Title: Reaping the Whirlwind (Boom Boom Ba Remix), Part 13/14
Summary: What does the addition of supernatural-related reaps to the reaping workload, Roxy’s promotion, the addition of a new grim reaper with supernatural experience, a new sort-of boyfriend who may or may not be a pirate, and an approaching apocalypse all have in common? New grim reaper boss George doesn’t know, but she’s willing to bet that in the middle of it all the universe will kick her ass. Again.
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Dead Like Me crossover
Characters: Dead Like Me (order of appearance) — George, Mason, Daisy, Roxy, Kiffany, Delores, Penny, OCs. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (order of appearance) — Dawn, Buffy, Willow (appearance only), Giles (appearance only), Xander, OCs.
Pairing: George/Xander (nothing explicit)
Rating: R for language, cartoon violence and death, sexual situations
Warning: Spoilers for all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV show only), Dead Like Me, and Dead Like Me: Life After Death.
When I was a young and innocent reaper just getting my start in the afterlife, I was privileged to witness Roxy accidentally start a new religion. Well, I didn’t actually witness it, but I heard all about it after the fact.
Roxy, who was still working as a meter maid at the time, got into a slight altercation with a man she described as an unrelenting asshole. He kept parking his trashy camper in a no-parking zone, and she kept giving him tickets. Eventually they had words. Words moved on to threats. Threats moved on to shoving.
And Roxy, whose normal mode of being was, “I’ll kick your ass” proceeded to yank the unrelenting asshole’s soul out of his body and threaten him with an existence that, in her words, would take a turn for the strange and painful.
Then she put his soul back in his body and left.
He responded by getting religion, namely, a religion where the messenger from God was a perpetually pissed-off meter maid. He became a pacifist. He painted murals of the moment when Roxy temporarily de-souled him under the approving light of heaven. He created bobble-headed Roxy dolls as religious icons. He attracted a convert who had to prove his worthiness by carrying around a parking meter. He created whole new words to describe the whole new concepts, most of which could be boiled down to, “God will kick your ass.”
Rube went ape. He started ranting about Joseph Smith and Mormons and how they now had a monopoly on the hotel industry.
Apparently, this wasn’t the first time a reaper lost their temper and accidentally started a religion.
He ordered Roxy to go forth, and make the problem go away.
After the judicial application of violence — namely Roxy grabbing the guy by the balls and giving them a sharp twist — the Religion of Roxy died before it ever really got off the ground. Presumably he returned to his life as an unrelenting asshole, only now he had a special hatred for meter maids.
I doubted very much that Xander would do something as innocuous as start a new religion as a result of what I did. And I doubted very much that if I just put his soul back in his body and walked away that he’d let the whole thing go.
The most likely outcome would be that he’d go back to his Council; round up a posse of Watchers, Slayers, and God knows what else; and then come after my reaper ass.
There was only one way to stop that from happening.
I had to tell him the truth.
All things considering, I think he took it pretty well.
Xander and George were silent as they leaned against the trunk of her car with their arms barely touching.
Xander opened his mouth like he was about to say something, looked at her, shook his head, and then looked back out over the empty parking lot.
George played with the gore-covered crossbow bolt that Xander had thoughtfully pulled out of her chest after she put his soul back into his body.
Xander finally cleared his throat. “You know, I expected a black hooded robe. A scythe. A voice that speaks in all capital letters. That kind of thing.”
“I don’t know anyone who owns a scythe,” George said. “They’re kind of awkward to carry around, not to mention noticeable.”
“Good point,” Xander said. He looked at her again. “You don’t look like a goth chick with an oversized ankh pendant, either.”
“Here’s a tip. If someone looks like a goth chick, they’re probably just a goth chick,” George said.
“Not down with the Pratchett or the Gaiman, hunh?” Xander asked.
“The what or who, now?” George asked.
“Never mind.” Xander was back to staring at the empty parking lot. “I can’t believe I had sex with death. Even for me, that’s one for the record books.”
“For the last time, I’m not Death,” George said with frustration.
“Sorry. Grim reaper.” Xander shook his head and asked, “How is that not death again?”
“Grim reapers work for Death,” George answered.
“You’re death’s employees,” Xander deadpanned.
“Yeah, but the pay and benefits suck. Do you think I work for a temp agency for shits and giggles?”
Xander looked over his shoulder at the office building behind him. “I’m guessing not.”
Xander blinked at the crossbow bolt in George’s hand. “But I’m not so sure there aren’t any benefits at all.” He looked at her again. “How’s the…ahhh…” he rubbed his chest.
George looked down at her blood-caked shirt to check. “All healed.”
Xander winced. “Can’t say the same for your clothes. You look like an axe-murderer.”
“I’ve been doing this long enough that I know to keep a change of clothes in the trunk of my car,” George said. “One stop in a gas station restroom, and no one will know that I was shot in the chest.”
“Right,” Xander whispered as he went back to staring at the parking lot. “And you’re telling me that the older woman who talked to Buffy and touched her before she died was really Dawn, who’s now a grim reaper just like you.”
Xander looked like he was trying to get hamster wheel in his brain to stop squeaking. “How did Dawn become a reaper again?”
“The flying fickle finger of fate fucked her,” George said. “Or to put in a concept you understand, she was chosen.”
Xander made a ‘hunh’ face. “You’d be shocked how often it’s the same thing.”
“I’m the opposite of shocked.”
“And Buffy’s dead because she had a,” Xander looked at her like he couldn’t quite believe he was about to say this, “post-it.”
And she had a post-it because…” Xander’s voice trailed off.
“It was her time,” George softly said.
“And Buffy’s gone into the light where she’s safe, right?” Xander asked.
“Yeah. She had a wild party waiting for her,” George said. “There was singing, and dancing, and feasting. Oh, and watching over the whole thing was this wild-looking black woman with her face painted white.”
Xander actually chuckled at that. “I’m surprised Buffy didn’t march right up to her and kick her ass.”
“Nah. They hugged like they were best buddies,” George assured him. “Once Dawn told her it was okay to move on, Buffy seemed like she was getting ready to put on her dancing shoes and enjoy her welcome home party.”
“Good,” he softly said with a smile. His smile soon faded. “And Dawn. Is she okay?”
“She’s been better,” George answered.
“Yeah, well. She and Buffy were close so, I’d be more shocked if you said she was perfectly fine,” Xander said. “I meant in general.”
“She’s actually doing okay. Y’know? All things considering,” George said with a shrug. “She’s got a job working in a bookstore, and she’s living in a house with two other reapers. She’s not alone, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Good,” Xander said quietly. He winced. “Dawn was, ummm, chosen right? For the grim reaper gig.”
“I…guess. If you want to put it that way, sure,” George cautiously said.
“So, how does she get out of it?” Xander asked.
George tensed. “She can’t.”
“No, no, no. I don’t mean how does she get unchosen even as we speak. I know that’s probably impossible due to some kind of mystical rule,” Xander quickly said. “What I mean is how does the assignment end? For Slayers it’s a lifetime thing, but Dawn’s already dead. So, is there some kind of term limit thing? Like, ‘For X-number of years you’re a reaper and then you can go into the light?’ Or is there some kind task she has to complete? How does it work? Because I’m pretty sure it can’t be ‘become a reaper, stay a reaper for eternity’.”
George almost smiled as she slit her eyes toward him. “Figured that out for yourself, hunh?”
“Well it makes sense, doesn’t it?” Xander winced. “Or as much sense as any of this makes, which means it makes no sense at all unless you hang upside down and let all the blood rush to your head. Besides, there are rules, aren’t there? Nothing’s forever. At some point, the term of service has to end.”
“Everything dies,” George quietly said.
George looked up at him and saw that he was coming from a place where he long ago accepted that everything died.
George took a deep breath. “I was told that every reaper has a set number of souls they’ve got to reap before they can move on. No one knows what that number is, and the number is different for everyone. It’s just one day you’re out there doing your job, and the next you get your last post-it.”
Xander studied her before saying with a little wonder, “You don’t believe that, do you?”
That was the question, wasn’t it?
“I…I don’t know,” George hedged.
“You don’t.” Xander sounded certain. “I can see you don’t.”
“No. I don’t.” It felt good to admit it, even if it was to someone who wasn’t a reaper. “I think we’re here because we’re holding on to something. Or looking for something. Or maybe we want to figure out the answer to some kind of question. Or maybe we need to learn some kind of lesson. I don’t know. All I know is that whatever it is, it’s different for everyone. I don’t think racking up an impressive post-it collection is the answer.”
Xander shook his head as he stared out over the parking lot. “That kind of uncertainty doesn’t sound like Dawn. Well, I mean post-18 year-old Dawn. If she were younger I could see it, but once she headed off to college she was the definition of certainty about everything. I don’t think she had an uncertain moment in her life after we left California. She knew what she wanted, and went for it no matter what the consequences.”
“Maybe you saw only what you wanted to see,” George pointed out. “Or maybe you only saw what you were supposed to see.”
“Or maybe I only saw that side of her because she long ago stopped seeing me as her goofy big brother.” Xander’s voice sounded heavy with guilt.
“That regret you’re feeling? That’s why I think you need to leave Seattle. The sooner, the better,” George said.
Xander’s head whipped around to look at her. “Why?”
If you stay in town, she’ll eventually see you because that’s just the way our luck runs. You’ll be a distraction, maybe even a temptation for her to break the rules for one reason or another. I don’t want her to get hurt, I don’t want my club of reapers to get hurt, and I sure as shit don’t want to see innocent people get hurt because I didn’t have the balls to tell you to go away.
Somehow, with all that guilt you’re carrying about Dawn, I don’t think you’ll see it that way, so I’m going to make you feel even more guilty if I have to.
George took a deep breath, and brought all of her Happy Time-honed skills to bear. In short she punted, with a side of dancing on the head of a pin.
“Whatever Dawn needs, whatever it is that she’s got to figure out, she can’t do that looking over her shoulder and worrying about all the shit she lost when she died,” George said as she mentally crossed her fingers and hoped like hell Xander believed her. “If you want to help her actually move on and get her lights, you can’t be here. If she sees you wandering around the city there’s a chance she’ll get sucked into constantly chewing over the past, and that’s not going to help her in the long run.”
Xander crossed his arms and suspiciously regarded her. “Are you talking about Dawn? Or you?”
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve got some personal experience,” George admitted. “But ask any reaper. They’ll tell you the same thing I just did.”
Xander huffed a breath. “I’ll think about it.”
“Xander—” George began.
“I said, I’ll think about it.” Xander was firm. “I can see what you’re saying. I can. But I’ve also got responsibilities here. I can’t just walk away from my commitments without an explanation, and everyone will want an explanation if I do.”
Bullshit. You don’t want to leave because you can’t get over your damn guilt.
George and Xander once more fell into an uncomfortable silence as they both stewed over the argument about Dawn.
“Glamour,” Xander suddenly said.
“Excuse me?” George asked.
Xander was once again studying her in that penetrating way he had. “Reapers have glamour.”
“Glamour. That’s where the living don’t see what we really look like, right?”
“Yeah,” George said. “I have no idea why Dawn pulled the short straw. If it’s any consolation, when she started out she looked like an actual bag lady. Her looks have improved.”
Xander tilted his head. “So, you don’t look like you.”
“Um, no. Underneath this 20-something exterior is an 18 year-old dead girl.”
“Eighteen?” Xander yelped.
“Calm down,” George said with amusement. “I’ve been dead for 6 years, so I guess that actually makes me 24.”
Xander blinked. “Oh. I don’t know why that makes me feel better, but it kind of does.”
“Not into younger women, hunh?”
“Most of the Slayers I work with are younger women,” Xander pointed out. “Eighteen is pretty much the average age of the group I tend to work with.”
George bit back a laugh. “Guess you and my dad won’t make friends any time soon.”
“So what’s your real name?” Xander asked.
“Are you asking me, or telling me?” Xander asked.
“Telling. It’s George.” Off Xander’s doubtful look, she added, “Really.”
“Strange name for a girl,” Xander remarked.
“Xander’s a strange name for a guy who had a friend with the equally strange name of Buffy. There. We’re even,” George huffed.
“George,” Xander repeated. A sudden look of realization crossed his face. “Wait. George isn’t actually a nickname for Georgia is it?”
“Why?” George suspiciously asked.
Xander began to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” George demanded.
Xander bent over as he howled.
George waved the crossbow bolt at him in a threatening manner. “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with my name.”
Xander just barely managed to bring himself under control. “Georgia. As in Georgia Lass.”
“Oh, now wait a minute!” George said as she backed up a step. “You’ve got the wrong person. I’m not—”
“Georgia Lass who was horrified to find out that her memorial is the subject of an urban legend.” Xander looked like he was barely keeping his laughter in check. “Don’t deny it. That was why you kept asking ‘what’ like you couldn’t believe your ears and were totally horrified by what you did hear. It all makes sense of a kind that it didn’t before.”
“Did anyone ever tell you that your grammar sucks?” George grumped. “And I hope you can see why that urban legend is total bullshit.” She glared at the crossbow bolt and angrily grumbled, “Like I’ve got the time to grant wishes.”
Xander suddenly sobered and thoughtfully studied her. “Maybe.”
She knew what he was going to ask. “Wait. No. Bad idea. Very bad idea. It’s against all the rules. You have no idea what kind of trouble we’re already in because you know as much as you do. I have no idea how badly this is going to blow up as it is. Neither one of us need to make it worse. And remember what I said about Dawn needing to look forward instead of stewing over the past? Letting you talk to her even once could set her back by a lot.”
“I’m not asking for wishes, Georgia,” Xander quietly begged. “I’m asking for help.”
George mentally threw up her hands. “Even if we go by the rules of that stupid urban legend, which I repeat, is not true, you know damn well it’s the kind of help you want. It’s not the kind of help that either you or Dawn needs.”
“Are you really sure about that?” Xander quietly asked. “Closure’s important. You of all people have to know that it’s important.”
“Closure for her? Or for you?” George angrily asked.
When Xander guiltily looked away, George knew that he didn’t have an answer to that.
Do you want to know when you really become a grim reaper?
It’s not when you die. It’s not when you attend your own autopsy followed by your funeral. It’s not when you suddenly become solid and you’re told the awful truth.
It’s not even when you reap your first soul.
It happens sometime after that, at a time that’s different for everybody.
I remember when I became a reaper, I mean really became a reaper.
I had found out that Rube had a post-it with my parents’ address written on it. The death was supposed to happen early in the morning. When I found out, I raged at Rube as if I could change his mind or make the writing on the post-it go away.
When Rube basically told me to sit down, shut up, and stay out of it, I stormed out of Der Waffle Haus and headed straight to my old home.
I must’ve sat on that front stoop all night, watching and waiting. Every time a light went on, I’d quietly urge my parents and my sister to go back to bed. I urged them to stay in the house and to stay safe.
I imagined them waking up first thing in the morning, getting dressed, and heading out the door. I imagined them meeting Rube as he stood in their driveway, and how he’d lure them into standing closer so he could reach out and touch them. I imagined them standing there, wondering what had just happened as Rube turned and walked away. I couldn’t imagine anything beyond that. I didn’t want to picture either one of my parents or Reggie literally dying in the driveway.
When Rube showed up just before sunrise, he had two cups of coffee like he knew that I’d be watching and waiting.
“If the name on the post-it is someone you know, would you stop me?” he asked.
I said that I didn’t know. Maybe I would.
And then he asked me again, “If the name on the post-it is someone you know, would you stop me?”
That’s when I said, “No.”
As soon as I said it, I realized I meant it. That was a very hard thing for me to realize.
As it turned out, Rube was there to reap the milkman, but the point is if Rube was there to reap my parents or even Reggie I would have let him do it.
And that was how I really became a grim reaper.
George stared into her cup of coffee and wondered what the hell she was doing sitting at the counter of the Pancake Stack at 1:30 in the morning.
What she should be doing is taking the blood-covered clothes in the trunk of her car to a place where she could discreetly dump them, or sitting in her own apartment watching late night TV and wondering when she’d finally be tired enough to get her usual 3 hours of sleep.
“More coffee?” a waitress offered as she swung by.
George merely shook her head, and the waitress moved on.
I knew that I had to turn down Xander’s request. I knew I had to do it. The rules were very clear. No contact with your old life. Hell, I’d screwed over Dawn and made her lose a memory that was important to her because I enforced that rule.
But some part of me wanted to be bad. Some part of me was sick and tired of enforcing the rules all the damn time. Some part of me wanted to say ‘yes’, even if it was asking for disaster.
As a reaper, I had to deal with a lot of requests from the freshly dead over the years. There were some I did provided it wouldn’t get anyone hurt. Most of the time I didn’t because it involved messing around with the living.
I should be used to saying ‘no’ to requests, and saying ‘no’ shouldn’t have bothered me all that much. Yet, for some reason, I was having a hard time with this ‘no’.
Maybe it was because Xander was asking me, Georgia Lass, to do him this favor. He wasn’t asking Millie, and he sure as hell wasn’t asking me because he was already dead and needed a reaper to do one final job for him. He was asking me personally. It shouldn’t have made a difference, but yet it did.
“Hey,” said a soft voice behind George.
George looked up and saw Dawn uncertainly watching her. “Hey, yourself. Can’t sleep?”
Dawn shook her head.
“Pull up some counter space.” George indicated the chair next to her.
As Dawn settled into the chair, George said, “I’m sorry about your sister.”
“Me, too.” Dawn looked like she wanted to cry, but was sucking it up. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that wherever she is she’s safe and happy. And I’m glad that she doesn’t have to fight anymore and can finally rest. I’ve wanted that for her for so long. Longer than you can imagine. I’m just sorry that she never really had it while she was alive, but mostly I’m sorry that she’s not still here.”
“You loved her a lot,” George said, even though she felt stupid for stating the obvious.
“Yeah,” Dawn quietly said. “Enough to know that I’m being totally selfish, especially after I saw how happy and at peace she was when she finally embraced the light.”
“Not selfish. Just human.” George went back to studying her coffee. “Seems like she loved you a lot, too.”
“She did. Too much sometimes,” Dawn said.
George slit her eyes at Dawn.
“My sister wasn’t just stupidly heroic, she was also annoyingly overprotective,” Dawn said as she pulled a napkin out of the napkin holder and began tearing at it. “She’d try to wrap me in cotton and protect me from bads both big and little, mystical and not. I’d be yelling at her that she couldn’t do that forever because my big sister was a Slayer, not an IRS accountant. Wrapping me in cotton wasn’t going to help.”
“Guess it was tough being a Slayer’s little sister, hunh?”
“It could be,” Dawn softly admitted. “Buffy only wanted what was best for me. Problem was, she didn’t always ask me what I thought was best for me.”
“I’m sorry I put you in that position,” George softly said.
Dawn looked at her surprise.
“I shouldn’t have let you reap your sister,” George admitted. “I knew you’d probably get caught up in the emotion of the moment. Hell, if I had Reggie’s post-it in my hand, the same thing would happen to me. It’d happen to any reaper.”
“Reggie. She’s your little sister,” Dawn said.
Dawn suddenly chuckled. “You’re a lot like her.”
“Who? Reggie?” George asked with confusion.
“Buffy,” Dawn said with a sad smile. “You’re every bit as stupidly heroic and annoyingly overprotective as she is.” Dawn’s smile dimmed. “I mean was.”
George held up her hands. “Nooooo. I think you’ve got the wrong girl.”
“Says the same George who stopped me from doing something stupid and stood her ground against my sister and won, all while getting pounded by mystical energy,” Dawn countered.
“I think you telling Buffy it was okay for her to move on is actually what saved the day,” George said.
“But you held her off long enough for me to realize that telling her that it was okay to leave was the right thing to do,” Dawn said.
George clutched her coffee cup in both hands. “That was necessity, Dawn. No heroism involved. Stop making it more than it is.”
“Fine.” Dawn sounded amused. “But you are overprotective. And not just with me. I watched you through this whole thing with the N’goth. The way you’d worry about all three of us, and how you almost seemed apologetic that you couldn’t do anything to make life easier for us because your hands were tied because of one thing or another.”
“I’m not like that at all,” George insisted. “I think you’re projecting.”
“And I think you’re in denial,” Dawn said. “Think about this. Every time you go on and on about the rules, it’s not because they’re the rules and you have to follow them just because that’s what you do, no questions asked. It’s because you’re afraid someone will get hurt if the rules get broken.”
“That’s not true.” George made a face. “Wait. Is it?”
Dawn nodded. “I think that’s why you keep bringing out the bratty little sister in me.”
“Bratty little sister, hunh?” George asked with amusement.
“For serious,” Dawn said. “Before I died, I was totally Miss Self-Assured and Miss Level-Headed. I knew how to pick my battles and I knew how to logically make my point without raising my voice. My teenage emo drama queen days were long behind me.” Dawn looked around the nearly empty Pancake Stack. “Until I got here. Then they came roaring back with a vengeance.”
“Yeah, well, dying brings out the drama queen in everyone,” George said.
“And for once, your ‘it happens like that for everyone’ is actually comforting,” Dawn said.
“I aim to be a broken record,” George said as she sipped her coffee.
“I’m sorry about Betty,” Dawn suddenly said.
“Betty happened 6 years ago,” George tightly said.
“But you still miss her.” Dawn tapped her fingers on the counter. “What was she like?”
“Mysterious and reassuring,” George said. “She had this way of making you feel comfortable, and then…boom…she’d pull the rug out from underneath you. Not in a bad way. Just in a way that made you wonder what happened.”
“Sounds like she was a little weird,” Dawn said.
“A little,” George agreed. She began to chuckle. “She used to haul around this old Polaroid. And before she’d reap someone, she’d ask to take their picture and tell them to think happy thoughts. Then she’d file away the picture.” George made a shape of a bag with her hands. “She had these categories for people and she’d file the picture by category. She’d stare at the picture and make up little stories about them and that’s how she’d choose the category. This one was always latching on to other people’s identities because they never discovered who they really were. This one always pretended to be happy, even though they were always crying inside. This one really wanted to be an artist, but decided to take a 9-to-5 job because they were afraid they weren’t good enough. Things like that.”
“I bet she knew all their names, too,” Dawn said as she rested her chin on her fist.
George made a face. “Probably. She definitely knew when, where, and under what circumstances she reaped all of them.”
“What happened to her collection?” Dawn asked.
“She gave it to me the week before she died,” George said. “I put it in storage. I don’t know why I kept it. I didn’t feel right throwing it out, I guess.”
“She give you anything else?” Dawn asked.
George held up her hand. “This ring. She gave it to me right before she jumped.”
“Yeah.” George looked at it. “I think it was a gift from a boyfriend from before she died.”
“Her jumping into the light,” Dawn carefully said. “She’d been planning it for awhile.”
“I don’t know,” George said softly as she shook her head. “I always thought it was a spur of the moment decision, but I really don’t know for sure. It seems like she always enjoyed being a reaper. She always seemed so cheerful. But looking back I wonder if I saw only what I wanted to see.”
“Not to turn this back on you, but I think everyone does that,” Dawn said. “I know I did, and it maybe cost me a friend because of it.”
“Dawn, we’re okay you and me,” George reassured her. “All this shit between us can be boiled down to reaper growing pains. I’m all for a fresh start if you are.”
“Thanks, that means a lot,” Dawn said with a smile. “But I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about Xander-shaped people.”
George stiffened. “Ummmmm…”
“Xander was one of my sister’s best friends.” Dawn obviously misread George’s reaction. “He used to be one of mine, in a goofy big brother kind of way.” Her shoulders slumped. “He was the guy who didn’t show for my funeral.”
“Oh.” George’s voice sounded too high to her own ears and she coughed. “So, ummmm, what brought this on?”
“I saw him last night down at Terminal 5,” Dawn said. “I should’ve known he’d be there. Xander’s the kind of person that shows up wherever there’s trouble to help lead the charge, or at least take the position of MVP in an apocalypse.”
George busily sipped her coffee as she tried to compose her expression.
“Talk about double-whammy,” Dawn said.
“Double-whammy?” George asked.
“Regret on top of everything else that was going on.” Dawn stared unseeingly at the kitchen’s pick-up window as she slightly shook her head. “When we all left California, I had made up my mind that I was going to contribute, I mean really contribute, to fighting the forces of darkness. Being a non-Slayer person, that meant becoming a Watcher.”
“You wish you weren’t a Watcher?” George nervously asked.
“No. I’m definitely glad I was a Watcher,” Dawn emphatically shook her head. “I just wish I took more time to get there. Stop and smell a few roses along the way. Definitely make more time for family, instead of putting things off until it was too late. But I was all about the rush-rush-rush. Pile on the classes and go to school year-round so I’d get my undergrad degree in 2-and-half years. Then work 24/7 on the PhD so I’d get that in less than 3 years. Why? Because I had to get out there. I had to contribute. I had to fight.”
Don’t do this. You don’t want to hear any of this. Back slowly away from this conversation and change the subject.
“So…you were dedicated,” George said. “And, um, I really can’t blame you. At all. So why don’t you put that particular regret right out of your head because, really, there’s nothing to regret there.”
“Except for the way I alienated people. Xander wasn’t the only one I did that to. He was just the most important,” Dawn said in a downcast tone.
“You’re being too hard on yourself,” George said. “Look, do you want something to eat? Or drink? It’s on me.”
“George, stop trying to protect me from myself,” Dawn said.
“I’m not. Really,” George protested.
“Bribing me with food?” Dawn asked with amusement.
George gave in to the inevitable. “It was worth the shot.”
Dawn went back to tearing at her napkin. “After we left California, Xander would make the time to come see me. Or call. Or email. He’d make the time, even though he was mostly working in Africa and probably was busier than I was. He was busy saving lives instead of worrying about term papers and exams, like I was.”
“And you didn’t return the favor,” George carefully said.
“Whenever Xander reached out to me, I always put him off. He never made the top of my to-do list,” Dawn admitted. “It was always, ‘Xander, it’s great you came for a visit, but I can’t take an hour off for you to buy me lunch.’ Or, ‘Xander, it’s great you called, but I can’t talk now. I’ve got to get to class.’ Or, ‘Xander, it’s great to get your email, but I’ve got this exam I need to pass. I’ll write back when I have the time.’”
It was the same old story. When people die, they never think about the good things they did, or the great things they accomplished. It’s always what they didn’t do, and what they didn’t say. It’s always regret for the thing left undone or the person left behind.
George once more stared into her cup of coffee. “Eventually he stopped reaching out to you, didn’t he?”
“Yes and no.”
George looked up at Dawn.
Dawn sighed. “We’d still see each other. Major holidays. Important anniversaries. The occasional reunion of the old gang. But it was always with the whole group, never one-on-one. We still talked, and we’d still try to crack each other up with bad jokes, but it wasn’t like what it was. It was different. It felt different. Like how when I was a kid he’d always say hello to me first and give me a big hug. By the time I was writing my dissertation, I had to make the first move if I wanted a hug. It was like he wasn’t sure if it was okay for him to hug me just because he was glad to see me. As for those times in between the family get-togethers, I didn’t really hear much from him at all.”
George tapped the countertop as the wheels turned in her head. “Did you try to fix it?”
“That’s just it,” Dawn said as she shook her head, “I didn’t even notice. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. I never really noticed that Xander had slipped out of my life while I wasn’t paying attention. It wasn’t until my after my funeral and I was busy tallying up all those things that I missed the most that I realized that maybe Xander didn’t come to my funeral because he stopped really caring about me a long time ago.”
George uncomfortably cleared her throat. “I thought he was still friends with your sister. He would’ve come to your funeral if only to support her, don’t you think?”
Dawn’s forehead scrunched in thought.
“I’m just saying that it’s entirely possible he didn’t come because he couldn’t,” George said. “Or maybe they couldn’t reach him because he was away doing…stuff. Like, saving lives in Africa. Or something.”
Dawn’s forehead scrunched harder as if the idea had never occurred to her. After a few tense moments, her shoulders relaxed. “Maybe you’re right.” She shook her head. “I don’t know. It’s possible, I guess.”
“I’m sure that’s what happened,” George firmly said.
Dawn sighed. “There’s no one left to ask. Well, actually, there are people I can ask, I just can’t ask them because all they’ll hear is a stuttering, drooling moron who can’t get a coherent word out of her mouth.”
George thoughtfully tapped the countertop. “Dawn, go home.”
Dawn startled. “What?”
George plastered a smile on her face. “It’s late. You’ve had a long couple of days. You should get some rest, instead of sitting here beating yourself up for no reason. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “I don’t think you noticed, but it is tomorrow.”
“Then in a few hours.” George jerked her head to the door. “Go on. Get lost.”
Dawn actually chuckled at that as she got up.
“Dawn?” George asked.
Dawn paused. “Yeah?”
George took a deep breath. “I’m sorry you can’t help save the world anymore.”
“Yeah. Me, too.” Dawn smiled a crooked smile. “But then again, if it wasn’t for people like us, there wouldn’t be a world save, would there?”
“There is that,” George agreed.