Everybody Else's Girl
Joyce was still watching Rupert and Cordelia chat just outside the gallery when the phone rang.
"Hello, Sunnydale Art Gallery, may I help you?"
"Hey, Mrs. S, it's Faith. I was just calling to let you know I was still at the school. Miss Peel said it's time I started training again, so I guess I can't come out to your place after 'counseling' anymore."
Joyce shook her head. Despite the scorn she heard in Faith's voice, she was sure Miss Peel's talks with the girl had done more good than her own clandestine advice. Miss Peel was teaching Faith about responsibility, loyalty, and the like. Her own advice was more along the lines of, as Faith had put it, "How to Be a Good Girl in Ten Easy Lessons."Well, not necessarily
, she thought with a slight smile. I don't think anyone will ever be able to get the tease out of Faith, and with a joker like Xander, that's not really a bad thing. But she
is finally learning where the boundaries are -- when a joke or tease becomes hurtful.
Faith was still talking. "Any chance I can see you later?"
"Umm . . . actually, Buffy's going on patrol with Angel after dinner, and Rupert is going with Willow and Oz to the Hall of Records, so I'm going to be all by myself after seven-thirty or so."
"Then how 'bout I come over to your place around eight?"
"That would be fine, Faith. As long as you tell Miss Peel where you're going -- and why."
"Awwww. Do I gotta?"
Faith had been intensely embarrassed at the idea of taking "girly lessons," which was why she'd insisted that they keep it a secret from everyone, including Buffy, Xander, and the two Watchers. But Joyce had heard them all wondering where Faith disappeared to every afternoon for too long, and she figured it was time for the secret to come out, before someone assumed her absences had a sinister motive. "Yes, Faith. You don't have to go into a lot of detail, but it's long past time you told Miss Peel you've been coming to see me."
"Ohhh, all riiight," she groaned, and Joyce grinned -- for once, Faith didn't sound like a street-smart Slayer, but like a typical teenage girl having her arm twisted. "But only if you make some of that famous hot chocolate of yours."
"Ah, I should've known -- it's not my advice you want, it's my cocoa!" Joyce declared with a chuckle. "See you at eight, Faith."* * *
Faith was unusually prompt; Joyce wondered if Miss Peel's mild-but-firm discipline was already a positive effect on the girl.
While she was thinking of it . . . "Did Miss Peel have any problems with you coming to see me tonight?"
"Nope. In fact, I think she was kinda looking forward to having a night all to herself, although I think Xander wanted to trade robot stories."
Joyce shuddered -- Buffy and Giles had told her the whole truth about Ted, and it still gave her the heebie-jeebies to think how close she had come to being another vanished "wife" of the obsessed robot. "And what about Xander? You had your first date last night; wasn't he planning on a second tonight?"
"Nah -- he said something about our first date being so perfect he wanted to have one more day to just remember it as it was, before sullying the memory with burgers and fries."
They both smiled. That had been a deft mixture of lame excuse and sweet sentiment -- in other words, vintage Xander Harris. "And was it? Perfect?"
Faith's eyes twinkled. "Just about. We had pasta at this Italian place Xander knows -- and no offense to your cooking, Mrs. S, but that
was the best damn meal I ever had. Then we went dancing at the Bronze, where the only bad thing was bumping into Xan's bitchy ex."
Joyce had to control her expression at Faith's mention of Cordelia. She hoped it wouldn't ruin her friendship with Faith when she found out she'd given Cordelia a job. "And how was the, ah, dancing?" she asked.
"Well, Xander is
kind of a spaz most of the time, but he slow-dances okay." Her expression turned almost wistful as she finished, "And he kisses like a friggin' god."
Joyce blinked in surprise. "Xander? Kisses like a god?"
"Yeah." Faith grinned wickedly. "After the second or third kiss, I was so wet I was practically swimming."
!" Joyce exclaimed, putting her hands to her mouth and blushing hotly. Faith's matter-of-fact attitude towards sex could still shock her -- and it also infuriated her, when she thought about how Faith had been forced into gaining all that experience.If I didn't have good feelings about Miss Peel -- and if we didn't have Baby Andrew coming -- I'd be talking to Buffy and Rupert about taking Faith in. She needs a mother.Oh, Joyce Ellen,
she chided herself, you can't be everyone's mother, even if they do all come to you for cocoa and advice.
She still gave Faith a grin and said, "Why don't I get that hot chocolate, so you can tell me more about your 'perfect date.'"* * *
Two hours and two big mugs of chocolate later, Faith had dished the dirt -- and Joyce had spilled the beans. As she had feared, Faith did get angry when she found out that Joyce had given Cordelia a job. But when Joyce made it clear that Cordelia would be working her tail off, with no special treatment because of her money -- and she made sure not
to repeat what Rupert had told her about Cordelia's father and her financial situation -- Faith relented a bit.
"Besides, dear," Joyce insisted. "No matter how you feel about Xander, Cordelia has a perfect right to be furious with him."
"Well, she's been pretty nasty to me too," she griped. "But why shouldn't I stand up to her for Xan? Isn't that what a good girlfriend is supposed to do?"
"Well, maybe -- to a point," she allowed. "You should support Xander . . . but you also have to let him fight his own battles -- and
face up to his own mistakes. No matter how you look at it, cheating on Cordelia was wrong. I wish she could find a little forgiveness in her heart, but cheating's a cardinal sin in my book, and if she wants to strain her back carrying around a grudge like that, it's not your place to say she has no right to be angry."Although,
she thought to herself, there's nothing stoppingm from dropping a few hints at work . . . if all these kids are going to be traipsing in-and-out of my gallery and my home at all hours, I at least want them to be doing it without throwing my nice vases at each other!
Then she decided to tackle something head on. "There's something else I think you should remember, Faith. Friends, and even lovers, fight sometimes. It's just the way people are -- no matter how well you get along, you can't agree on everything. Look how mad you just were at me, because I hired Cordelia! For a while there, what I did really hurt your feelings, even though that's the last thing I'd want to do. But, are you still angry?"
"No," Faith answered with a grimace, "I guess not."
"Well, someday the same thing might . . . no, the same thing will
happen between you and Xander. No, let me finish," she said, forestalling a protest from Faith with one hand. "Nobody's perfect, Faith. People make mistakes, no matter how good their intentions are. And someday Xander is going to say or do something that just, well-"
"Pisses me off?" Faith ventured.
"Um, well . . . yes. Anyway, it may not be his fault, or your fault, or anybody's fault . . . but you'll still get mad at him, and yell at him, and he might yell back, or he might sulk, or run off, or . . . something. The point is to keep in mind, even when you're angry, that you still care about him . . . and when you've cooled off, you should go right to him and work things out. If you don't . . . well, bad things happen.
"I think that's what happened with me and Buffy's father. We fought -- and then we never apologized, never 'kissed and made up.' We just let these grudges grow, and grow, until one day we realized that we didn't love each other any more -- heck, we could barely stand each other's company. And when Buffy ran away from home -- I let fear and anger get the better of me, and I said things that I shouldn't have . . . and by the time I realized that I wanted to apologize, she'd already left, and I had to wait four whole months to see her again.
"Just remember, Faith -- even when you're angry at someone, sometimes you have to hold back a little. Even if you think someone's hurt you, you shouldn't try to hurt them back."
And then, on impulse, she leaned over and hugged her.
Faith froze for a moment . . . and then her arms came up and she was hugging Joyce back, hard enough that she felt her ribs creak.My God . . . I've never met anyone so starved for simple physical affection. No wonder Xander can take away her nightmares just by holding her while she sleeps . . . and no wonder the two of them fit so well together. Everyone in town knows about Tom and Patty Harris -- Willow and Buffy just might be the only people who've ever hugged Xander in his whole life.
Just then, she remembered an old song from Damn Yankees
: "Two lost souls, on the highway of life . . . " Oh, that's Xander and Faith, all right. They'd fall apart on their own, but leaning against each other, they hold each other up.
Then Faith's bonecrushing hug finally got to her. "Ah . . . um . . . Faith . . . tight squeeze, here . . . "
"Oh!" She suddenly let go and backed off, and Joyce regretted saying anything as soon as she saw the girl's sorrowful expression.
"Don't worry, Faith, I'm all right," she said with a disarming chuckle. "At least no one can say that hug wasn't heartfelt." And ribfelt, too,
she added silently, rubbing her side gently.* * *
Rupert, Willow, and Oz returned first, with the startling news that there apparently was
no Richard Wilkins the Third. The same Richard Wilkins who had founded Sunnydale a hundred years ago was still living today, and was sitting in the mayor's office in City Hall.
"This puts an entirely new complexion on things," Rupert said gravely. "The level of magics required to keep a human -- we are still presuming he's human -- alive for a hundred years, without aging . . . " He frowned. "It also seems likely that his periodic reappearances as the mayor of Sunnydale have a purpose, since every time he does it he risks discovery. If only we knew what he was up to . . . "
Just then, Buffy came in from patrol. "Hey Giles, ever hear of something called the Books of Ascension?"