Today, while Dawn is at school, I am cleaning out the attic, looking for things to sell. The bills are piling up faster than Doublemeat paychecks, and something has to give. I will not go to Spike. Or Giles. This has to be me.
The sorting would go faster with Dawn or Willowís help, but Dawn is too attached to thingsóIíd spend more time arguing with her about what to keep and what not to then I would sortingóand Willow is helping Anya at the magic box today. She feels bad, living here, not helping with expenses. Itís getting to be a trend around here. Everyone feels bad.
I find a box shoved deep into one corner, remarkably undusty, with ďold booksĒ freshly scrawled in Dawnís loopy hand. Books are worth money, right? And anyway the box isnít heavy like a box of books that size should be. I slit the tape on the top, press back the cardboard flaps.
On top are photographs, in one of those paper drugstore sleeves. I slide them out. The first few are all from the same sitting, Will and Tara and Dawn, laughing, making faces. The pictures are from this summer. There is a copy of the one Willow used to have framed by her bedside, the one now face down on the nightstand. I put it aside, wondering if Tara would want it. There is one of Dawn and Spike that looks like it was taken fairly late that summer on the front porch. It is dark out, and the light from the flash is reflecting off Spikeís skin and bleached hair like he has a halo. He is slouched against the doorframe in a pose of affected indifference, and Dawn is doing her best Spike-impression, leaning against him with an arm tucked through his, trying not to laugh. I put this one aside too. To give back to Dawn, I tell myself, but I know it isnít true. The rest of the stack is mostly of the gang, some old artwork of Dawnís.
I put the pictures aside, start pulling other things out of the box. There is a journal. I think about reading it, but I donít. Underneath is a black shirt, menís, faintly smoky and unmistakably Spikeís. It smells vaguely of one of Dawnís perfumes, and I realize I can hardly remember the last time I wore perfume. High school, maybe. Noówith Riley. During the day anyway. At night, well, didnít want to give the vamps any more notice than I had to. Now . . . just doesnít really go with the grease, you know? Or the outfit.
I fold the shirt a little more carefully than I have to, put it down beside the journal. Still in the box are a few things of Momísónotes, a braceletóa condolences card from Dad, a mass of ticket stubs. At the bottom is the dress, the one Dawn was wearing that night. The fabric is so dark the bloodstains donít show. You canít fault Glory for lack of style. It looks like itís been nearly ripped in half. I never asked how they . . . what happened after the portal closed. I didnít want to know, and I donít want to think about it now.
I donít want any of this. I start to pack everything back up, fighting the breakdown that always comes. The dress, the shirt, the ticket stubs. I am picking up the journal when something slips out. More photographs, carefully rubberbanded together.
They are pictures of me. In the one on top, I am sitting in the living room, smiling, one arm around Dawn, who is smiling too. I look . . . so happy. It takes me a minute to realize itís not me at all. Itís her. The Buffybot.
They took her picture? I wonder, and tug off the rubberband. There is a whole series of heróin the house, sitting in on Scooby meetings, even slaying. Almost as if Iíd never been gone. From the pictures, you canít tell.
Sheís so bright, and so perky. Her hair is perfect. And still long. I lift a hand to toy with the ends of my own hair where it brushes against my jaw, and still feel a dull stab of regret. Of pain, really, more general than regret, or grief. Too much to categorize into neat little words like that. Because remembering what Iíve done only reminds me why I did it.
Cutting it . . . I thought Iíd make it go away. The stylist asked what I wanted and I told her: ďMake me different.Ē Part of me wanted just to be different than I was, wanted the haircut to create that for me; the other part screamed for something just to prove this wasnít business-as-usual, that something had changed since all that ďbeforeĒ the bot was constructed from, the smiles, the quips, the sparkle. Like the hair would prove I was wrong, a cosmetic cry for help, see look, itís not me! But itís like what Tara said, its surface, like a cellular sunburn. It doesnít mean anything. It doesnít widen the gap, not really. All it does, most of the time, is make me remember.
The sound of a car driving by makes me glance towards the door, and I catch my reflection in the hopefully-antique mirror I had laid against the wall for transport downstairs. I am wearing a white bandana of Momís tied over lackluster hair, old jeans, white workout tank. My face is still paleódaytime at the DMP keeps my tan from coming back, I guessóand my eyes are so haggard. I can imagine Spikeís voice in my head, harsh, ďLooking a little worn about the edges, arenít we, Slayer?Ē but I know itís really me, dressed up in black and bleach and an English accent.
He knows it too. He tells me the things I wonít tell myself. The walking, sneering spector of my worst self-fears. Truth where I am a lie.
I want to break the mirror. Hurl something at it, anything, anything to shatter my own image. I would, but we need the money, thereís Dawn to take care of. Thatís the bottom line. Thereís Dawn to take care of.
I wonder if she took care of Dawn too, during the summer. If thatís what the pictures mean. I wonder if Dawn misses her, if she ever wants her back. They all look so happy, in the pictures. It was me that messed things up again, me coming back, the way I am now. They never look happy anymore.
Iím exaggerating and I know it. The Slayer, pouting. In the pictures, I look happy too. Itís not me, I know that, but I canít help it. Itís like sheís the one who was real, and now sheís dead, mechanical parts tossed or recycled or God knows what else. Irretrievable, even for Willow. Iím the robot now. I slay and work and make peanut butter sandwiches and . . . and want Spike. God help me. Itís almost funny. I even want Spike.
Itís like Iím more gone now than I ever was before.
I finish packing the box up quickly. My hands are shaking so badly I canít get the rubber band back around the pictures, and they scatter across the floor. I gather them up, try to remember the order, but I canít, itís all mixed up in my head, I wasnít there.
It takes me three tries to get the box closed. I wrap my arms around my legs and rest my forehead on my knees. Maybe Iím crying. I donít know how long I sit like this.
The back door opens, closes. Thereís cursing. I can smell singed flesh.
ďPet?Ē Spike calls from downstairs. ďBuffy? You here?Ē
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