Kennedy leans in to kiss my cheek. To me she whispers, “You’re a good friend,” then she steps back and says to the room, “You two be good.” If she only knew.
“We will,” I reply. “I’ll be back soon.” I have to wait for her to draw the blinds, which normally would be no big. Except that nothing about our lives is normal. The penthousey lifestyle seems to be all about living inside of a great big fish tank. The appeal is totally lost on me, but it makes Kenn happy.
I lift my share of the shopping bags and feel an immediate need to pummel Andrew. How he envisioned entering Buffy’s email address into Bloomingdale’s ‘valued customer’ database as a good idea, I’ll never know. Ignorance is, after all, bliss. He should’ve just minded his own beeswax. She never would’ve known. And I wouldn’t be playing magical chauffer or pack mule.
But no…Andrew just had to meddle. All it took was one email. And if she could just be happy, like the rest of us, with ordering online, things would be hunky-dory, but Buffy’s a real hands-on kind of girl. And that big red number with a percent sign after it is like catnip to her.
If she was a cat.
Something like that.
A gentle, magicky push from me causes the portal to spring open in a bright rainbow burst of light. The girls have had it formed for who knows how long. I feel bad for making them wait, but it wasn’t my fault. Gesturing for the culprit to go ahead with eight pairs of shoes is too much like work. I might even get sweaty.
It’s sad, I even missed the best part. Severe goofiness always happens when she sees the word ‘sale,’ especially when it’s accompanied by season names or percentages. Strange, squeaky little sounds are made. She bounces, like Tigger minus the tail. It’s just too funny to watch. So, Andrew got all the best parts. And I got left with reality—the one major kink in his plan to make Buffy…happy maybe? Who knows? Reality check: there isn’t a Bloomingdale’s within five-thousand kilometers of the UK.
Talk about perpetuating self-serving uses of magic. Tara’s probably looking down on us now, shaking her head.
I turn sideways because I won’t fit through the portal any other way. There’s a first time for everything. The transition’s lots less comfy this way. My right arm is yanked out by the three shopping bags I hold, containing the a mentioned eight pairs of shoes. Then just for fun the three bags in my left hand get jerked ‘forward.’ They hit my legs. I stagger and almost bust my tuchus on the other side.
Once recovered, I say, “Thanks,” to Daphne and Veronica. I really should ask what their real names are soon. Following Xander’s example is never a good idea. The bad part is, I thought he was serious until I asked if they’d be available to help tonight. I felt awful. And I didn’t even learn their names. Renee just said she’d take care of it.
Yay. Fun. I follow Buffy to her room, the handles of the shopping bags biting into my hands. I don’t wanna. And not just because of the ‘ow.’ I know what I said. My reasoning was sound. What I went through today is totally justifiable as a trade item. She should owe me. But the thing is, that other thing is right too. Using magic this way is wrong. So I spun it. I tried to make it count. If only I didn’t have to pay up twice…
We enter her room. I take my burden to a relatively vacant corner and set it down. I want to stall, but the nagging need to have this done wins out. “Do you hate me?” I ask.
Her attention snaps to me. Aghast, she blurts in curious staccato, “What? No. Why?”
“I’m just asking,” I reply. “You agreed to answer three questions. There’s one.” It seems fair. If she’d understood the compulsion, she never would’ve agreed. And now I know.
“Oh-kay,” Buffy intones. Going back to her purchases, she holds up a chiffon dress. It’s cornflower blue with a halter top. Bet she looks really pretty in it.
Y’know, it’s horrible. I’ve never been able to just do anything. I’ve always had this compulsive need to pick my actions apart…and everyone’s responses to them. Then I wallow over the ‘I could’ve done this,’ ‘I should’ve said that,’ ‘it would’ve been better if…’
Buffy sinks from her tippy-toes and backs out of her closet. This time she actually notices me, not just her loot. “You can sit down,” she says. “I won’t be long.”
I do as she asks without complaint. What I really want to do is tell her I don’t have long. That would be dumb. I just don’t want to face this. I don’t even know how to ask. I’ve been trying to figure it out all day. I don’t think I can do it with one question. Not and be specific. I don’t think I could ask it in ten. I think I’d get to one or two and things would break down.
All I plan to question are her motives. And maybe her integrity too, from a certain point of view. It’s not unreasonable to believe that she might get defensive.
Which might actually be fair in retrospect, considering she made me feel like poop when I told her about Tara. I could kind of understand. It came as a shock. I just couldn’t shake the ‘why.’ Either she was discomfited because of me or because of her. All things being equal, I assumed it was me. I thought she wondered what I saw when I looked at her. I could see her thinking back, remembering all of those times when we were together and puzzling over my reactions. Did I look at her that way because I was attracted? Was there more to my glances than harmless excitement because emotions were running high? Sometimes there was.
Guilt got me. I withdrew. I thought she’d be more comfortable.
Now this. It’s totally none of my business, but—
How does that fit with this?
“Why what now?” she asks from the closet, catching me out.
I flinch. That wasn’t fair. I was thinking out loud. Not that I was loud. I barely murmured under my breath. If she was like me, she wouldn’t have had a snowball’s chance in Phlegethon of hearing that. Odds are I just wasted my second question. I clear my throat before I tack on the qualifier, “Satsu.”
Her response cinches it. Under compulsion, she’d never say, “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean ‘I don’t know’?” I reply, annoyed. Serves me right. “You’re either gay or you aren’t. And if you are, you’ve known it for years. It isn’t something that just occurs to you all of a sudden. It’s a tendency you exhibit all of your life.” Buffy emerges from the closet about halfway through my speech. She meets my eyes. “There aren’t any intentions. I didn’t know that anything I thought was anything different than what anyone else thought—it took me years to figure it out—but I remember way back thinking ‘she’s really pretty.’ It made me feel all fluttery inside.”
Of course, I just can’t. What I just said is too true of the here and now. Her expression is too intense, too intent. The jig is up. She knows. I have to look away.
My ears start to burn. My cheeks are soon to follow. All I can really do with this is think fast. Finding something else to throw her isn’t hard. “Oh, I’m not interested. I just think you’re cute.” A convulsive little titter slips out. I don’t even try to check it. “You ever think the same?”
She replies, “Yes.” The spontaneity shakes her. She looks away.
That wasn’t very nice, but somehow it feels fair. “I’m gonna go home,” I say, rising from the chair. I make it to the door before she calls my name. My hand on the doorknob, I linger just long enough to say, “Do you mind? I’m exhausted. We’ll talk later.” I don’t bother to promise because I know we never will.
It occurs to me on the way out that I asked four questions. It was so sloppy, allowing myself to get annoyed. I’m not even sure she answered. She must’ve.