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The Ring Talks

Part 1: Taking Initiative
Missing scenes create a subtext to canon season four… until the subtext becomes text.

Chapter 1: Shifting Perspective

1997

“Sometimes, it feels wrong to talk about Angel in the bright light of day,” I murmur, looking around the Sunnydale High courtyard.

“Well, yeah, Buffy. That makes total sense. There’s the whole ‘creature of the night’ factor to consider. You’re never going to be a ‘lunch date’ sort of couple.”

I turn to face Willow. “No, I mean that he’s all dark and mysterious. And cryptic. And quiet.” My eyes drift back to the people around us, most of them talking, laughing, or horsing around. We’re surrounded by relaxed, casual fun. “Even if he could be here, right now, he wouldn’t blend in. He couldn’t.”

She frowns. “I don’t think I get it. I thought you liked the dark and mysterious thing. I mean, it is super romantic.”

I fall back on the bench seat of the picnic table to look at the sky, avoiding eye contact while I fish for the right words. “I do. Like, a lot. It’s very… I don’t know… Sexy?” I sit back up. “But I think something’s missing, you know?”

Willow’s frown deepens. “So you don’t think you’re falling in love with him, after all? Is that what’s missing? The Big L?”

“More like the Big F, I think.”

“Buffy!” Her voice breaks in a shocked squeak. “That’s… That’s… a really crude way of saying that!”

“Huh?” I wrinkle my nose at her for a moment before I figure out what she means. “Willow Rosenberg! Get your mind out of the gutter! Fun, Willow. I meant fun.”

She’s blushing bright red, and clearly struggling to regain her composure. When she does, she starts munching on a carrot stick while looking around with a thoughtful look on her face. “Maybe that’s what grown up relationships are like, maybe? Like, more serious?”

I follow her gaze to Xander, who’s flirting with a freshman at the bottom of the stairs. Even from a distance, I can tell he’s being goofy. His gestures are all over the place, and he’s running his hands through his hair nervously.

“As in, they don’t start like that?”

She giggles. “Yeah, pretty much. And speaking of things not starting…”

Xander turns and heads our way, dragging his feet, looking a little dejected.

“At least he’s trying,” I say. “And he’s being his silly self when he does. Someone out there is going to go for Silly Xander one day.” I’m watching her out of the corner of my eye, pretending I don’t know what she’s thinking.

“Yeah,” Willow says quietly. “Someone, someday.” She jerks her attention back to me before Xander gets close enough to notice he’s being stared at. “You’re not saying you want someone silly, are you?”

I laugh off the implication. If she wants to chase Xander, the last thing she needs to worry about is me. “No. I just think that even a grown up relationship should have a little laughter in it. My parents used to laugh together. You know, years ago, back when things were good between them. Don’t yours?”

“Buffy, I’m pretty sure my parents think a sense of humor is a psychological condition.”

Xander joins us at the table. “Hello, my lovely ladies, who appreciate me more than stuck up freshmen in braces. What are we talking about?”

“Um, right now? If our parents understand the concept of fun.”

He shudders as he sits down beside me. “My parents think fun comes from the bottom of a bottle, either finding it, or hitting it against a wall.”

The conversation drifts in a different direction, and I don’t fight it. Maybe Willow’s right: Grown up relationships are probably supposed to be more serious, and less fun.

*~*~*

1998

Business has been slow at the diner all afternoon, but the dinner rush is starting soon, so Camilla and I are out in the dining room, filling up napkin dispensers and salt and pepper shakers. Since there aren’t any customers, she’s chattering on about her ‘old man’ (that’s what she calls her husband) getting so excited about his favorite baseball team having a good season. I’m barely listening… until she starts talking about their relationship.

“It’s been such a hoot, watching him, all summer long. They win another game, he gets this huge smile on his face and grabs me around the waist, dancing me all around the living room. If I’m not home when the game ends, he meets me at the door and does it. I don’t care for baseball, never have, but he enjoys it so much, I don’t complain about him hogging the TV all summer, damn near every minute he’s not at work or asleep. And he pays me back for not complaining by making it fun for me. He gets his games. I get a man who celebrates with me. I may not like baseball, but I love me some dancing. And I’m happy to join in any celebration. …Anne? Where’s your mind at, honey? You’ve gone quiet.”

“You sound happy,” I say. “Like you’re having fun.”

“Always. My old man’s got his quirks, that make me want to strangle him some minutes, but I’m no flawless gem, either. In between, we’re forever laughing and carrying on. Sometimes we’re a bit like children, either bickering or poking fun at something, but who cares? We’re having a good time. Ain’t nobody’s marriage but ours. Nobody’s standards to keep but ours.” Camilla stops talking, and I look up at her. She frowns and comes over to the table I’m working on. “Anne, honey, you ever gonna tell me about him?”

“About who?”

“Whatever fella it was broke your heart.”

“I never–”

“You didn’t have to. I talk about my Terry being a crazy, baseball-loving fool, and you look like you’re jealous. You’ve seen my old man, honey. He’s nothing any pretty young thing like you should be jealous about. The only thing I can figure is that what you’re jealous of is a relationship that ain’t all broken.” She unscrews the top of the salt shaker and fills it from the large, cardboard can of Morton’s. “So what’s the story?”

“Um… That I suck at following my instincts?”

“Honey, we all do when we’re young. That’s why the word ‘ex-boyfriend’ exists, so we have a name that ain’t all cuss words for the mistakes we make before we know our own minds where men are concerned. So what were your instincts telling you?”

“Well… See, it’s kind of stupid. He turned out to be a really bad guy, like, the dangerous kind of bad guy. But all my instincts were telling me was that he was…” I struggle to find the right word, and give up with a shrug. “Boring, I guess. We didn’t laugh and have fun like you and Terry do.”

“So next time, you know that if you’re not having fun, something’s wrong.”

“You make it sound so simple.”

“Anne, instincts don’t tell us everything. Too damned vague for that. But you learned the hard way that a man that don’t make you smile a lot is the wrong man. We all learn that one, even if we all learn it different. That is simple. Love’s supposed to be happy, whatever else it might be.”

“Whatever else?”

“Not every minute’s supposed to be happy. Love itself ain’t simple enough for that. People ain’t simple enough for that. But in between whatever else happens, if a fella makes you smile, he’s worth a second look. And if he makes you laugh, he might be worth a bit of your time.”


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