"Let me up, Matty."
She could have gotten up without asking, but wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. She didn't know why, it wasn't like she cared. He backed away from her, letting her get her own chair she noticed. She stood and walked to the other side of the table. She needed distance between them.
"We're married. I'm married. To you."
"How? I mean, the rings."
He chuckled and she wondered if she wasn't somehow on the wrong end of a private joke. "I wanted something, it was done."
"I guess so. And, so what now? I have no recollection of the night. I remember vaguely you and some other guys entering the party. There were like eight or nine of you."
"Yes, that's right."
"And that's it. I don't remember one thing until the next morning. I hated working that job. I hated watching him paw that woman. So, Tiny and I drank. Well, I drank more than Tiny did."
"My friend. Another Topline employee."
"No. I may not remember, but I don't think I'd marry someone if I had a boyfriend already. Drunk or not."
He returned to his seat, bringing his glass of wine to his lips rather casually. Did this not bother him? Maybe not. Maybe he was used to this sort of thing happening. Buffy, however, was not. For all she knew, he had a line of ex-wives going from here to Vegas and back.
"Listen, we have to undo this. I don't do well with relationships."
"Have you ever tried marriage?"
"What?" She frowned, staring at him. She wasn't hearing him right. She couldn't be. He couldn't possibly be serious! He wanted to be married. To her. This was crazy. Beyond crazy. It was insane. "Of course not."
"Maybe you should try it."
"You can't possibly be thinking of seeing this through. Matty, it's nuts."
"Because we don't know one another."
"So we'll get to know one another. We saw something in one another that night, enough to get married."
"I was drunk."
"I, on the other hand, was not."
"So you married a stranger? And you think being sober makes that sound any less crazy? Or makes me feel any better?"
"Well, no, I guess not. You, we," he shrugged and took a sip of his wine. "Sit down, Buffy. Eat, it's going to get cold."
"I don't want to eat."
"You're going to insult Maria if you don't."
Buffy rolled her eyes, feeling like a child getting scolded for not clearing her plate. She didn't want to insult anyone. The lasagna was very good. She sat with a pout, picking up her fork.
"So, what is it you want to do?"
"Well, I don't know. I admit I hadn't thought this part through. I imagined, that night anyway, you coming back here with me. You mentioned you were renting."
"Yeah, I am."
"So, I just assumed you'd be here."
"You really thought that? Thought this could work? I don't understand. You're a good-looking guy, seem like a nice guy. Why would you want to even do that?"
"Maybe I believe in love at first sight?"
She stared at him, knowing it was rude but she couldn't help it. Was he serious? Such things didn't exist. Except, she supposed, he'd say the same thing to her if she mentioned vampires and slayers.
"Well, I had hoped by you coming here today we could get to know one another. If you're renting, you could stay here."
"I can't sleep with you, Matty."
"I didn't say sleep with me here. I said stay here. There's an entire wing that's not getting used."
"Yes. You could have it all to yourself if you wanted. It's closed off at the moment, but that could be fixed easily enough. Otherwise, there's plenty of space in the area I use. Our paths would rarely cross."
"Why would I want to do that?"
"We are married."
"I could file for an annulment."
"It's your word against mine that nothing happened that night."
He shrugged. "You were drunk, I wasn't."
"Exactly. Who wouldn't grant an annulment for those reasons?"
"I don't know."
"You want a wife that's a virtual stranger?"
"That's the thing, I don't know what I want. Let me tell you something, something I didn't tell you that night."
"I did something about a year ago I'm not proud of. Without going into details, let's just say it was one of those life altering moments. I was standing at a point. To the left was one path, to the right another. The left would have been the easier, more familiar path to take but I never believed in that path. Not for me. So, I took the right path. I came out here to LA, got this job, something I tried for what seems like forever in New York to do but couldn't. I'm on the right path, I feel it. I'm doing good, getting clients, maintaining the clients I already have. But because of that one thing I did, I don't sleep so good."
She listened. When he talked like this, she could hear his accent as plain as day. When he spoke in shorter sentences, it wasn't quite so obvious. It was still there. It made her think of The Sopranos. He was definitely a New York Italian.
"I understand that."`
"That night, with you, it's the first night's sleep I've gotten since it happened. I don't know the why or what of it, but I know I don't want to just let you run away because we did something foolish on the spur of the moment."
"Foolish?" She took a sip of her water, trying to sort through her thoughts. "You don't understand, Matty. Relationships and me. They don't do well. Disastrous would be an understatement."
"And until the other night I didn't sleep a whole night through. So, maybe we're the solution to both of our problems."
"I never said I had a problem."
"Buffy, you want a relationship."
"Well, sure I do. I mean, I don't want to die an old woman with fifty cats or anything, but I want to finish school, get a job, live a little."
"You haven't lived?"
He had no idea. "Not the way I want to, no. The past few months working for Topline are the first I've really been able to do my own thing. Ever."
"Understandable. I'm not trying to stop you."
"I should hope not." She set her water down and shook her head. "I can't believe I'm even listening to this. I should leave, go see a lawyer."
"You could do that."
"But?" She sensed there was a but coming here.
"My father would find out, and let's just say neither of us wants my father involved with this."
"Okay," she said cautiously. She wasn't sure what his father had to do with anything. "So what are you thinking?"
Her cell phone rang, interrupting them.
"I have to get that. It could be work, I'm on call today."
"Go ahead. You can go through that door if you need privacy." She went through the door to what she assumed was some sort of utility room. It was more than just a laundry room.
"How's my favorite blonde?"
"Hi," she said, genuinely glad to hear Tiny's voice. A calm in the storm.
"I've got some information for you."
"I don't need it."
"What do you mean? I worked my ass off for this. Do you know how hard it is to track down a guy possibly named Matt or Matty?"
"I'm at his house."
"You're at Benny Chains' son's house?"
"That's who he is. I was right on the first name. Matty Demaret. His dad is the non-fictional version of The Godfather's Vito Corleone."
"Oh," Buffy said, turning to look at the door. She chewed on her lower lip. She wondered how his father played into which path he'd chosen. What had his father wanted him to do? What had he done?
"You didn't know?"
"Well, no, I'm guessing he doesn't go around announcing that's who his dad is."
"Probably not. Do you want the rest of this information since I've got you on the phone?"
"He moved to LA about a year ago, a little over. He's been legit as far as anyone knows his whole life. There's never been any talk of his taking over his father's business. There was an altercation from a little before he moved to LA. The records were either altered or written badly on purpose. Something went down in Montana and he was there."
"What in the hell happens in Montana?"
"I can't find anything on it beyond a vague reference. Police corruption, which is probably why it was cleaned up. If it was a coverup, they covered up well."
"So, he's a good guy?"
"What? He seems nice, and there's something else."
"There always is. What is it with girls going for these tough guy types?"
"No, that's not it."
"We sort of got married."
"You sort of did what?"
"I guess I should have kept a closer eye on you."
"Yeah, I guess you should have."
"Just don't cross your pop-in-law."
"Thanks a lot for those words of wisdom."
"You may not want to cross him either."
"Yeah, I get that," she said. What he'd said earlier about his father getting involved made sense now. "I'll talk to you later, Tiny."
"I look forward to it. Please tell me your wedding night video is going to be on the Web somewhere."
"I don't think so."
"A man has to hope."
She laughed then. "You're so bad, Tiny."
"That's why I get paid the big bucks. Later, babe, watch yourself."
"I always do."
"Except when there's Smirnoff's involved."
"I heard that," she quipped before disconnecting. She closed the phone and went back into the kitchen.
"Yeah, that was Tiny."
She watched him closely as she returned to her place at the table. He didn't look like a mobster, a killer. Then, just what did they look like? She'd really gotten herself into a mess this time. Just what would his father do if she bailed on his son?
He cleared his throat as she took a bite of the lasagna. He'd apparently taken the time she was on the phone to warm her plate up. His was all but gone while she'd barely begun hers.
"So you know."
"Who I am?"
"What do you mean?"
"Merda, Buffy, you don't think I've seen that look in peoples eyes a million times over the years?"
"I guess I should be happy you had someone looking for me. You did, right?"
"Yeah. I was going to give you the ring back."
"Is that all?"
She wasn't being entirely honest, with him or herself. She remembered waking up that morning, the peacefulness she'd felt. It was too bad she couldn't swap bad nights sleep stories with him. She could probably replace his nightmares with some scarier ones if she tried.
"Listen, I can't be what you want me to be."
"You don't even know what I want."
"You want a wife, evidently. I'm not cut out to be a wife."
"Give me a year."
"A year of what?"
"I have a house."
"I have a life."
"But no boyfriend."
"You want to be my boyfriend?"
Now she was confused. Not that should surprise her where men were concerned.
"I'll start with your friend."
"A friend you're married to."
"It does sound strange, doesn't it?"
"Strange isn't the word I'd use."
"What have you got to lose?"
"Nothing. It doesn't work out, we'll get you a new house. A better house. Hell, I'll buy you a house."
"I don't want you to buy me a house."
She set her fork down, pushed her plate away from her.
"Matty. This just isn't going to work. There are things about me."
She rubbed her forehead with her fingertips, trying to ease the tension there. She'd known. In the back of her mind she'd known what the ring meant. She just didn't understand how. She wasn't the type of girl to run off and marry someone she'd just met.
She lifted her eyes and regarded him. He seemed to understand she needed to look at him. He let her get her fill. She was reminded how nice looking he was, how innocent he'd looked that morning in bed.
Innocent, my ass.
Yet, there was something about him. If what Tiny said was true, and she didn't doubt him. Not judging by Matty's reaction anyway. This man's father was a mobster. She honestly didn't even realize the mob was that big a thing anymore. Hadn't that gone out of style years ago? Showed what she knew.
"You said you don't want your father involved. Why?"
He quirked an eyebrow as if her question surprised him. It surprised her, too. She shouldn't care. She should get up from the table right now and leave, find an attorney and close this bizarre chapter of her life. If they got an annulment, would anyone know she was married? Or did it completely vanish from the records? The idea that she could now be lumped in with people like Britney Spears made her want to gag.
"In his eyes I can't do much right. Flying off to Vegas, marrying the first drunk girl who'd have me is about inline with his expectations for me."
"You're not that bad."
"Thanks for saying so, but I'll never be the man he wants me to be."
"Because you're not a gangster?"
"Something like that."
"So, he'd be disappointed in you? What would that mean?"
He shrugged. "I don't know exactly. I suppose I could just chalk it up to yet another thing to prove he's right. I moved out here, and I'll admit, he helped me a little. He has friends who know people who knew athletes who were willing to give me a chance. There was no force or coercion. It could have exploded in my face. I could have failed, but I didn't. I took those few and I've built a solid client base. But my father doesn't see that."
"But wouldn't it be worse if we get divorced in a year? How will he even know you're married?"
He chuckled. "You don't know my father."
"I guess I don't. So, basically, you just don't want your father to think you did something stupid? What would you tell him? It'd be obvious we don't know one another real well. And wouldn't he be mad you just up and got married without telling him? Don't you Italians have huge weddings?"
"Not all of us do, no. And I think my father is somewhat used to me doing my own thing."
"So, then what difference does it make? And what about my friends? My family? They're not going to buy it."
"There's nothing to sell them on. We did do it, Buffy."
"Oh God. Why, why did I not learn my lesson?"
"I don't know what to tell you there."
"Just what did we talk about that night?"
"Anything and everything."
"That's not telling me much."
"I don't know what you want me to say. I don't remember the conversation verbatim. We discussed things. Life, love, lack of it in our cases. I know you've had three serious relationships, you learned I've had fewer than that."
"Yes, you did."
"Why fewer than three?"
"No time I guess. And I could never be sure someone wanted me or my father's name and money."
"Oh," she said, mulling that one over. "I suppose that would be hard. It'd be like being a celebrity. Do they want you, your fame, your money?"
"Right. And I know you've got a tattoo."
"You do?" She felt her cheeks warm. It was so weird to think he'd seen her without her clothes on. "No one's supposed to know it's there."
He chuckled. "Just straight man on top for you then?"
"What?" His question baffled her.
"Well, I would hope if you plan on ever being intimate with someone they'd see it."
"Oh, well, yeah, but we," she closed her mouth. "Oh God." She rested her head in her hands. "It's personal."
"I didn't really see it, just noticed it was there. I won't deny I'd like to see it better."
She laughed, she couldn't help it. Could she blame him for saying that? She'd gotten naked with him. She'd married him. It stood to reason he'd be able to see her tattoo. It had been a whim. Crazy. Willow had wanted one. Something permanent that said who she was. Buffy had gone with and at the last minute had decided to get one, too.
It was stupid really. No one but those that knew who, what she was would understand. It was pretty small, located on her left hip. The tattooist didn't ask any questions. He'd probably seen stranger things than Buffy's request. Mr. Pointy would be with her forever. Well, it wasn't just Mr. Pointy. It was Mr. Pointy splitting a heart in two with some dust particles surrounding it. The heart was only split, not broken. She'd been very specific about that. Buffy thought it was fitting, Willow'd agreed. It meant so many things. The two vampires she'd loved and lost, the other relationships she'd lost because of her calling, and the ability to finally lead a normal life instead of being chained to a hellmouth. It was all about the healing, the moving forward, not forgetting to let her heart lead her places once in a while.
If she'd done that, Riley might not have left. They had a lot of things to work through, but if she hadn't hardened her heart to the possibility of loving him, loving anyone but Angel, of letting someone in they could have worked through them. Maybe. She doubted it, really, but there were times she wondered.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah," she said, taking a deep breath.
She lifted her head from her hands and looked at him. She had two choices here. Well, three she supposed. She could leave and walk away, forget about Matty Demaret. She could leave and file for an annulment. Or she could do what he suggested, give him a year. The first option wasn't a viable one. Eventually, she'd need to get a divorce so she couldn't just walk away. So that left doors number two and three. Door number two was the logical choice.
Maybe it was time to quit being so logical. If things got terrible, he'd let her out before the year was up. Wouldn't he? And, what was the worst that could happen? Maybe she'd actually like him, love him, have a chance at the Holy Grail as far as she was concerned. Happiness. She must have seen something in him that night to run off and marry him. Drunk or not.
Maybe she could this once let her heart lead again. It had been a long time since she'd done it. She had to trust it some time or she'd end up alone with fifty cats.
"This is crazy."
"That I'm even thinking of agreeing to this."
"With some rules."
"I'm not a cheat, so easy enough."
"And if it becomes obvious that it's really not working. Not because either of us is purposely going out of our way to make that happen. I mean, well and truly not working, we get out. I don't want a house or anything else from you."
He sighed heavily. She watched as he scratched the palm of his hand. His fingers were long, not too thick. She could picture him playing the piano or something with them.
"Okay," he said finally. She wondered why the third request was the most difficult for him to agree to.
"Yes, but the rules apply to you, too."
"Okay. And how are we going to work this?"
"You'll excuse me for being surprised, I thought for sure you'd leave here and serve me with papers."
"I thought about it."
"So, why aren't you?"
"I don't know. What if this is it?"
"What if this is what?"
"What if this is my chance at it and I throw it away? I did it once. I closed off my heart, stayed so focused on things that I lost someone. It probably wouldn't have worked anyway, we were different. He was from Iowa or Kansas, one of those states in the middle where there's corn and farms."
He chuckled. "Ah, okay."
"Anyway, we were in different places. My mom was sick, my sister needed me," she shrugged. "I had no room for him. And he needed me, too, but I didn't see that until it was too late."
He placed his hand over hers. His was warm, soothing, which she supposed was the point. "That's understandable, Buffy."
"Anyway, what if I walk out of here today and I find out later this was it. My chance."
"Good question. I can't answer it."
"Neither can I."
"So, is that the only reason?"
"Well, I must have liked you. I mean, that sounds bad. I like you now, but I don't know that I'd rush out and marry you today."
"I guess it's a good thing we've gotten that part out of the way."
"This is funny to you?"
"No, I'm sorry. I'm one of those people that makes jokes at times I probably shouldn't."
"See, and that's something I should know." She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath.
"You didn't answer my question."
"How are we going to work this?"
"I don't know. You really want me to move in here?"
"I don't think we stand much of a chance of really putting things to the test if we live separately, seeing one another once a week or so."
"No, no, you're right. God, I've never lived with anyone but my mom."
He lifted his hand from hers, taking her hand with his and laced his fingers through hers. "I haven't either, Buffy."
"Okay. So, but like separate rooms, right?"
He chuckled again, bringing her hand to his lips. He kissed the back of her hand. "If that's what makes you feel comfortable."
"None of this makes me comfortable! You're sitting there like you do this every day. For all I know, you do."
"I don't, I assure you. I just, like you, came to the conclusion that I may not find this again. Whatever this is. I was impressed by you that night. I won't lie. You're beautiful, but there was something about you. When you started talking to me, I couldn't believe it."
"My friends Chris and Taylor always get the girls. Chris has the whole Cary Grant thing going for him, Taylor's got the muscle-bound body. Until recently, I didn't even have a job."
"But that wasn't your fault."
He chuckled, setting their hands on top of the table. "Already you're defending me. I like that. You're right, but I should have thought about leaving New York a long time ago."
He stood then. She watched him as he cleared his plate.
"Do you want me to heat yours up again?"
"I can do it."
"I'll do it, just stay there."
"You didn't answer my question this time."
"What was it?"
"I said if that's what makes you comfortable. I would assume at some point over the course of the year we'd need to see if we're compatible in that way."
"People don't always test drive one another."
He laughed, heartily. She guessed her boldness surprised him. "You're right, they don't. I won't tell you I don't plan on trying. You said no lying."
"And if I wanted that separate wing?"
"It'd be yours." He came back with her plate and a fresh glass of wine for himself. "Do you?"
"No. If we're going to see if this works, we have to at least live together."
"Do you have brothers or sisters?"
"No. You? You've mentioned one. Right?"
"Yes, Dawn, and no, no others."
"We both lost our mothers and it sounds like both of our fathers aren't really in our lives."
"Mine's in Spain or something. I think. I'm not sure. I'll get a Christmas card from him and know for sure."
"So, he keeps track of you?"
She frowned at that, never having thought about it that way.
"Yeah, I guess he does. But, I've moved since last Christmas so we'll see I guess."
"And you're moving again."
"I suppose I am. You know, I've been in houses like this. It sounds ridiculous to call it a house. But only for work."
"Just think, you'll be free to roam this one at your heart's content."
"Will you roam through it with me?"
"Yeah, right now."
"I have no other offers."
"Well, then I guess mine's the most appealing?"
He stood, pulling her chair out for her this time. He kissed her cheek. "I will do my best to make sure yours are always the most appealing."
"That's a loaded promise."
"You'll need a scorecard to keep track."
"I'll get right on that."
He offered her his hand, which she took after a second's pause. It was odd to think of this virtual stranger as being anything or anyone significant to her. But he was. She wasn't sure if she believed in The Powers That Be that Angel believed in, but she couldn't help but think that someone or something had shoved her down this path.
It's your choice to follow it through.
She didn't really see any other choice, no matter how crazy Giles would think she was. She could almost hear him. One of his first questions would be how she planned on helping them if she was living with an uninitiated, an outsider. She'd worry about that when and if the time came.
"I hope you've got your tour guide ready."
"Some of these rooms I'll be seeing for the first time with you. I wasn't allowed run of the place as a kid, and when I moved here I didn't need all this space so there's a ton of rooms that I haven't set foot in."
"Well, that'll change tonight."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com