Buffy Summers was pretty sure that this was hell.
In hindsight, she had no idea why she let Cordelia and Harmony convince her that sneaking out and going to a frat party at UCLA was a great idea. Maybe because she was tired of being stuck at home, having to listen to her divorcing parents constant fighting and never ending screaming matches. So when the two older girls had drafted her as their third amigo for their planned night out, she’d jumped at the chance.
Buffy realized that her Mom didn’t approve of her ’friendship’ with the senior girls but hanging with them seriously upped her cool factor, especially for just a freshman. If she wanted her plans to rise to the top of the high school social hierarchy to work, getting in good with the current Queen was totally important.
And that Queen was Cordy.
So she’d slipped into her shortest, tightest mini skirt and her favorite black top that showed just the right amount of cleavage. She’d strapped on the awesome pair of designer heels that she’d begged and badgered her Mom into buying for her over the summer. Piling her unusual silver-gold tresses on top of her head, applying makeup to make her look just a little bit older, a tiny spritz of perfume and she was ready to roll.
Getting out of the house, on the other hand, was just a bit harder.
Hank, the man who used to be her Dad or step dad rather, had come over earlier that evening to go through things in the house with her Mom. They were just a few weeks from having The Divorce finalized and they were now formally going through and splitting everything. Hell, she was the only thing not being split down the middle. Hank had been successfully ignoring her and anything to do with her since The Incident this past summer. Buffy in turn, tried to ignore anything and everything that had to do with him. She had no plans on forgiving him anyway.
The upside to all the ignoring going on was all the stuff Buffy could now get away with. Sneaking out being right at the top of the list. She’d been doing it more and more often, sneaking out and meeting up with the girls. She’d complain to her mother about a migraine or cramps and beg off to bed early. She’d lie in bed with her pajamas over her clothes for an hour… waiting for her mom’s inevitable bed check. Once she was sure that she could slip away unnoticed, it was out the window (leaving it cracked just a bit), down the trellis (hard but not impossible to do with heels), and through the neighbor’s bushes (with an eye out for his snippy little dog).
And that was how she ended up here… hell.
Buffy had never been to a frat party before but it wasn’t nearly as cool as she’d imagined. The place was filled with college-age partygoers, loaded with booze and who knew what else. She’d been fending off overly grabby guys (and in one instance a girl) all night long. The music sucked and she was afraid to sit down because she was afraid of what she’d be sitting in. On top of that, Buffy had been in a foul mood all night. Her head was starting to hurt and something was up with the strobe light they had going in the other room ‘because she kept seeing red splotches everywhere.
Buffy spotted Cordy on the other side of the room, schmoozing it up with a guy she’d been trying to get her talons into all night long. A few feet away, Harmony was standing in the midst of a group of football players, downing bright green Jell-O shots and giggling incessantly.
Buffy sighed. The things she put up with to be popular.
"Is it hot in here or is it just you?"
She turned to the guy that had come up behind her. He was tall and lean, with dark hair and eyes. Cute but she’d seen better. And that pick-up line was totally lame.
It was a struggle not to roll her eyes but she somehow managed. Buffy raised a perfectly groomed eyebrow, “It’s hot in here.”
Mr. Suave looked non-plussed for a minute then blatantly looked her body up and down. He seemed to approve of her smooth golden curves. He gave her a wide grin and stepped closer, way too far into her personal bubble. The smell of liquor and pot practically wafted from his poors. “Then I should definitely take you outside.. You know, to get air.”
She so wasn’t in the mood for this. Buffy took a breath, “Look….”
“Parker “ He supplied eagerly.
“Parker. You seem… great. But I have a boyfriend and I don’t think he’d appreciate it if I went with you to… you know, get air.” Buffy said, deadpan.
Parker’s face was rapidly becoming unpleasant. “Look sweetheart, I’m not asking you to go steady here or something for God’s sake. To me you seem a little tense. Obviously, your boyfriend ain’t getting the job done. But I have just the thing to make you feel good.” He made an obscene gesture with his hand and his groin, grinned, and swayed even closer into her space.
She wrinkled her nose and grimaced, leaning away. Some guys just couldn't take a hint.
Hearing laughter, she spied a group of guys clustered a few feet away, clearly watching the spectacle their buddy was making. Since they didn't seem surprised or in a hurry to come rescue her, she was guessing that this wasn't the first time Parker had made a fool of himself in front of a pretty girl. Rolling her eyes, she began to move away but was pulled up short by the large hand grabbing her arm and yanking her back.
Parker was apparently done with his charming routine and had moved straight into asshole territory. He glared down at her, "You're just going to walk off? You don't have to be such a bitch. I just wanted to talk--"
Trying not to grimace at the grip he had on her arm, She instead gave him a coy smile and fluttered her lashes, gazing up at him with big emerald eyes. Lifting her hand, Buffy ran her finger down his chest. He stilled as she moved it south but looked back at her face when she withdrew her hand. She waited for him to meet her eyes before she let the flirty look leave her face, replacing it with a sharp-toothed smile and a flinty-eyed glare, “That's right, I am a bitch. Now, take your hand off my arm before I show what I can do to little worms like you."
“Is there a problem here?” a voice came from behind them.
It was Cordy and her latest boy toy Ryder (or was it Robert? Richard?). Harmony was right beside them clinging to the arm of a guy Buffy hadn‘t seen before.
“Mind your fucking business, Anderson!” Parker snapped, glaring at Ryan(?). Rapidly, he spun back to Buffy, “I’m about to show this little bitch--”
Buffy narrowed her eyes at the word little. She’d show him little!
“That’s enough Abrams.” It was the guy that currently had Harmony attached to him like a barnacle. He was tall and well built. While not as good looking as Cordelia’s date or even Parker, something about him was very charismatic. He detached Harmony in a move so smooth it had Buffy raising her brows. He strode forward and placed himself between her and the guy who apparently needed anger management classes in a big way.
“Look, the lady isn't interested. And you’ve obviously had too much to drink tonight. Why don’t you go find one of your regular conquests and sleep it off. Otherwise we’re going to have a problem. And you really don’t want to have a problem with me. Right?” Mystery guy said quietly.
It took the jackass formerly known as Parker five seconds to make a decision. He gave everyone one final glare and stomped off.
As if on que, Cordy and Harmony simultaneously squealed and started talking.
Harmony’s chatter was all for the Mystery Guy. She firmly reattached herself to his side; gazed adoringly at him, and preceded to gush about how brave and sweet he was coming to a girl’s rescue like that. She seemed to forget that it was Buffy’s rescue and not hers but Harmony was nothing if not skilled at ignoring annoying little facts that she didn‘t care for.
Cordelia on the other hand, headed straight for Buffy.
“OhmyGod! Can you believe that guy? What is his trauma?!” She exclaimed. Cordy shook back her lush mane of dark hair and angled her ample chest towards her date, clearly presenting her assets in their best light. She hooked an arm around Buffy’s shoulders.
“Sorry guys, but you’ll have to excuse us. I think my friend needs a minute to compose herself. Come on Harm.” she commanded.
She swept away, towing an bemused Buffy and a rather annoyed Harmony in each hand.
They reached a bathroom down the hall but the line to use it was wrapped around the house at least once. Not one to let a little thing like line etiquette slow her down, Cordelia simply shoved her way though, throwing glares and snapping insults to any who opposed her.
Buffy wrinkled her nose at the thought of being squeezed into the rather small bathroom with the two other girls. If the line was anything to go by, it had been used round the clock tonight (and it was a Fraternity’s bathroom anyway, so who knew how clean it was normally?). And even though she was small and petite, her two friends were both tall and curvy. Exactly how did Cordy think that this was going to work?
Clearly, Cordy didn’t care. As soon as that door was open, she shoved first Buffy, then Harmony, then herself inside.
Harmony quickly made herself at home, unabashedly deciding that this was the perfect time to take a pee. Buffy kept her eyes glued front and center and began humming to herself to drown out any noise. She had never considered herself shy or a prude but having to watch and hear Harmony Kendall using the restroom while she was in it with her wasn’t on her list of things to do ever.
Cordelia didn’t even spare Harmony a glance. She immediately went to the mirror, checking her perfectly applied makeup. She straightened her ice-blue minidress. Although her attitude was relaxed, her eyes were glued on Buffy through the mirror. Cordy withdrew a slick silver tube from her tiny clutch purse.
“So,” eyes still on Buffy, she stroked on the dark red lipstick, “what was that out there?”
“What was what? You mean the guy who doesn’t understand ‘not interested’? Or the fact that Harmony was stuck to the other guy like she‘d been super glued there?” Buffy laughed.
“Hey!” Harmony squawked.
“Oh, shut up Harm.” Cordelia rolled her eyes, “You know it’s true. Jeez, have a little self-respect.” She turned from the mirror to look directly at Buffy.
“I’m talking about the fact that you’ve been in a bad mood since we got here. We’ve gone to dozens of parties. You dance and you flirt and you shoot down guys. I’ve seen you be nice and I’ve seen you be a bitch. That’s normal. But tonight you’re different. You’ve been sulking in the corner and biting people’s heads off. I don’t think you’ve been having any fun. And then that scene out there… What the hell is wrong with you?” She snapped, staring at her through narrowed eyes.
Buffy bit her tongue. She really hated it when Cordy got all high and mighty but she'd just keep on and on unless she did some damage control. “Look, I know I’ve been… not myself tonight. I don’t know why I’m in such a crappy mood. Maybe I’m just PMSing really bad or something.”
Cordelia watched her for a moment, her face unreadable, “Maybe. But maybe I made a mistake thinking you were ready to be one of us. Maybe you’re burned out on all the partying… can’t handle the pressure. You’re too young. Yeah, you can walk the walk and talk the talk but when it comes right down to it, you’re just a kid. A fourteen year old kid. Maybe you just can’t keep up.”
Buffy knew what Cordelia was doing. Anytime she thought Buffy was stepping out of line, she brought this up. She knew she was the youngest member of the popular clique at school. Hell, she’d just turned fourteen and was barely into the first semester of her freshman year. But despite her relative youth and small stature, Buffy was an early developer in ‘other areas’. That, coupled with her quick wit, sharp tongue, and awesome fashion sense often gave her the illusion of being older than she was. These traits were what brought her to the attention of Queen C and her Cordettes. Buffy liked hanging with them. They were the movers and shakers of their High School world. It got her respect and special consideration, things that she really liked. Unfortunately, Cordelia wanted Buffy under her thumb. Wanted her to be another Cordette. A loyal follower. The only problem was that Buffy wasn‘t a follower. Especially not for Cordelia Chase.
Buffy drew herself up to her full height and snapped back, “That’s crap Cordy, and you know it. I’ve kept up just fine with everything you’ve thrown at me. So I have one night that I’m not in a good mood. So what? I seem to recall you having a pretty bad night yourself a few weeks ago. Want to talk about that?” She said sarcastically.
Harmony watched wide eyed from the toilet as they squared off. Because of course she knew what Buffy was referring to. Everyone knew but no one had dared to say anything to Cordelia‘s face.
After all, catching the guy you’d been with for two years sleeping with your Biology teacher and then having him brutally dump you in front of everyone, it kinda tended to put a girl into a bad mood. And for someone like Cordelia Chase…Well, It made her a raging she-demon of fury and venom.
Cordy’s face went white then red and was making a rapid climb towards purple. She stepped close to Buffy, chest heaving, and glared down at the smaller girl.
“What did you just say to me?!” She practically growled through grinding teeth.
Buffy couldn’t believe she was actually saying this to Cordelia’s face either. It was practically social suicide to take Cordy on at this point. But the strange mood that had been making Buffy sullen and snappish all night was still riding her, urging her recklessly on. A tiny voice in the back of her mind was frantically saying, Shut up! Shut Up right now! Before you say something you regret!
She shoved that little voice further back and stood her ground. She’d try this diplomatically.
“You heard me Cordy. Look, I know that the last thing that you want to do is talk about that night and I understand that. I’m just trying to point out that I can be in a bad mood and it not be the end of the world. And yes, I know that I’m younger than you guys and I do appreciate everything that you’ve done for me. Please don’t think that I don’t.”
She took a breath and brought out the big guns.
The Pout. Feared by Men and Women alike.
Buffy gave her bambi eyes and let her lower lip poke out a bit. Her chin trembled slightly, “I just thought that we were friends. And friends are honest with each other, right?”
Cordelia was now watching her thoughtfully. The anger had been lessening from her face throughout Buffy’s little speech and had been visibly wiped out when she’d brought out the Pout. But Buffy didn’t let down her guard for a minute. Cordelia was smart and knew when she was being snowed. It was after all, why she was Queen C.
“Maybe you’re right,” Cordy said slowly, “Friends should be honest with each other. So I’ll be honest with you. The issue isn’t really with your bad attitude tonight. You’ve been getting moodier for awhile now. I think, friend,” she sneered the word, “that you’re letting issues at Home get to you. Mommy and Daddy still fighting?”
The sickly sweetness in her tone was crystal clear.
Buffy could practically feel her blood pressure rising. If Cordelia’s dirty laundry with her ex was taboo, then Buffy’s family life was as well. Her hands were fisted at her side and she could feel her own nails cutting into her palms. She was oh, so tempted to just slap that look right off the bitch‘s face.
And the older girl wasn’t done yet.
“Look Buffy, here’s the deal. You have a lot of promise. I think with a bit of grooming, you could take my place when I graduate at the end of this year. When I first took you under my wing, you had focus and drive. But lately your ‘tude has been less than stellar. I think you need to get your act together. In fact,” Cordy went to her purse and pulled something out. “I think you should go home. And decide what’s more important to you. Immeasurable popularity… or whatever freak show is going on at home. ” She marched back over to Buffy and shoved something in her hand.
“So get a cab or something and get out of here. And for god’s sake, freshen up your lipstick. People know you came with me. I have a reputation ya know.” She turned to Harmony. “Move it Harm, we need to get to our guys before those Tri-Delta bitches try to make a move.” She stalked out the door without a look back. Harmony straightened her bright yellow tube top and smoothed her own long blonde hair, throwing a smug look at Buffy as she followed.
Buffy looked at what Cordelia had shoved into her hand. A wad of cash, presumably for the cab and Cordy’s favorite Dior Lipstick, Harlot.
She snorted. Ironic.
It was embarrassing to be sent home from the party like a child but on the other hand the fact that Cordelia Chase wanted to groom her for Queen was pretty exciting. Not that She needed the help but it did mean that her place would be assured when Cordy graduated. Overall, she couldn’t help feel a little relieved. Her bad mood wasn’t going away and right now sleeping in her own bed sounded great. A good night’s sleep and she’d be ready to tackle whatever problems Cordelia tried to send her way.
Buffy slipped out her sleek little cell phone from a hidden pocket in her skirt. One phone call later and she had the assurance that a driver would be there soon. Now, all she had to do was wait.
Someone started banging on the door.
Buffy stuffed the cell, money, and lipstick into her pocket and went to let the desperate person in.
As she left the bathroom, she could see that the party was still in full swing. Buffy noticed Harmony heading upstairs with one of the football players from earlier. Apparently, Mystery guy had successfully evaded Ms. Grabby Hands. Huh, good for him.
Cordelia was working the crowd across the room. From here it looked like she and Robin (?) were attached at the hip and from the look on her face, she was totally in her element. For a second, their eyes met. Cordy’s were dark and confident. They watched each other for a moment more before Cordelia broke their staring contest, tossing her hair and laughing at something her boy toy was saying.
“You okay?” came from Buffy’s left.
Mystery Guy was standing on the balcony attached to the hallway. He had a drink in his hand and was watching her quietly.
Buffy was surprised to see him. But then again…
“Hiding from Harmony?” she asked guessed. She walked out and stood next to him. He was tall. She liked that in a guy.
He flashed a crooked grin and let out a light chuckle, “How’d you know?”
“You’re not the first. Harmony can sometimes be… well, hard to handle. I’ve seen guys climb right out of windows to get away.” Buffy joked.
“I see.” He studied her for a moment, “So are you? Okay I mean? Because Abrams can be a real ass.”
She shrugged, “Not the first jerk I’ve come across that can’t take no for an answer. And he probably won’t be the last. And thanks by the way… for stepping in. I’d hate to have had to hurt him.”
She surprised a laugh out of him.
“No problem. My names Tom by the way. Tom Warner. And you are?” Tom stepped forward, holding his hand out to her.
She smiled and shook it.
“So what are you doing out here? Cause I don’t know if you’ve realized this but there’s a party inside.” Tom joked. He was studying her face as he spoke and Buffy wondered what it was he was looking for.
“Yeah, I know. But actually I think I’m going to head home. I’m really just not in a partying mood.” She shrugged as she spoke. She would have missed the look that passed over his face if she’d have blinked. As it was, she had no idea what it meant.
“So, uh, you want me to walk you to your car?” He offered.
“Um, no that’s okay. Actually, Cordelia was my ride but she’s staying so… I’m actually waiting for a cab.” Buffy said as nonchalantly as possible. She really didn’t want to explain that she didn’t even have her learner’s permit yet.
“Oh,” he sounded both surprised and disappointed, “I’ll walk you down and wait with you.”
She was touched by the offer, he was totally sweet… but… the last thing she needed was Harmony seeing That and throwing a tantrum. Knowing her, Harm would totally live up to her nickname and destroy her reputation by spilling the beans about her real age. There would be no more parties, no more cute older boys. No way.
“Actually, it should be here by now. You should totally enjoy the party. I appreciate the offer though. You’re sweet.” Buffy smiled at him.
He sighed, and then smiled, “It was really nice meeting you Buffy. Maybe we’ll see each other again sometime.”
“I’d like that. Bye Tom.” She gave a little wave and escaped back into the hallway.
Buffy was careful on the way out of the house not to be spotted by Cordy or Harm. She was more than ready to get out of here and didn’t want to get waylaid by the terrible twosome again.
The cab was waiting right at the curb, the on duty sign lit up brightly. She jumped in, practically headfirst, and gave the startled driver her address. As Buffy settled back, she gazed out the window and watched as the Frat house got smaller and smaller. And then it was gone.
Driving home, Buffy finally managed to relax. She didn’t know what it was but leaving that house lifted a tension off of her she hadn‘t realized was there. Now if only the thought of going home didn’t make her headache pound.
She sighed and shifted a little on the seat.
Her parents had been together for eleven years. Buffy had been three when they’d married, and Hank had immediately adopted her. He’d been the only father she’d ever known. They’d been happy. They’d been a family. Until a few years ago, when things started falling apart.
At first, there was just the arguing. Then came her Dad’s affair. Then there was her Mom throwing him out. Then taking him back. Her parents had gone to counseling and things had been good for awhile. The arguing started again when her Mom opened the Art Gallery downtown last May.
It was around that time that Buffy started having the nightmares. Horrific ones that woke her drenched in sweat and screaming for her mother. They were never the same one, all of them were different. The only things they had in common were monsters, violent pain, and death. Buffy couldn’t explain them… She rarely watched scary or gory movies. Her Mother had seemed worried but also convinced they were just a phase. A phase of what, she hadn’t been very clear on. Her Dad seemed to think it was just her way of seeking attention.
It wasn’t until the last school dance of her junior high that things got really weird. She’d gone with her former crush Ford. He’d left to get them some punch and she’d been chatting with a gaggle of her girlfriends when a group of older disfigured people crashed the party.
They’d laughed and made threats, lunging at people and snarling, showing off what had to be fake teeth and serious facial prosthetics they must have scored from a studio downtown. One of the guys had grabbed another girl standing next to Buffy. She could vaguely recall him burying his face in her hair, inhaling the scent, growling something to his friends before laughing uproariously. In a moment that left her still questioning not only her eyesight but her freaking mind, he'd suddenly exploded into dust. Standing behind where he’d been was a tall, thin girl with a long dark ponytail, wearing jeans and a hideous pair of combat boots. She shot Buffy a grin and then she’d begun to move, fighting with the other gang members. She'd been better than any action star Buffy had ever seen.
The rest of Buffy’s memories of that night were fuzzy since she'd taken a blow to the head from someone's random elbow when people had panicked and began running for the exits. She could remember when another deformed weirdo grabbed her from behind and tried to drag her away. She'd struggled as hard as she could, knocking them both over one of the tables with candles on it. She'd hit the floor hard and she'd laid there dazed, feeling the sudden heat from all around, smelling the smoke, looking up to see the walls burning. People had gone crazy, knocking each other aside to leave the gymnasium, the strange girl still fighting off the gang. She gone in and out of consciousness after that. Her first clear memory after that was waking up in the back of an ambulance, people fussing over her. Also clear as crystal, was her ’Dad’s’ reaction to the story she had to tell about what happened that night. He’d flipped, convinced by the other kids and parents that her seeing the guy turn into dust meant she was mental. Also, apparently no one knew who started the fight that had been going on but everyone knew who was apparently accidentally responsible for starting the fire that had burned down the school gym. Yep, all fingers had been pointing to her.
Her Mom brushed off the story. She never questioned Buffy about that night, just happy, relieved, and thankful that her baby had made it out in one piece. Some of the other kids hadn’t, their bodies found with strange wounds from the gang members.
Hank had seemed off for a while. He watched her suspiciously no matter what she said or did, seemingly convinced that at any moment she'd go on a firebug spree and burn down the house. He'd waited until the day Joyce had to go back into the office, and then he’d loaded her into the car and drove her out of town to the Sunnydale Mental Health Institute. To The freaking Nut House.
To say that Buffy went quietly was a lie. To say that they had six large men drag her tiny frame kicking, screaming, and eye gauging all the way to her ’room’ were they promptly had to tie her down was a little closer to the truth.
She’d been there for a month. They’d done test after test, put her on all kinds of medications, and she’d come very close to a little session of electro-shock therapy.
Thank God for her Mom. Who’d apparently gone ape-shit when she found out what Hank had done. She’d immediately called her lawyer, filed for divorce and sued the institute who refused to release her child. Apparently, just because one parent checks you in doesn’t mean that the other can check you back out whenever they want. Hank had signed her in for a six-month assessment evaluation. One month of dealing with her mother on the outside and Buffy on the inside, and they practically gift-wrapped her and overnighted her back.
Since then her mother had coddled and spoiled her, trying desperately to make up for what her ex-husband had done. As for the man himself, not a single word had been spoken between him and Buffy and she‘d taken to referring to him as Hank. As far as she was concerned, She no longer had a father.
As the cab slowly made its way down her street, Buffy just hoped that he would be gone by now.
No such luck, Buffy cursed silently as she spied his Mercedes still parked out side at the curb. That meant that her Mom and Hank were both still up and she’d have to sneak back in. Funny enough, it wasn’t as easy to sneak back in as it was to sneak out.
She paid the cabby and watched him leave before turning to look over her house. It was a two-story Spanish Colonial and her mother had put in countless weekends working on the immaculate yard and flourishing garden. Buffy’s favorite part was the trellis at the back of the house… It had certainly made going out these past few months rather easy.
Climbing up the trellis was much harder than climbing down. By the time she made it to the window, Buffy had already gotten three scratches and quite a few thorns in some very uncomfortable places. Her window was slightly cracked just like she had left it, making it easy to slip the tips of her fingers in and lift it the rest of the way open.
Her room was dark.
Buffy carefully made her way to the bedside table and flipped the lamp on.
Her room was a collage of her childhood. The walls were still covered in the pink and white striped wallpaper that her mom and Hank had put up when they’d moved in. Countless boy band posters and pictures of friends adorned the walls as well. Shelves held books, figurines, stuffed animals, and various trophies. A pair of ice skates dangled from the back of her bedroom door. Her bed was the focal point in the room; her fluffy white down comforter and the multitude of throw pillows making it look incredibly inviting right about now. And as always, Mr. Gordo was waiting for her in the middle of her bed.
She toed off her heels and kicked them across the room, blindly aiming for the open closet. Buffy headed for her bathroom and tossed her skirt and top into the hamper. She grabbed her favorite blue sleeping shirt and shorts combo off the counter where she’d left them earlier, and slipped them back on.
A quick glance in the mirror had her washing the makeup off her face and pulling the pins out of her hair, tousling it as she went. Common sense told her that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to see her mom, all dolled up. Not good at all.
Buffy went to her bedroom door and hesitated. It had been eerily quiet downstairs since she’d climbed in through her window. Usually, if you put her Mom and Hank in the same vicinity you could her them down the street. They’d certainly been going at it when she’d snuck out earlier…
Buffy placed her ear against the door but still couldn’t hear anything. Maybe they’d decided to give each other the silent treatment?
She waited a minute to practice her sleepy face before heading downstairs.
Even from the staircase she could see that the lights were still on throughout the house. She headed down the hallway for the living room.
“Mom?” Buffy called, “Where are you?”
Not in here, she thought. The place looked like a wreck. There were boxes on every available surface and piles of stuff that had yet to be sorted everywhere else. The dining room, office, and downstairs bathroom were in similar disarray.
Heading for the Den, she called out again, “Mom? You in here?”
Even before she got to the door, the smell hit her. It was a rusty smell, like pennies. The realization was somewhere in the back of her mind but it was enough to have her hurrying. Buffy tried not to worry or panic, had there been an accident? Maybe a box cutter slipped or something glass had been broken? Maybe they were at the emergency room right now… maybe that’s why it was so quite…
The room looked empty but that didn’t stop the worried, “Mom?” that escaped her.
She was turning to head for the kitchen when something in her peripheral had her spinning around, the bottom of her stomach unexpectedly falling away.
A lone shoe. Her mom’s shoe. Wedged between the coffee table and the far sofa.
Buffy was moving before the thought even occurred to her. She called out a slightly louder “Mom?!”
She rounded the arm of the sofa and felt her world tilt. The red was everywhere. It took a moment for Buffy’s mind to process what she was seeing. Her mother’s body.
She was splayed face down on the floor and blood was everywhere. On the rug, the couch, the leg of the table. On her dad’s golfing trophy that lay right next to her. All over the back of her head.
Buffy never noticed herself moving but she must have because she was suddenly kneeling next to her mother and trying to turn her over.
She kept hearing from a great distance a voice, high and frantic, repeatedly crying, “Mom? Mom! Mommy?!”
Buffy could see her own hands shaking her mother, but somehow it didn’t seem like they were her hands. If her mother felt her, touched her, she would wake up. She would. Joyce Summers would open her eyes and smile up at her and she would say, “Don’t worry, Sweetheart. I just gave myself a good knock.”
She would open her eyes.
Please mom, she prayed, just open your eyes.
Buffy could see the hands that weren’t hers stop shaking her mother. They had moved, frantically patting her mother’s face… hovered over the place on her mother’s neck were her pulse would be. She couldn’t bring herself to actually feel for it. It had to be there. It couldn’t not be there.
Her vision was suddenly blurred… Buffy could feel the tears on her face, could feel them dripping down her neck. Her throat and chest burned, she couldn't breath.
Her hands had moved to the wound on the back of her mother’s head, and when she pulled them away she saw that they were covered in blood… and something else. Something thicker and that wasn’t blood.
The realization had her scrambling to her feet and running for the kitchen. She had to get to the phone, had to call an ambulance.
She had to get an ambulance. It was bad, so bad. She needed help. Someone had to help her mom.
Buffy staggered to the kitchen. She passed the mirror in the hallway and could see the blood that drenched the entire front of her shirt, her arms and hands, and even a smudge on her face.
When did she touch her own face? The thought was wild and inane but her mind was grasping for something to hold onto.
Entering the kitchen, she didn’t know what it was that she noticed first. The shoes maybe…weren’t those Dad’s favorite sneakers?
At first, it was just a large object hanging from the crossbeams. Then, once she noticed the arms and legs and hey, wasn’t that dad’s shirt?
Then she focused at the top, at the face which was bloated and swollen and looked nothing like--
Then Buffy was on her knees, violently vomiting on the cold tile floor.
Gray Spots covered her vision.
This was Hell.