She didn't sleep well. Dreams, not of the strange variety. They weren't her slayery dreams either. She couldn't have described it if she tried. All she knew is that she hadn't slept well. It was going on noon and she could smell grilled cheese wafting from the galley into her room.
"It's the best," she heard Dawn say.
"No, my sister has been with me the whole time." She giggled then. A full-fledged, flirtatious giggle. This was no school girl crush giggle like she'd do with her friend Janice when Xander came around the house.
"I lived here for eighteen years, don't you think if I wanted a California guy I would have found one while I was here?"
"Yes, we went out last night, too. Well, you know I want my sister to have fun before she goes to Cleveland. And, hey, maybe she'll meet a guy while we're here."
"Well, yeah, I suppose living in Cleveland would make it difficult, but she's worth moving to Cleveland for. But, you know, she needs a bit of a push with her last boyfriend dying."
"Yes, I know she seems awful young to have a boyfriend die. But accidents do happen."
"No, Pete, you won't see me on any spring break videos anytime soon."
Buffy couldn't help but laugh at that. Dawn turned, startled, evidently having no idea Buffy was awake. Obviously, or she wouldn't have been talking about Buffy meeting guys. Or Spike dying.
"Yes, I have my computer, but I'm not checking my email. This is a vacation."
"I'm sorry you have to work, too. I miss you."
She turned away as Buffy headed toward the bathroom for her morning ritual.
"I didn't wake you, did I?" Dawn asked when Buffy finally joined her for the day for good.
"No, not at all. I didn't mean to cut your conversation short."
"It's fine. He's being all paranoid. I told you he's kind of a geek, so he thinks I'm like all hot and bothered for the surfers out here."
"Well, I've tried to explain that to him, but he's insecure I guess."
"How old is he?"
"I'm his first serious girlfriend."
"Oh," Buffy said. That explained a lot. More than a lot. Everything.
"He's not like socially inept or anything. I just don't think he made time for girls in high school or anything. The way his sister talks anyway."
"So you've talked to her."
"Well, she's stayed in my room the weekends she's come up, doesn't feel comfortable in a house full of guys."
"Can't say as I blame her there."
"He kind of reminds me of Andrew the way she describes him."
"And you like the guy?"
"Well, not exactly like Andrew. But, you know, into gaming and stuff. He's the only guy I knew like that to compare him to."
"Okay," Buffy said, bringing her bagel to the table to eat. "Whatcha working on?"
"Just checking my email."
"Didn't you just tell him you weren't checking it?"
"Yes, but you know."
"You miss him."
"This is so cool."
"He said his parents want to meet me."
"Ohhh, it is getting serious. How long have you been seeing him?"
"Like a year ago New Year's?"
"Oh my God, Dawn. I had no idea. I'm a horrible excuse for a sister and human being."
"No, you're a woman who had the weight of the world on her shoulders for seven years who took some time off for herself once that weight was distributed a little more evenly."
Buffy squeezed Dawn's hand, glad her sister was not just so understanding but forgiving as well. "It stops now. We're all we have. I don't want to be clueless as to your life. Over a year with a guy, Dawn, that's a big deal."
"They've invited me for Easter."
"Oh wow. That's like huge."
"Where does he live?"
"In Illinois, Inverness. It's not far from Northwestern I guess because he goes home quite a bit."
"But he hasn't offered to take you?"
"Well, he goes overnight to do laundry and sometimes stays with his sister while his parents go out of town and stuff. So, no."
"But you'll be staying Easter weekend?"
"I guess. I don't know. Buffy, what does someone wear for Easter?"
"Hmm, I'm probably not the person to ask. We were always casual. I take it he's not?"
"Well, we'll go shopping."
"No, Buffy, that's not what I meant."
"I know it's not. But why not? What else do we have to do? I swear if I put any suntan lotion on today I'm going to permanently smell like a coconut. So, let's take a break and do some girly things. There's Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom's, The Fashion District and oh God, so much stuff. You've never really done the whole LA shopping thing."
"No, I guess I haven't."
"Let's do it then. We can splurge and have lunch at some too expensive restaurant."
"Okay, we don't have to do that, but a new outfit that will both knock Pete for a loop and endear you to his parents. It's a difficult task, but we'll do it. We have over a week. You've never really seen me in Spordelia mode. So, let's go to it. Those sales clerks won't know what hit them when the Summers sisters are done."
"Are you sure?"
"Never been more sure. Dawn needs new clothes. And, hey, maybe I'll find some new shoes or something."
"Like you need more."
"Hey, I haven't even begun to replace all that I lost in Sunnydale. I've been rather conservative actually, given I've been the Council's traveling troubadour. But I have a home now, a permanent address to hang my crossbow and store my shoes."
Dawn rolled her eyes. "Troubadour, huh?"
"Yeah, you like it? I thought it sounded kind of witty."
"That's not what you told Tim you were last night, is it?"
"Well, that might explain why he was kind of clingy. He probably thought you were, you know."
"Easy, loose, you know."
Buffy laughed then and finished her cup of milk. "No, didn't make with the troubadour remarks."
"Well, that's good, because I've heard you sing. And a troubadour you aren't."
"Just for that, I'm going to get two pair of shoes."
Dawn rolled her eyes, but they both burst out laughing at the same time.
They walked to a nearby bus stop and waited for a bus. Being LA, they didn't have to wait long. Soon, they were on their way to a mall.
"I haven't been to mall since Sunnydale."
"No, I'm not."
"Buffy, I'd say you need to get out more but I'm guessing that wasn't your problem. More like you were too busy doing more fun stuff that you slacked."
"Yes, that's me, Buffy the slacker. It has a better ring to it than Buffy the Slayer I thought."
They laughed again, causing a couple of people to look at them as they got off the bus in front of the mall. Dawn probably had no idea that Buffy could quite literally make a day out of a trip to the mall. But when they left the mall about the time the sun was setting Buffy knew her little sister was in awe.
"Did I tell you we'd find you the perfect outfit or what?"
"And, hey, bonus, shoes to match. What more could a girl ask for?"
"That is pretty stylish."
"Oh, Dawn, you really need to get excited about such things."
"It's okay, Buffy, you're excited enough for the both of us."
Buffy took a sip of the pop from the food court. They had gone with a cheap and quick dinner instead of the swank restaurant. It was probably better. The house the Council was putting her up in was furnished, but she knew there'd be some personal touches she'd want to add herself.
"So, we've got the skirt that's not too short, the relatively conservative heels and a sweater that's Eastery in its color that covers everything it should but is soft to the touch. Cashmere, it's the best fabric ever if you want someone to touch you."
"Oh, I know you're seeing his parents, but you still have to hold his interest."
"I don't know that that's a problem."
"You know, I shouldn't ask this, but I have to."
"Okay. Do I want to hear this?"
"Probably not. Have you two slept together?"
"I have to ask, Dawn. You spent high school worrying about vampires and apocalypses. I don't think STDs or pregnancies were top at the top of your list of things to worry about."
"Ew, and no."
"But you know, right?"
"Yes. I know."
"And you have your own? I mean, you carry your own protection? You can't rely on the guy to do it."
"Dawn, I have to. If you've been with him for over a year and he's taking you to meet his parents. The next logical step is sex."
"We've barely gotten past kissing, Buffy. I've never had a boyfriend before him, he's never had a serious girlfriend before. It's new to both of us and we're both on the same page as far as taking things slow."
"Yes, well, sooner or later one of you is going to want to up the pacing a bit. Condoms. Buy them, keep one in your purse at all times."
"You bet. Now that we're talking about it, I should probably replace the one in my purse. It's probably long past expired. But I didn't have to worry about it with Angel or Spike. Always with Riley, though."
"There hasn't been anyone since Spike?"
"One guy in Rome, but it was nothing."
"Hmm. Three years?"
"I didn't think you had it in you."
"Me neither. Who knew?"
"You really are ready, aren't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're different. More mature. You've always been mature, but it was with the slaying and stuff. The relationship and interpersonal stuff you were kind of stunted in."
"Well, it's true. Understandable, but true. You've never gone three years without a relationship, Buffy."
"I've never gone a year."
"My point exactly."
"I'm holding out for the real deal this time, Dawn. No substitutes."
"He's not going to have an arrow over his head pointing at him."
"I know, and I realize I'll need to make with the dating again to find him, but I'll worry about it when I get to Cleveland. I just know that I'm ready to take the time and actually put myself out there to meet him."
"Maybe you can visit me at school and meet a professor or something."
"Just what we both need. I'd be so out of my league intelligence-wise I'd never talk and your luck it'd be your advisor or something."
"He is kind of cute."
"Okay, okay, I'm kidding," she said as they boarded the bus.
"You will remember what we talked about."
"Yes, Buffy, I get it already."
Buffy turned to look at the person who'd just called her name.
"Yeah." It took her a minute to recognize him. She hadn't seen him since the day she'd moved from LA. "Tyler?"
"Yeah. I didn't recognize you, but the name."
"Yeah, it's kind of distinctive."
"How are you? You look good. Real good. Who's this?"
"My sister, Dawn."
"I don't remember you having a sister."
"Well, she's almost six years younger." Buffy hadn't encountered anyone she knew who didn't know about Dawn, it was kind of strange. There was a whole life full of people before Sunnydale, before the monks had brought Dawn to her. She'd never thought about it before, but she supposed messing with everyone's memory who'd ever encountered the Summers' was a little much.
"Oh. So are you back in LA?"
"Just vacationing. I've been abroad for the past couple of years, Dawn's in her second year at Northwestern."
"Oh cool. Very nice. How are your folks?"
"Mom died my second year of college. Dad's," she shrugged. There was no love lost between Hank and Tyler. Hank did not like Tyler at all. "Dad." Never mind other than Christmas and birthdays she hadn't heard from her dad in close to five years.
"Yeah. Sorry to hear about your mom. I always liked her."
"How are yours?"
"They're good. Mom's on a plastic surgery binge. Gotta get every defect fixed. Dad's still getting the crooks off."
She smiled. Tyler's parents were polar opposites of Buffy's. Buffy's were more traditional, down to earth where Tyler's were very in your face, hoity toity.
"What are you doing?"
"I lost my license so I'm busing it for a while."
"Oh. We're headed back to our boat, maybe take in some volleyball or a bonfire if we can get enough people together for it. There's a lot of spring breakers. You're welcome to join us if you want."
"Absolutely. Are you married? Bring the wife."
He smiled, Buffy realized he probably thought she was trying to find out if he was single. "No, I'm not married."
"Oh well, come alone then. It'd be fun to have someone I know in the mix."
"Sure," he said. Buffy wrote down their cell phone number and gave him the slip number their boat was in. "If we're not there, we'll be on the beach."
"I'll be there in a couple of hours. Thanks for the invite. It'll be nice to catch up."
"Bye Buffy. Nice to meet you, Dawn."
"Thanks, Tyler." They both waved as he left the bus.
"Don't I know it. He's even cuter than he was in high school. I had him wrapped around my little finger."
"You need to ask?"
"Oh right. Dumb me. Well, this trip is looking up, isn't it?"
"What, I can hope. I wonder how he lost his license."
"Knowing him, drunk driving."
"He drank at fifteen?"
"No, but it wouldn't surprise me. He was always the partying type."
"It's okay, Dawn, he's not going to become your brother-in-law or anything."
"He is cute."
"Yeah, yeah, he is."
"I wouldn't mind snuggling up to him around a bonfire."
"Dawn. I'm going to tell Peter. Oh, and by the way."
"I'm going to Cleveland by way of Chicago. I'm going to meet this guy. I want to meet him before you meet the ‘rents."
Dawn rolled her eyes, but Buffy knew secretly she was relishing the attention.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com