When the house next door was finally bought, Haley waited until the moving truck pulled into the neighbor's driveway to make her grandmother's chicken casserole recipe. When the movers left, Haley left Jack with Aaron, who was visiting to spend the afternoon with their son, and took her hot chicken casserole over to the new neighbors. As she walked up the driveway, a pair of teenagers burst through the front door.
“You're not mom, Buffy!” shouted the younger of the two as she stomped across the porch. “You can't tell me what to do!”
“I'm not mom,” the blonde teen agreed. Her tanned features were set into a fierce expression, making up for all of the passion that was not in her voice. “But you will be home by sunset, Dawn.”
The younger sister, Dawn, whirled around and dramatically stormed down the front steps, along the driveway, and past Haley. The older sister, presumably Buffy, watched her go. Then her eyes shifted to Haley. Smiling weakly, the blonde waved at Haley as she trooped down the driveway to meet her.
“I'm Haley Hotchner,” said Haley. “I live next door. And this is a chicken casserole. I thought I'd welcome you to the neighborhood.”
“Hi! I'm Buffy Summers,” the blonde said, her smile increasing in wattage. “And that was my sister Dawn. And we are profoundly grateful for the casserole. Would you like to come in? I think that we've got lemonade, coke, and, uh, water. Fair warning, it's still a mess inside.”
“I'd love to,” said Haley and, since Buffy had not made any mention of her mother or father, Haley did not ask after them.
The living room was a jumble of comfortable furniture, boxes, and, incongruously, a battered black trunk. The kitchen, however, was spotless.
“Food's important to us,” Buffy explained as she poured a couple of glasses of lemonade. Grimacing, she added, “It's too bad that Dawn and I are so bad at cooking.”
Noting again the lack of references to parental units, Haley said, “There're cooking classes at the community center. I've always meant to take them but I've never had anyone to go with.” She had wanted to take them with Aaron but he had never been willing to make the time. And then their marriage had fallen apart and that had no longer been an option. “We could go together sometime?”
“Okay,” Buffy agreed, the tension easing out of her shoulders. She smiled. “That'd be great! Thanks!”
Buffy turned out to be nineteen, a college sophomore, and from California. She had recently transferred from the University of California, Sunnydale campus, to the University of Virginia, main campus. And she seemed to be raising her younger sister, Dawn, age thirteen.
Something had gone seriously wrong in the Summer sisters' lives.
Haley left the Summers sisters' house, fully intending to go to those cooking classes with Buffy. But then, Aaron's work finally followed him home and Haley's world fell down around her. She was too busy running and hiding and collecting up the scattered shards of her and Jack's lives for friends or family or cooking classes with a Californian co-ed.
And then Haley got the call to go home.
He was going to murder her, Haley knew that, accepted it even. Her only worry was whether or not Jack was hidden well enough. As the man, Aaron's obsessed serial killer, tread slow, predatory circles around her, Haley gave her last words to Aaron and her final prayers for Jack.
Haley's words began to trip over one another as her murderer’s footsteps came to a stop behind her, his back to the living room window. Her heart pounded so hard that it hurt. He raised the gun to her temple, its muzzle a cold, hard weight against her temple. Haley closed her eyes, tried not to be afraid, and was terrified.
Glass shattered and an enormous weight slammed against Haley's back, simultaneously knocking the air from her lungs and bearing her to the ground.
There was a crack and, for a terrifying moment, Haley thought it was the gun. Then the man grunted and Haley realized that it was her murderer's wrist, snapped like a twig by whoever or whatever had come through the window and saved her life.
Adrenaline spiked through Haley, driving her to try to claw and thrash her way free of the tangle of limbs and aggression.
The fight ended before Haley got free of it. The moment the weight heaved its self off of her, Haley scrabbled and clawed her way across the room without looking back. Haley gained the threshold to the kitchen before she scrambled to her feet and whirled to face whatever was going on in her living room.
There was a blonde woman sitting on the sprawled form of Aaron's serial killer. Her forearms were bloody messes. Haley's would-be murderer appeared to be unconscious.
“Hi, Haley!” the woman chirped. At Haley's blank stare, she added, “Buffy Summers? I live next door?”
“Oh,” Haley said faintly. “Yes. We were going to take cooking classes together. I'm sorry I missed it.”
“Don't sweat it. You've been busy. Hey, have you got any rope or chains?”
“I-I don't think so,” Haley replied, her voice quivering. Her hands were beginning to shake. “H-How about duct tape?”
Haley managed to fetch the duct tape before she had to sit down and have a good cry.
Buffy immobilized the serial killer, called the police and the paramedics, and found Jack. She coaxed Jack out of hiding, put him in Haley's lap, and met emergency services at the front door. By the time that the officers hauled him to his feet, the serial killer was awake, alert, and spitting bloodcurdling threats.
Haley shuddered. Buffy laughed.
“My name is Buffy Anne Summers,” she boldly announced, getting right up in the serial killer's face. “And I look forward to our rematch in whatever dark alley, unlit parking garage, or living room you care to find me in. But I warn you. I won’t go so easy on you next time.”
The serial killer grinned, flashing his bloodied teeth at Buffy. “I look forward to it.”
The officers hauled Aaron's murderer out of the room.
By the time that Aaron rushed into the house, frantic and wild-eyed, Haley and Jack were snugly wrapped in a thermal blanket and the paramedics were picking slivers of glass out of Buffy's forearms.
“Haley!” Aaron made a beeline for Haley and Jack, collapsing on his knees in front of them. He swept them into his arms. “I thought... It sounded like... The gunshot!”
“No, no, that was his wrist,” Haley earnestly assured him.
“Haley, there was a gunshot!” Aaron said ferociously. He buried his face in the curve of her shoulder. “I thought...”
“A gunshot?” Haley asked blankly. When she looked at Buffy, the younger woman nodded toward the living room's far wall. Haley shuddered, her arms tightening around Jack.
“Too tight,” Jack complained, squirming between Aaron and Haley. “And too hot!”
Aaron and Haley both huffed with half-hearted laughter but neither let go of their son. If anything, they both held onto him, and each other, more tightly.
“Hey, I know that this is a really inappropriate moment,” Buffy said, presumably to anyone else, really. “But do you think that my arms are going to scar? Because that would make me sad.”
It was so ridiculous that Haley had to laugh. She definitely owed Buffy those cooking classes, if she was still interested.