"I'm sorry I didn't get to meet your mother."
"What?" The statement surprised Buffy as it came out of nowhere. They were out by the pool. Dawn and Xander were playing water basketball. Buffy was getting some sun and Matty, well, he looked like he just stepped out of GQ. He had just come home from work, so that went without saying she guessed.
"With as pretty as you and Dawn are, she must have been a knockout."
"My, you're laying it on a little thick this afternoon."
"I'm serious, Buffy."
Buffy felt herself blush, turning her gaze to Dawn and Xander. Dawn was beautiful. She was past the stage of being gawky. She was on the verge of becoming a beautiful woman. Buffy could see it. She wondered if Xander did, if he ever would. She wasn't sure why she had hopes those two would get together. She thought they'd be good for one another.
Her gaze shifted back to Matty who sat on the chair next to her, picked up her glass and sniffed.
"It's just water."
"I see that. Surely you can do better than this if you're lounging by the pool."
"What did you have in mind?"
"Oh, I don't know. What would you like?"
She laughed lightly. "Water, which is why I'm drinking it. Me and anything much stronger don't mix well. Remember?"
His eyes turned darker if that was possible, predatory, sexy. She felt herself blush even more, which was just crazy. "I remember."
"We'll leave it at water then. What did you do today?"
"You're looking at it. I tried to remind Dawn that natives didn't lay out and play in the pool in November, but she insisted. It's heated!"
"Of course you would. I didn't know that, though."
"Does that mean you'll use it?"
"You bet. I love swimming."
He made no effort to hide his perusal of her body, clad in a two-piece suit. It wasn't too revealing, but wasn't of the conservative variety either. "I think I'll like watching you."
"Yes, I would."
"They're having fun."
"It looks that way."
He leaned toward her. She thought for a minute he might try to kiss her. Until now he hadn't. He'd touched her, set his hand on hers or a hand at her back as they walked. Nothing overt or suggestive. It was unsettling that she wouldn't have minded if he did kiss her.
"What happened to his eye?"
Buffy paused, grabbed her glass to take a sip of water. She hoped it didn't look too obvious that she was stalling. She definitely would have preferred a kiss over having to answer that question. Especially since it was her fault he'd lost his eye.
"He got into a fight."
"Must have been a bad one."
"You could say that."
"And he's doing what now?"
"Going to school. He wasn't able to afford it before. Bad family," she shook her head, thinking of Xander's parents. "Anyway, he came into some insurance money and is able to finally go to college."
"You sound proud of him."
"I am. He was working construction before the fight."
"Oh, I suppose that sort of handicap rules out hands-on type work."
"Yeah, kind of. Something about lack of depth perception."
"Kind of important."
"So they say."
"So, does he hate me?"
"Hate you? I don't think so. Why?"
Matty shrugged. "I'm sure your friends, family, will see me as a villain."
"No, I haven't said anything to make them think that, Matty. I wouldn't do that."
"I'm not saying you would, but I wouldn't blame them if they thought it anyway. A gentleman wouldn't have thought twice about giving you the annulment and being done with it."
"Are you saying you're not a gentleman?"
He shrugged, grabbed her glass and took a sip of her water.
"A non-gentleman wouldn't have let the fact I'd passed out stop them."
His eyes met hers over the glass. Again, they got that darker, sexy look. She had the feeling he wasn't finding it too difficult to picture her without the swimsuit on.
He set the glass down. "I suppose not."
She took his hand, laced her fingers through his. "Xander's a little odd. He doesn't do too well with the accepting of new people. So, don't take it personally if he's kind of distant or seems rude. It's just the way he is. I think he'd be happiest if things stayed the same for the most part."
"One of those."
"Yeah. He's a good guy, though. One of a kind."
"Yet, you never."
"Did he try?"
"He did, didn't he?"
"He asked me to a dance. That was it."
"Did you go?"
"No. I knew he wanted it to be a date and I didn't like him that way."
"Well, I couldn't lead him on."
"No, I get that about you."
Just then Dawn squealed with a splash as Xander spun past her and slam dunked the ball. "Buffy, you have to come in. The water's perfect."
"I will in a minute."
"Matty, you, too. You've got to have swim trunks in the house. Put them on. We can play a real game of basketball. I'm tired of letting Xander win."
"So you say, Dawnie. I'm just faster than you! You forget, I was on the swim team."
"For what, like two minutes?"
"Yeah, well, I still made the team."
Buffy snickered at their bickering. Matty chuckled, too. He seemed to find Dawn's enthusiasm appealing. Good. In some ways she was still like a kid. This was one of them. She hadn't let the badness, the evil in their lives taint her.
"Are you going to go in?"
"I was thinking about it before you got here."
"Then I guess I'll join you."
"Oh, by the way, Dad's not coming tomorrow."
Her smile faded. She was a little relieved, she wouldn't deny it. She knew Matty was hoping his dad would show up, though. And for that, she felt bad.
"It's okay. I should have known."
"We'll have a nice Thanksgiving without him."
"I know, probably a better one actually. I'd like for us to be on more sure footing when you meet him."
She was about to ask how confident he felt they'd ever get on sure footing, but decided not to. He didn't need that right now.
"I understand. Is anyone else coming?"
"Just Taylor. Chris has to be with his pop. He says he can't wait to meet you."
She was probably viewed as a gold digger to his friends. She wasn't sure what his dad would think. Marrying someone in a drunken moment of weakness was crazy. He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it before releasing it as if sensing where her thoughts had gone to. She hated to admit, even to herself, that she liked when he did little things like that.
"I'll be back in a bit."
She couldn't wait in a perverse sort of way. She bet he looked downright hot in a swimsuit. It was going to be her turn to look. Only she had no memory of what he looked like to attach to what was going to be covered by the trunks.
Jim cleared his throat and tried again. It took Buffy a minute to respond. She hadn't changed her name, she'd never even suggested to Matty she would do that, but the household staff addressed her as Mrs. Demaret. If they found it odd that Mr. and Mrs. Demaret had separate bedrooms she didn't know. Of course, their rooms did connect via the bathroom so maybe they didn't find it that odd after all. She had no idea who knew the circumstances behind their marriage and why suddenly their Matty had a wife at the house. And they all seemed to look to her instead of him now for directions. It was enough to make her want to stay in bed all day and hide. As if she had any idea how to run a house! Let alone tell people what to do with one.
Dawn found it funny. Xander hadn't said anything, but Buffy could tell he found it a little amusing, too. The three of them knew nothing of this type of life. Cordelia would have fit in just perfectly. Not even the old Buffy, the Buffy from Hemry would have fit in here. Her parents hadn't been in this sort of league. Staff, a home with wings.
"Your guest has arrived."
"My guest?" She wasn't expecting anyone. Dawn and Xander were already here, playing pool or something down in the game room.
"Excuse me, your husband's guest."
Her eyes widened. "Oh. I thought Matty was picking him up at the airport."
"Evidently, there was a change in plans."
"Evidently. You can send him in here."
"What?" Buffy paused from the piecrust she was trying to rollout correctly. She hadn't had this much trouble with the apple pie. Shouldn't the second one be easier? "Is that wrong? Have his things been taken to his room?"
"Then send him back. He's Matty's friend, surely he doesn't expect a procession or anything. I'm in the middle of trying to make dessert. If he and Matty want to change plans without telling me they can just deal with me meeting him in the kitchen."
He actually smiled! Buffy could have been knocked over with a feather just then. Jim was full of smiles for Dawn, but Buffy it seemed he was undecided about. Perhaps it was because he knew Dawn wasn't a permanent fixture and Buffy, for all he knew anyway, was. Or maybe he recognized that Buffy was not just a woman like Matty thought she was. Matty had told Buffy that Jim worked for his father. Buffy wasn't sure what that meant, but if he had seen things he might recognize someone else who had, too.
"As you wish."
"Yeah, I do." She went back to the piecrust and then stopped. "Jim," she called out and he turned at the doorway. "It is Taylor, right?"
"Yes, Mrs. Demaret."
"Thanks." She'd tried telling him to call her Buffy a dozen times already, and he wouldn't hear of it. She decided to stop, maybe he'd drop the formality once he realized she was no longer bothered by it.
She didn't remember too much about the guys – and they had all been guys – who had been in Vegas with Matty. Hell, she barely remembered him! Suddenly, she felt self-conscious. Maybe having Taylor come back to the kitchen hadn't been the right thing to do. She wasn't a cook and she was a mess from battling the second piecrust. Judging by this house, Matty's friends were probably used to something other than whatever Buffy was.
What did people do who had money like this? They had servants to take care of everything. Buffy didn't even have to do her own laundry anymore. Dawn had been thrilled when Jim had instructed her to leave the laundry she'd brought with her from school and it would be taken care of. Buffy, on the other hand, wasn't so thrilled about it.
At least she had her job, and with the week off right now Dawn and Xander were here. So, she was keeping busy that way. But, what would she do if this was her life?
"Isn't this domestic?"
"It's a pie," Buffy said, not quite sure how to respond. So, this was the big one. Matty spoke of two friends in particular, Chris and Taylor. She knew both were with him the night in Vegas, but wouldn't have recognized them on the street. He'd described Chris as the pretty one, Taylor as the brawny one. She had to agree with that assessment. Some girls probably went for the big, burly look. It wasn't quite her thing, though.
"Pies aren't domestic?"
"It's Thanksgiving, there are supposed to be pies."
"Not where I come from."
"Then don't eat it," Buffy said simply. She shrugged, regarding him. She could tell he was doing the same thing. It made her wonder if Matty wasn't aware of Taylor's change of arrival plans. She went to the sink and washed her hands, drying them off before walking to him.
"I'm Buffy." She offered him her hand, which he took. He had a good handshake, firm without trying to overpower her. Then again, she doubted he felt he had to do that with her anyway. Still.
"Matty's told me a lot about you."
"He has, huh? I wouldn't believe too much of what he says."
"Oh, so you're not a good guy?"
He chuckled. "Well, that you can believe."
"Uh huh. Can I get you something to drink?"
"I'll take a beer."
She felt his eyes follow her as she walked to the other room where the refrigerator was Matty kept stocked with beer, soda, wine, and things like that.
"Thanks," he said, twisting off the top with minimal effort.
"Anytime. How was your flight?"
"It was fine. Long. They always are, though. Even if I travel first class."
"Right, I can see that." She imagined he had a hard time squeezing into those tiny seats.
"Are you from LA?"
"Yes, actually. I lived in Sunnydale, a couple hours south, for a few years, but I was born and lived in LA until I was sixteen."
She returned to her pie, determined not to let him get to her. It said a lot about Matty that his friend wanted to check her out without Matty there.
"I'd ask if you're from New York, but the accent kind of gives you away."
"Yeah, your tan gives you away. Not much sunshine in Queens right now."
"I wouldn't know. Never been, but I do work. I've had the past couple days off because my sister is home for Thanksgiving break and a friend, too."
"You do what again?"
"I work for a security firm."
"Doing what exactly?"
"Well, you might call me a bodyguard, but security specialist is the term they prefer we use. It's apparently the politically correct term."
She finally got the crust the way she wanted it and worked on filling it with the pumpkin filling.
"Anything else you want to know? Bank accounts? Criminal history?"
"You have a criminal history?"
"I burnt down my school gym."
"I didn't think so at the time, but it has come in useful a time or two."
"It leaves a lasting impression anyway."
He chuckled at that, taking a sip of the beer. He took a seat on a nearby stool, close to her as she worked on the pie. Was he testing her? Seeing if she'd hit on him? Accept a pass from him? He so wasn't her type anyway.
"So, you move pretty quick."
"Matty. I mean, what tipped you off. Of all of us there that night, he was the least obvious."
"I'm not sure what you're implying."
"Come on, Bunny."
"Whatever. I've known Matty all my life. I can count on one hand how many girls have come onto him."
"Maybe you weren't with him other times."
She stopped working on the pie and regarded him for a minute. So, they were getting down to it. Good. "Maybe you just don't like the idea that someone paid attention to him not you."
He laughed then, smiled. It didn't make it to his eyes, though. He wasn't someone she'd want to mess with in a dark alley, slayer strength or not.
"That's not it at all."
"No? So, you're his friend, but you can't believe that I like him?"
"Honey, you're married to him, you'd better do more than like him."
"It's really none of your business, is it?"
"See, that's where you're wrong. His pop doesn't care. He's out here on his own, ripe for the picking. Someone has to care."
"He's not here on his own anymore."
"That's right. He's got you now. The little woman. Home, baking pies while he's at the office hard at work. This isn't a fairy tale, you know."
She laughed at that. How appropriate he would use that line right now. "I'm well aware that fairy tales aren't real. Been there, done that already. Thank you."
He scoffed. "Yeah, right. You probably chip a nail and think it's the end of the world."
She held out her hands for him to see. Other than the huge ring on her finger, her hands were free of jewelry and her nails were unpainted.
"Not so much there. Listen," she said, glancing at the cookbook to be sure she had done all the steps.
"You like Matty, I get that. You're protective over him. I get that, too. And I like it in fact. I like knowing someone's out there looking after him. But, you can't come in here and insult me."
"What are you going to do about it?"
"I can just ignore you. It's as easy as that. There are enough rooms in this house; I won't have to see you other than dinner later. That's fine with me. I really don't care what you think of me, whether you like me, but you insult Matty thinking he wouldn't recognize someone who was taking advantage of him."
"Matty's a little naïve at times."
"So you think. I don't think he is."
"And you know him so well? I've known him my whole life."
"And I haven't. I admit that. But maybe I see things you don't, or can't, because the fact you've known him so long blinds you to the man he is."
"And just what kind of man is he?"
"That's enough, Taylor."
Buffy spun around, surprised to hear Matty's voice. How long had he been standing there? He strode into the kitchen looking pretty confident, his suit coat draped over his shoulder. She'd yet to see him dress sloppily. If he shared any of Taylor's doubts she couldn't tell. She couldn't blame his friend for thinking what he did, wondering. He walked up beside her and slid his arm around her waist as if he'd done it one hundred times before. His eyes met hers and she saw humor there. That was good. He wasn't mad. She probably shouldn't have been snotty with his friend.
"Hi," she said not knowing quite what else to say given the circumstances.
"Hi." His voice sounded husky. Or was that her imagination? He laid a quick kiss on her lips before extending his free hand to Taylor.
"How was your flight?"
"It was good even if we were packed in like sardines."
"Yeah, I should have known better. You got my message?"
"Yeah, I did. That was pretty convenient you got onto an earlier flight."
"I thought so. Didn't want to hold up your shindig."
"Not too much of a shindig. It'll be you, me, Buffy, her sister, and her friend."
She saw him glance around the kitchen. It smelled like Thanksgiving dinner should smell like. It was making her hungry standing in there working on the pies. Maria had gotten out of Buffy's way, seeming to sense Buffy didn't want help. If they turned out lopsided or with odd looking crusts so be it.
"Maria's got everything taken care of?"
"Yup. I just finished the pumpkin pie so I'll let her know I'm done in here."
"She would have done that."
"I know she would have, but I like doing it!"
She turned toward him, her hand resting against his stomach. It was flat and toned she noticed just from that little contact. He seemed to want to make his friend think things were okay. She could deal with that. Things were okay, just in an uncomfortable kind of way. "I'm going to head down to the game room where Dawn and Xander are."
"Okay. We'll probably go watch some of the game."
"Sounds good. Let me know if you need anything."
"I will, thanks." He kissed her again, quick. "And thanks for the pies."
"You're welcome. What's Thanksgiving without pies?"
"Who can argue with that logic?" Taylor piped in. Buffy disengaged from Matty and left the room, glad to get out of there. There was too much testosterone in there, even if they were friends.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com