She finishes plaiting her hair and gathering the ends in a rubber band, tosses the braid over her shoulder and feels it slap between her shoulder blades. She sighs and feels her breath catch, swallows back a sob.
The air is close and when she leaves the three-story walk-up she is currently calling home, she feels the air part before her, can feel the solid weight of it against her face and bare arms.
The same drunk is on the corner, the smell of piss strong in the humid air. She slides a slender hand into her front pocket and pulls out a few coins and hands them to him when she walks by. He smiles down at her, but the smile doesnít reach his eyes. She doesnít smile back.
The park is busy, crowded with buskers and children from a nearby parochial school, students from the university and women wearing Armani suits and Reeboks. It seems as though everyone everywhere is talking on a cell phone and she shifts her own from one sweaty hand to the other.
She finds an empty bench and sits. Is this a good enough place? Will he see her here? Will she see him?
She is a long way from home and further still from LA, the place she called home for so many years before and after the end, until she couldnít stand the way they couldnít look at each other anymore and left. She came here. All sheíd done, really, was to exchange one anonymous city for another. Only in this city she didnít know a soul.
"Well, Iíll be damned."
The voice, so familiar and so dear, comes from nowhere and she looks up quickly, straight into the sun and is momentarily blinded. The cell phone in her hand vibrates and she clutches it to her chest, feels the sensation spread across her suddenly prickly skin.
The voice steps closer, dips forward, and kisses her moist brow.
"You look well," he says.
Her phone stops buzzing and she drops her hand into her lap.
"Should you have taken that?"
"I thought it was you. But thatís not possible because youíre, well, here," she replies, her voice a whisper. "You are here, right?"
He moves to sit beside her. He is no ghost.
"Iím here," he says.
"I thought you might be dead."
He laughs. "So did everyone else."
They lapse into silence. There is so much she wants to ask. So much she wants to say. So many things to get off her chest and out of her head and she doesnít know where to start.
He reaches over and takes her free hand in his, squeezing just hard enough to prove his strength. Make no mistake, his hand warns, I will cut you down. But the warning isnít for her, not really. The warning is left over from the battles and the losses and the past.
"Theyíre all gone, then?"
He lets go of her hand she can feel the remorse in the gesture. Heíll just keep letting her go.
"No. Not all."
"Why now, then?"
"Letís get a drink."
The bar is dim and cool and he orders them both a domestic beer and leads the way to the back of the room to a booth, waiting with the bottles while she slides across the vinyl seat, her bare legs sticking to the cracked material.
She wraps skinny fingers around the neck of the bottle, but doesnít take a drink. She is suddenly afraid that he might have drugged the beer and that sheíll wake up tied to a chair or spread decadently on a rumpled bed, him at the foot eyeing her with a shrewd, blue-eyed gaze. She doesnít want that and that she even considers his potential for violence against her as a possibility, speaks volumes about how far theyíve come.
"Tell me," she says.
He takes a long, breathless drink. "Cordelia died, of course."
She can feel the tears rush into her eyes, even though sheís known for months now that it was true, could feel it in her gut the same way she feels her menses gaining momentum. Soon there would be blood. Always there would be death. She canít escape either of them.
"I just thought..." She doesnít know what she thinks, actually.
"We all did," he replies, trailing a finger through a puddle of condensation on the scarred wooden table.
He laughs a foreign, bitter sound.
"He lives. Vampires are like that, you know."
"Itís not his fault."
No, of course it isnít." He lifts his head and meets her eyes for the first time.
She canít bring herself to ask about Charles.
"It seems like another life, doesnít it?" He shrugs. "But it doesnít matter now."
"It always matters, to someone, somewhere." Forgetting her concerns, or perhaps despite them, she raises her bottle and takes a long drink, feels her throat open wide to the cool, yeasty flavour of the beer.
Something in his eyes stops her and she lowers the bottle to the table. "What?"
"Itís just that I keep thinking that things might have been different."
Except that things arenít," she says, patting his hand maternally. "Weíve been through all this, Wes, itís why I left."
"I came here to..."
She waits, half sure that he is going to say something so obvious that sheíll smack a hand to her forehead when the words leave his mouth.
"To tell you Iím sorry."
She presses her fingers into her eyes and nods.
"Fred," he says. "I truly am sorry."
"It was a long time ago."
She starts to slide across the seat, distancing herself from Wes and their shared past and this inevitable separation.
In the end, she canít prevent the question. "And Lilah?" she asks, stopping to look at him.
"I shouldnít have called."
"I shouldnít have agreed to see you," she says sadly.
"Perhaps." He slides closer to her. "Sometimes I just long to touch something real," he says, reaching out a careful hand and stroking the heavy braid at her back.
The touch is painfully intimate and she pushes herself out of the seat and stands.
"I have to go."
"I know," he says.
She hesitates. "We made a difference, Wesley. We both could have died then and there."
"I know," he repeats, drawing his hand across his stubbled chin.
She nods and takes a backward step, holding his eyes for just a second, before she turns and walks to the door and then, just like that, out into the sun, and she is gone.
DIAMONDS AND RUST (Words and Music by Joan Baez) Well I'll be damned Here comes your ghost again But that's not unusual It's just that the moon is full And you happened to call And here I sit Hand on the telephone Hearing a voice I'd known A couple of light years ago Heading straight for a fall As I remember your eyes Were bluer than robin's eggs My poetry was lousy you said Where are you calling from? A booth in the midwest Ten years ago I bought you some cufflinks You brought me something We both know what memories can bring They bring diamonds and rust Well you burst on the scene Already a legend The unwashed phenomenon The original vagabond You strayed into my arms And there you stayed Temporarily lost at sea The Madonna was yours for free Yes the girl on the half-shell Would keep you unharmed Now I see you standing With brown leaves falling around And snow in your hair Now you're smiling out the window Of that crummy hotel Over Washington Square Our breath comes out white clouds Mingles and hangs in the air Speaking strictly for me We both could have died then and there Now you're telling me You're not nostalgic Then give me another word for it You who are so good with words And at keeping things vague Because I need some of that vagueness now It's all come back too clearly Yes I loved you dearly And if you're offering me diamonds and rust I've already paid
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