“I don’t know why you need my help,” Buffy was saying as she and Willow ascended the steps to the Sunnydale Public Library, “you know my time for reading anything more than a Cosmo is basically zilch. ”
Willow flashed her friend a lopsided smile. “I know, I know, but I wanna spend the day with my friend and since I’ve got to find something for that research paper…” She gestured at the library double doors.
Buffy frowned. She had mixed feelings about libraries. They prompted a flood of bittersweet memories of all the times she and the Scoobies had spent their evenings with Giles researching various demons and magics before the school had blown to Hell. They were also reminders that, despite how much she might like to settle into a good book, she simply never had the time. There was always some slaying to do, and when she wasn’t slaying she was training, and when she wasn’t training she was trying to have some semblance of a social life. Books and reading fell by the wayside in favor of more immediately consumable media, like magazines and—rarely—TV.
“Plus I thought you could use some time away from Dawn,” Willow added, pushing through the entrance and into the lobby of the library.
Buffy twisted her mouth, feeling guilty. “Yeah…she’s my kid sister and I love her, but…I’m still adjusting to her living with us again, you know?”
Willow nodded sagely. “Well, nothing better for that than a good book!” She straightened suddenly with a perky smile. “Hey, you know how we used to study while you were on patrol? Maybe I can come with you sometimes, read something to you. Or--or you could read to yourself, if you don’t want me along.”
“Why wouldn’t I want you along?” Buffy asked.
Willow flashed her familiar self-deprecating grin. “I dunno, it’s just you and Riley are always together…”
Buffy pursed her lips. Riley was a good guy and she really liked him, but he had been showing up a lot lately when she didn’t want him to.
“I know he just wants to help, but he kinda cramps my style,” she said finally. “But you guys don’t really get in the way. You’d really come along and read to me?”
Willow nodded emphatically. “Well, yeah, duh!”
For the first time that morning, Buffy beamed. While she’d like to finish a book on her own, she appreciated knowing her friend was willing to support her that way.
“I’d like that.”
“Well,” Willow indicated the shelves upon shelves of books now surrounding them, “we’re in the right place to find something!”
“Right.” As Buffy looked around, she suddenly felt a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of choosing one. Where should she even begin?
As if reading her mind, Willow pointed toward a section to their left. “Ooo, you could choose a classic. They’re always good, which, you know, is why they’re called ‘classics.’”
“Aren’t they kinda doorstop-y?” Buffy scrunched her nose in doubt. “And written by a bunch of old dudes?”
“Not all of them,” Willow answered quickly, “there are some really good not doorstop-y ones, and-and a lot by women. There’s Frankenstein!”
“That was written by a lady?”
Buffy thought about it before shaking her head with a shudder. “Too…Adam-y.”
“Oh! You’re so right!” Willow searched her mental catalogue for something else. “Okay, so nothing monsterific. Okay, there’s the Brontë sisters.”
Buffy seemed to recall something about them from an English class in high school. “Aren’t they kinda depressing?”
“Yeah,” Willow admitted, slumping. “I guess nothing depressing either. Life’s too short, right?”
Suddenly her eyes lit up. “Oh! Of course! There’s Jane Austen! She wrote lots of good stuff.”
Buffy perked up at the mention of Jane Austen. She’d gone to see Sense and Sensibility with her mom and Dawn a few years ago. At the time she’d only really appreciated that it starred Hugh Grant, but she’d liked it enough.
“Yeah, I can look for that.” She smiled at Willow. “Thanks, Will. Where will you be?”
She made a face. “I won’t be far. I’ll be over there. Gotta do a paper over Dostoevsky and Cherneshevsky.”
“Who and huh?”
Willow shook her head. “Classic Russian literature. It’s good and all, but definitely not in the fun-reads category. And totally doorstop-y.”
Buffy gave her friend a sympathetic look. Willow shrugged before directing Buffy once more to the right section. She deposited her between two long shelves and bounced off to find the books for her paper, her red hair whisking from side to side.
Her friend out of sight, Buffy turned to the tall shelves. With Willow gone, they seemed to loom over her, heavy with books. She squared her shoulders defiantly.
“I’m the Slayer,” she murmured to herself, raising her chin, “I dust vampires and crush demons on the reg without chipping a nail. I can pick out one stupid book and read it.”
The tips of her fingers ran along the spines of the books as she combed along the shelves, looking for Jane Austen. When she finally found the author’s section, she saw that there were six different titles to choose from: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion.
Her fingers hovered over one of a few editions of Sense and Sensibility. She’d seen the movie, she reasoned, so it wouldn’t be that hard to follow the book. Even if—who was she kidding: when—she got interrupted by something requiring slayage, she wouldn’t be completely lost when she picked it back up again.
But then her gaze landed on the collection of Pride and Prejudice novels. Now that she thought about it, she vaguely remembered trying to watch the BBC miniseries. But that had come out right around the time she’d been Called and, well, she’d never had the opportunity to finish.
“Oh, that’s a good one,” someone said from behind her.
Buffy whirled, her hands half-rising into a defensive stance. But there was just an old, frumpy-looking lady standing behind her, and she quickly dropped her arms, embarrassed.
“I’m sorry, did I scare you?” The woman peered over her glasses with a kindly expression. Buffy noticed she was carrying a stack of books and was wearing a name tag that read “Ms. Muse.” She was one of the librarians. She’d almost decked one of the librarians.
“Just jumpy, sorry,” Buffy smiled apologetically.
The librarian nodded, her focus drifting back to the novels behind Buffy’s shoulder.
“Jane Austen,” she sighed happily, “one of my absolute favorite authors. Have you read her before?”
“No,” Buffy answered sheepishly.
The librarian’s eyes lit up. “Oh, well you simply must!”
“Where should I start?”
The librarian blinked at her. “They’re all fantastic. Why not check them all out?”
“All six?” Buffy exclaimed. The librarian didn’t seem fazed by her outburst. Feeling her cheeks begin to burn, she shoved her hands into her jean pockets and explained, “I don’t really have a lot of time to read.”
“Ah,” the librarian said, ducking her head and nodding sadly. “I see. Well, one good book leads to another. Finding the perfect fit might make a bookworm of you yet!”
“Uh, yeah,” Buffy nodded, shifting uncomfortably. “So…where should I start?”
“What do you want out of a book?” The librarian rejoined, shifting the stack of books she was carrying into a more comfortable position.
Buffy considered the question. What did she want out of a book? She hated admitting it, but even before she became The Slayer she hadn’t given books much thought. There had always been something more immediately satisfying to do. In class her focus always wandered, and outside of class, well, there was friends, shopping, cheerleading or gymnastics to occupy her.
Instead she found herself thinking about the kinds of television and movies she liked. She appreciated a good action flick, but since she did plenty of action-y things in her daily (well, nightly) life, the genre was steadily losing its appeal. Fantasy and sci-fi? Again, packed to the gills with that weirdness already.
So…there was romance, she guessed. At the beginning of her relationship with Riley, there’d been an element of that, but now things were different. And she missed it. Watching her parents’ marriage fall apart had also impressed upon her a deep desire for a sweeping kind of love, the kind she thought she had with Angel before that turned into a full-on tragedy.
And she also liked watching shows about friends and family. Her social life was pretty good, as far as friends were concerned, but her family life had recently become complicated with Dawn. What she would really like was a book that made all that simpler and happier. A book without monsters interrupting life every few minutes and derailing everything.
The librarian watched her closely as she deliberated. Finally, Buffy said, “Something light, maybe? With hot guys on horses and…I don’t know, a loving family?”
The librarian’s eyes twinkled as she chuckled. Were they extra sparkly?
“Well, Jane Austen is certainly a good fit for that.” She paused and gave Buffy an appraising look. “You know, you remind me of Lizzy.”
The librarian didn’t answer but hoisted the books in her hands decisively. “Come on. I’ve got a special edition Pride and Prejudice just for you.”
She started to bustle off.
“Wait,” Buffy called, hurrying after her. God, for an old lady she went awfully fast. “I can’t—my work can get really messy. I wouldn’t want to ruin your book.”
“Nonsense,” the librarian said over her shoulder, “it’s hardcover and quite sturdy. Just right for you.”
The librarian rounded the front desk, placing the stack of books on a small, rolling cart to be dealt with later.
“You wait right there, dear, I’ll be back in a jiffy!”
Buffy started to protest, but the librarian hurried off into the back room before Buffy could refuse her offer again.
Sighing in exasperation, she crossed her arms and looked down at her feet. It was nice the librarian had taken an interest in her, sure, but more than one of her textbooks during high school and college had met ill-fated ends while she was on patrol. Books, as it turned out, were very useful for blocking talons and sharp implements. Really heavy ones were good for throwing at heads, too, she’d discovered. When it came right down to it, she’d probably used books for just about everything other than reading.
“Here we are, dear!”
Buffy’s head snapped up. She could have sworn she’d only been looking at her shoes for a second. There was no way the old lady could have gone to the back and come back in that time. But maybe she’d gotten lost in thought and hadn’t noticed time slipping by?
“Thanks, really, but I—” Buffy paused as the librarian set the book on the countertop. It was beautiful; it had a cherry red cover and curling gold filigree patterned like vines twined across it. She wanted to touch it, to hold it, to crack it open and smell the luxurious vanilla scent of old book pages, a scent comforting and familiar to her from working with Giles’ old tomes.
“I—I might…” she bit her lower lip, deliberating. She knew she shouldn’t; even now she could picture a demon’s raking talons shredding its cover and pages, ruining the perfect golden curly-cues. But she found herself saying, “I might be able to take it.”
“Well of course you can!” The librarian beamed. “I insist!”
She pushed the book across to Buffy, whose hands itched to pick it up. When she did, it felt pleasantly warm against her palms.
“I—I don’t have a library card.”
“Oh, I see your friend in here often enough,” the librarian winked, “I’ll just put it on her account. Unless you think she’d mind?”
Her fingers traced the curving vines and calligraphy spelling out Pride and Prejudice on the cover. Strange, if she unfocused her eyes just a bit, the title seemed to swim and change, but every time she tried to read it, it sprang back to Pride and Prejudice. A little weird, but then eyes played tricks like that when you let them relax.
“No, she wouldn’t,” Buffy answered belatedly.
The librarian’s smile deepened, spreading wrinkles across her face. “Good friends and good books; there’s no better combination!”
Buffy hugged the book to her chest. “Thank you.”
The librarian nodded and leaned over the counter, looking in the direction they’d come.
“I believe I saw your friend already reading at one of the back tables. How long do you plan on staying?”
“All day I think.”
“Well, how fortunate!” the librarian exclaimed. “You can get started straight away!”
That suggestion cheered Buffy. She suddenly felt like a kid at the school book fair again. Even when she’d lost interest in the books halfway through them, she’d always experienced a thrill buying them. Squeezing the volume tighter, she grinned.
“Yeah, you’re right. I do have all day!” Maybe she wouldn’t have to take it on patrol after all. If she could read most or all of it today, she could just turn it back in. No book on patrol, no paper-shredding disasters!
With that, she set off at a brisk trot toward the back tables.
She found Willow quickly. She was already curled up in a chair, her head resting on her arm, a book open in her lap. As was typical of Willow with a book, she was so engrossed that she barely acknowledged Buffy when she appeared.
“Didja find something?” she asked, her eyes still glued to the page in front of her.
“Yep!” Buffy placed the text on the table and plopped into a seat. “Pride and Prejudice.”
Willow nodded absently. “That one’s good. It’s a classic.”
“Yep, it is. Look at me, a classics-readin’ gal.”
Willow continued reading but nodded vaguely. “Uh-huh.”
Buffy pouted a little at her friend’s inattention, but that was just Willow and literature. Shrugging off her cardigan, she settled further into her chair, pulled the book into her lap, and cracked it open.
And that was when everything went completely wiggy.