. Same with the leaning. Bending down to pick up practice quarrels, while pretty, probably doesn’t actually count as flirting. It’s just something that needs to get done. What Kennedy pointed out was Faith leaning closer, like she was interested.
Which goes back to that other thing, she was showing interest when she couldn’t possibly have been interested. She didn’t look interested, not that way. She looked interested the other way, ‘distracted’ interested, ‘thinking naughty thoughts’ interested.
Huh. I think I get it.
Faith touches Buffy’s shoulder. More touching. She leans in to say something. Buffy says something too and Faith strides away.
Show’s over. Now I really do need to get to work. I blink, squinch my eyes, make them focus on the stupid words, keywords, news articles, articles that might contain clues. I have to root out the clues. There are more girls that need to be found.
This first one’s real dud—a puff piece on some girl out east who hit a homerun. I read it anyway.
Or most of it. I almost make to the end before Dawn kills my concentration. Someone just tripped all of her switches. She bubbles over, claiming she ‘knew it,’ repeatedly, fervently. Sweet girl, love her dearly, but really—
Good thing they’re in the next room, or maybe two rooms down. That is Dawn’s room. Anyway, there’s some distance to dampen my trauma.
I’m grateful for it. She bubbles a little too long. Muffled voices follow. Too muffled. I can’t even tell who the second one is. Dawn’s next outburst isn’t much help either, “Don’t take it personally. She’s just hopeless, generally.”
For all I know, they could be talking about me.
Faith might’ve pushed a little too far.
At least I hope that’s what that is, because if it isn’t, all of my illusions will be blown. I won’t know what to think. My world just isn’t that malleable. I think I’ll think that reality has come un—
Something hits the wall. It isn’t that loud, but it’s loud enough. It was a person. One of them threw the other. They are fighting.
I lay in bed confident in what I know. Kennedy’s a constant pressure against my back—a pressure that occasionally shudders with fits of giggles, like now. Our skin sticks together, pulling, vaguely unpleasant. Sort of like the hand that cups my breast, toying with it from time to time. She forgets it. Then she remembers, like now. It’s annoyingly distracting, but nice. Being held is nice. Dammit. Her laughter isn’t. I don’t understand why she’s so amused. It’s frustrating.
On the other side of our wall lots of thuds, squeaks, grunts, crashes, and squeals break what should be silence at this hour. There’s no way I’m getting any sleep with that, so I puzzle over what Kennedy has labeled ‘a negotiation.’
Their version of negotiating sure is—umm…energetic. I still think they’re fighting, even if one of them did just shriek in a totally undignified way. Sometimes Buffy does that when she fights. She gets surprised. It happens.
Or maybe it’s that I prefer to think that. It’s safer to think that, because if I don’t, it might mean I’m wrong. I don’t want to be wrong because that’ll mean that I—
No, that’s selfish. And wrong. I’m here where I am and I’m happy, even if I am annoyed.
I jump as a sound too large and thuddy comes from the neighboring room. It startles me, but I feel relieved too. Something broke. Something big. They are fighting. I knew they were. I knew—
Another sound comes from the other side of the wall—an unusual sound—something kind of incredible: laughter. Buffy—who hasn’t really laughed in who knows how long—is giddy and breathless.
I thought I knew. Now I know she’s lost her mind. That has to be it. She squeaks again. This time it sounds like what it is: Faith’s tickling her and she’s laughing too.
I really am wrong. But that means that Buffy really is—
She’s open to the idea that—
She isn’t attracted to me. My belly knots up. More knots follow: one in my throat, ones in my head behind my eyes. Pressure builds. I won’t cry. I refuse to. I’m not that selfish.
I wipe my eyes. This is just ridiculous. When did I try? How do I know? What about this has anything to do me?
Nothing. Never. I don’t. I don’t know anything, but that doesn’t keep me from feeling an ache…
…that’s just stupid. They sound happy. I should be happy for them.
Faith knew something I didn’t. That’s kind of hard to accept.
Listen to me. I’m so—
I set my stuff up—grumbly, grumpily—in my usual spot outside on the patio so I can watch everyone else and be involved in the most indirect and convoluted way. They see me. I’m present. I can’t really blame them for wanting to keep their distance. All I have to talk about are queries, worms, mining data, indentifying patterns, constructing—
Severe geekiness. Andrew’s the only one who can stand or understand me when I’m doing this stuff.
“Are you alright?”
The door behind me opened and shut. I ignored it. I sat down. I—
That was Buffy. Faith’s with her.
“I’m fine,” I lie, losing the thread of my thought. “I’m uh…” It falls apart. “I just—” I should stop. “I’m going to work on that thing.” I don’t sound fine. I sound upset, flustered, almost disgusted…with myself, not them.
This isn’t awkward at all.
“That’s good,” she says, uncertain, touching my shoulder to show concern. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Her hand lifts and I try to lie better, “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Something takes place behind me, a look, maybe a shrug. I could turn around, engage them. I don’t have to be excluded. But I am.
They seem to come to a decision while I wait, trying to pretend that my laptop is infinitely more interesting than them. Buffy explains, “We’re going to take off, if that’s okay. I thought I should tell you because Giles and Andrew went into town. And Kennedy’s out—”
Running…and nothing’s chasing her. Or I assume so. I hope so. That’s just wrong. Not that nothing’s chasing her. Reasonless running is wrong.
Buffy stammers long enough to conclude that I know where my poor misguided girlfriend is. “Anyway, they won’t be back for a while. Is that okay? Do you mind if we leave?”
“Yeah, that’s fine.” Third lie’s the charm. I sound totally normal.
Really, Kennedy left because I was being pill. Just like they are. Leaving. Released to go capering off, laughing, whispering, leaning together. Arms wrapped around each other’s waists, they disappear into a scrubby thicket between two dunes, down the path that leads to the beach.
I wonder what’s so funny. Is it me? Greedy, jealous, stupid me? I know I am. I’m being petty. I can’t help it. I’ve been attracted to one or both of them in different ways for so long I guess it shouldn’t be a huge surprise.
I need to get over it. They just look so happy together. I can’t help wondering if that could be me…if that would be me, if I’d done something different.
I didn’t. I haven’t. And if I was happy, one of them wouldn’t be.
This is ridiculously self-indulgent. It’s fine. I’m fine. They deserve to be happy. It’s actually kind of sweet. I laugh, remembering. They are cute together.
Alright, I’m on the joy train. Where’s my chocolate?