Title: Reaping the Whirlwind (Boom Boom Ba Remix), Part 14/14
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.
For every rule, there are exceptions. Or rather, exceptions can be made.
It’s like that rule that says, “No making contact with anyone who knew you when you were alive.”
But if Someone or Something has bigger plans, you’re given that one shot to break the rules without any consequences. Like telling your little sister that she and mom should leave town and go forge a new life, and the second their car pulls away from the curb you’re showered in blank post-its and have been anointed from above to be The Boss of your merry band of reapers.
The problem is that you don’t always know when you set out to break the rules whether they’ve been suspended just this once. Hence the institution of rule-bending as a medal event in the Reaper What-Can-I-Get-Away-With-Today Olympics.
In this case, it means that you find a way to make the rules work in your favor, rather than trying to gently push the boundaries just one more inch in front of where you're standing.
Make the plans, make the bargain, and spit-shake on it if you have to.
And when it’s all over but the shouting, hope like hell no one calls your bluff.
George tried not to look over her shoulder as she approached her group’s regular booth in the Pancake Stack.
Mason, who was facing in the right direction, looked up from whatever it was he was saying to Dawn, and started with surprise. “What’s this, then?”
Dawn and Daisy turned around. As expected Dawn’s eyes went wide, her face went pale, and her mouth dropped open.
“Don’t say anything,” George warned her. “At least not until I tell you it’s okay.”
“Why Georgia, who is that man?” Daisy flirted. “Please tell me he’s a new reaper come to join us in our hour need.”
From behind her, Xander made a strangled sound in his throat.
“I think our hour of need was a few days ago,” Mason complained. “They’ve left it a bit on the late side, haven’t they.”
“He’s not a reaper.” Dawn sounded numb. “Or at least I hope he isn’t.”
“Dawn,” George warned. She fixed her gaze on Mason and Daisy. “And no. He’s not a reaper. He’s here to see Dawn.”
Mason and Daisy exchanged worried looks.
“George, do you think that’s wise?” Mason uncertainly asked.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Georgia,” Daisy worriedly said.
“Nope. Not a clue. But since when has that stopped me?” George jerked her head toward the door. “Mason, Daisy. Take a walk. The further away from this you are, the better off you’ll be if I get stomped.”
Mason paused and nervously looked Xander up and down. “Georgie, be careful. He looks to be a handful.” He looked down at Dawn and pointed at her. “That goes double for you, understand?”
Dawn just nodded.
Daisy and Mason made a quick exit, leaving Dawn alone in the booth.
George stopped Xander from taking a seat, and fixed her gaze on Dawn. “Now listen to me very carefully. This is a one-time deal. After this conversation is over, no more contact. Ever. As for you specifically, you know the rules. Don’t say your name. Don’t talk about anything from before your death, not even in answer to a direct question. He can take any trip down memory lane he wants, but you can’t. You know what’ll happen if you try. You can talk about anything that happened after your death. That’s fair game. Also talk as little as possible, just to be on the safe side. I’m going to sit in on the conversation, and if you start straying into dangerous territory I’m going to interrupt you. Understand?”
“Yes,” Dawn quickly agreed.
“All right.” George snapped a nod as she slid into the empty side of the booth.
Xander slid in next to her. He was staring at Dawn as if he were trying to see the girl he knew underneath her unfamiliar appearance. “Hello Dawn.”
“Hey, Xander.” Dawn hopefully smiled. “You look good. Nasty cut on your cheek, though.”
“It’s been a rough couple of days.” Xander leaned forward, his one eye studying her face. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay. Mostly,” Dawn said as she blinked back tears. She acknowledged George with a nod, “George is a good boss, even though I’ve raised my share of holy hell. And Mason and Daisy, my roommates, they’re…” Dawn paused as if she was trying to find the right words to describe them, “…very Mason and very Daisy.”
“Yeah,” Xander smiled. “I’ve had a few friends like that, too.”
“Yeah,” Dawn began to laugh. “I remember—”
“Dawn,” George sharply interrupted.
Dawn winced. “Right. I forgot.”
“It’s okay.” Xander kept his gaze fixed on Dawn. “George explained the rules to me.”
“Was there a sledgehammer involved? I bet there was a sledgehammer involved,” Dawn grinned.
Xander shot a grin at George. “In a manner of speaking.”
“I don’t want to be involved this conversation,” George said.
Xander looked away and concentrated on Dawn. “If you’re wondering how I found George, I saw you — or I mean glamoured you — talking to Buffy 10 minutes before she…” his voice trailed off and he swallowed hard.
“I…I didn’t realize anyone even saw me,” Dawn said.
“I’m the only one who did, actually,” Xander said. “So no masses of pissed off Slayers on the hunt for your scalp.”
Dawn let out a breath. “You know, I didn’t even consider that possibility.”
“Neither did I,” George admitted.
“Anyway, I tried to follow you, but you were running so fast that I kind of lost you for a bit,” Xander said, repeating the cover story George made him practice. “I caught up with you just in time to see George throwing you in the backseat of her car. I managed to get her license plate number while she was making the getaway. From there, it was a matter of tracking her down through DMV records.”
“Cue big confrontation.” Dawn slit her eyes at George. “When did this happen?”
“Last night,” Xander answered.
Dawn kept her eyes on George as she slowly nodded. “And not, say, early this morning.”
George hoped she looked innocent as Xander shook his head.
Dawn suppressed a smile as she looked down.
“I’m…I’m sorry about Buffy,” Xander haltingly said.
“Me, too,” Dawn said quietly. “I mean, I’m sorry she’s dead, but I’m also glad I got to say good-bye and see her move on to something better.”
Xander’s jaw worked as he looked down at the table.
“Xander, trust me. When she went into those lights, it was like she was going back to where she truly belonged,” Dawn said. “They had a big party for her and everything. Wherever she is, she’s happy and she’s safe. I’m glad I got to see that, and I’m sorry she had to die to get it.”
“Me, too,” Xander said quietly.
Dawn reached out to place a hand over Xander’s folded ones. She paused before making contact and looked at George. When George didn’t say or do anything to stop her, she finished her move.
Xander sniffed hard as he startled. “Your hands are warm.”
“Yeah, that surprised me too,” Dawn said.
Xander took a deep breath and swallowed. “I’m sorry I didn’t make your funeral. See, I didn’t know you were dead until a week after you were buried.”
“What happened?” Dawn asked.
“Vampire cult in Namibia, complete with getting the unwilling population to join in the chanty-chanty fun by turning everyone they could get their fangs on,” Xander said as he lowered his head again to look at Dawn’s hand covering his. “Their big goal was to take over the country and create a Slayer-free sanctuary.”
Dawn sucked in her breath through her teeth.
“We didn’t know what resources they had, so I put everyone in my hastily assembled army under a no-tracking silence spell just in case they had a few magic users in their pocket,” Xander said. “No one could even find me, let alone get a message to me. If they had, I would’ve come.”
“I hope not!” Dawn exclaimed.
Xander’s head shot up as he regarded her with surprise.
“I would hope that living people in danger would be higher on the list than attending my funeral,” Dawn emphatically said. “I don’t care what the danger is or where it comes from. The living get priority. They should get priority.”
“Oh,” Xander said in a small voice.
“Listen, 99% of the time a dead person isn’t going to know that you never showed up for their funeral. They’re usually long gone before the coroner gets called. They don’t care,” Dawn said.
“You just happen to be in that 1%,” Xander dryly said.
Dawn hunched her shoulders. “I admit I was hurt you didn’t come. If I knew I would’ve understood. I just didn’t have any way of knowing. Not without asking—”
“Dawn.” George shook her head. She looked at Xander. “But I’ll finish the sentence for her anyway. She couldn’t ask anyone because it’s not allowed. If she tried, she wouldn’t have even been able to get the words out.”
“What she said,” Dawn said.
“Do you want to know what’s sad?” Xander said as he patted Dawn’s hand. “I was in a place where I thought you’d be mad at me for missing your funeral no matter what the reason was, and you were in place where you’d thought I’d skip your funeral without a good reason. What happened to us?”
Dawn desperately looked at George.
“She can’t answer that,” George said. She kept her eyes fixed on Dawn, “But that’s okay. I told him everything you told me before we came over here this morning.”
“Thanks,” Dawn said quietly.
“I want you to know that I’m sorry, too,” Xander said. “At one time, I wouldn’t have given up so easily on us. I would’ve been more understanding, or I would’ve tried to find a way to work around your schedule, or…God…I would’ve tried something. But I wouldn’t have given up.”
Dawn closed her eyes and looked like she wanted to cry. George knew that she probably wanted to say a million things, none of which she could ever say directly to Xander.
“I guess I just got tired of fighting for everything,” Xander said. “I was fighting to find Slayers, fighting for resources from the Council, fighting demons, fighting to train people to fight demons, fighting people in the market stalls for the best provisions for the school. You name it, I was fighting it. It seems like everything that happened in my life after we left California involved some kind of fight. It just never seemed to stop.” Xander took a deep breath. “Problem is when you’re fighting all the time like that, you lose perspective. You start battling it out in fights that ultimately aren’t all that important, and you give up on the fights that are worth having.”
“Yeah, I think I know what’s that like,” Dawn quietly said.
Xander slid his hands away from Dawn’s and sat up straight. “I’m sorry I let you slip out of my life. I’m sorry that I didn’t make more of an effort. I’m just sorry for all of it.” He slumped in his seat. “I just hope you realize that I never stopped caring about you.”
Dawn shook as she wiped the tears from her face. “Thank you.”
“It needed to be said,” Xander uncomfortably replied.
Dawn sniffed deeply and cleared her throat. “Are you staying?”
George tensed as Xander shook his head.
“Emergency recall back to London,” Xander said. “The Council’s in a panic because of Buffy. Giles is rounding up the usual suspects to make like the Superfriends and ride to the reassuring rescue. Willow’s already there, recovering. She got hit with a mystical backlash Sunday night.”
Dawn looked panicked as she opened her mouth.
“She’ll be fine,” Xander quickly interrupted. “We immediately sent her back via emergency teleport when it happened. She’s got a migraine that refuses to leave, but she’ll be back on her feet in a week or two.”
George’s head snapped up. “You can teleport?”
Dawn and Xander looked at her like she was nuts.
“Me, personally? No,” Xander finally said. “Some witches can do it, but you have to be pretty powerful to pull it off.”
George smiled hopefully at Dawn.
“Not a witch,” Dawn said. “Hate teleporting anyway. It makes me barf.”
“Damn,” George said as she slumped in her seat.
Dawn took a deep breath and asked, “Where are they going to bury Buffy?”
“Council cemetery in London.” Xander frowned. “I was going to say, ‘Next to you.’ Except you’re not really there.”
“Buffy’s not there, either,” Dawn said.
“Good point,” Xander said softly.
“So I guess you’re pretty much leaving right away.” Dawn sounded disappointed.
“By tonight, I’ll be on a plane back to London,” Xander said. “And I’m taking Marguerite with me.”
“Marguerite?” Dawn asked as she sat up. “You’re not her Watcher, are you?”
“No. God, no,” The way Xander said it made it clear he was very happy that wasn’t the case.
Dawn actually giggled as she leaned back. “I couldn’t imagine that. You two—”
“Dawn,” George warned.
“Right.” Dawn grinned. “I don’t have to say anything. The memories are so memorable.”
“Dawn, please,” George sighed.
“Marguerite didn’t take your death at all well,” Xander uncomfortably shifted. “She slid back into some old bad habits.”
“Damn,” Dawn sighed. “I was hoping her show at my funeral was a one-off.”
“She’s an alcoholic, Dawn,” Xander said. “I know from alcoholics. It would’ve been a one-off if someone intervened right away, instead of letting it slide due to extenuating circumstances.”
Dawn put her head in her hands. “Don’t tell me. They let her slide.”
“Until I put my foot down,” Xander said. “You remember how much we mixed like oil and water back in the good ol’ days? Now it’s more like oil and flamethrower.”
“Oh, Xander. I’m sorry you got caught up in that mess,” Dawn said.
“Not your fault. Me and Marguerite were never compatible personality-wise,” Xander said with a shrug. “She thought I was an idiot, I kept getting the dry drunk vibe from her. Between me not showing up for your funeral, and me pulling her off the active roster, her opinion of me has most definitely not improved.”
“Yet she’s going to London with you?” Dawn asked doubtfully.
“More like I’m making sure she actually gets to London sober,” Xander said. “She finally owned up that she needed help, and it’s not like she can walk into any old AA meeting. London’s got the counselors, the support groups, and the medical personnel that can actually help her get better.”
“Thank you for looking out for her,” Dawn said.
“Least I could do,” Xander said softly.
George checked her watch. “I hate to interrupt, but time’s running out.” She looked up at Xander and Dawn. “Did you say everything you needed to say?”
“Needed, not wanted,” Xander said.
“Same here,” Dawn said. “Not that I could say too much, anyway.”
“It’s more than what most people get,” George said not unkindly.
“I know,” Dawn agreed.
Xander’s jaw clenched and his eye closed. He merely nodded.
“We best get going,” George said.
“Wait. Before you go,” Dawn said. “Can I give Xander a hug?”
Xander got out of the booth and held his arms open. Dawn was out of her seat like a shot. They hugged for a long time as they murmured apologies to one another and wished each other well.
George let them linger like that as long as she dared. Thankfully they let each other go before she said something. Xander looked like he wanted to cry. Dawn actually was crying.
“Take care of yourself, okay?” Xander said.
“You, too,” Dawn said in a broken voice.
Xander bent down, kissed Dawn on her forehead, and quickly left. Probably because he didn’t want Dawn to see him break down.
George slid out of the booth. “I’m going to escort Xander out of the danger zone.” She placed a hand on Dawn’s shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“No.” Dawn shook her head as she wiped way her tears. “But I will be.”
“Good for you,” George quietly encouraged her before she followed Xander out the door.
Mason and Daisy were waiting outside and speculatively studying Xander. Xander was returning the favor.
“Break it up, people,” George ordered. “Mason, Daisy. Dawn could use some friends right now.”
Mason immediately grabbed George up in a hug. “You’re a good girl, Georgie.”
“Mason!” George exclaimed as she squirmed out of his embrace.
“That was quite a risk you took, Georgia,” Daisy said with amusement.
“Don’t congratulate me yet,” George said. “Wait until I find out if I got away with it.”
“Haven’t been hit by lightening yet.” Mason squinted at the sky. “Must be safe.”
“Go. Shoo,” George waved them into the restaurant.
Mason laughed and Daisy giggled as they went back inside.
“They like you,” Xander remarked.
George gave him a long-suffering look. “Stick around and watch how that changes when I tell them to do something.”
“Slackers.” He shrugged. “As a reformed one, I can tell you that there’s nothing wrong with them that some strategically placed explosives can’t cure.”
“You mean shove some TNT up their asses?” George brightly asked.
“Pretty much, yeah.”
George laughed as she held out her hand. “It’s time to go.”
Xander took it, and let her lead him away.
“Thank you,” George said.
“I think that’s my line,” Xander answered.
“I mean thank you for not telling Dawn that you’re leaving because of our deal,” George said.
“Actually, I was telling the truth,” Xander said.
George stopped short. “Hunh?”
Xander regarded her with amusement. “Shortly before I left my apartment to meet you here, I got a call from Giles. The executive committee in London is in a panic over the fact that the Summers sisters died within months of each other. The paranoid half is convinced there’s some kind of conspiracy and that Dawn and Buffy are opening shots made by some unknown enemy who’s declared open season on the Council’s best and brightest. The worrywart half is convinced that Dawn and Buffy dying is going to have a bad impact on morale the world over. Either way, Giles wants me in London for the foreseeable future. I think if he could build a time machine and get me on a plane yesterday, he’d do it.”
“Sounds like another big fight,” George remarked.
“Just what I need,” Xander said with a sigh as he took George’s hand again.
“Could be worse. You could be trying to explain to everyone in Seattle why you were suddenly leaving town now that your demon is dead,” George said as she again began leading him further away from the Pancake Stack. “After all their suspicions about you? That would’ve been like proving they were right.”
“Hate to tell you this, but they’re already muttering about how they were right all along and how I lied to their faces,” Xander said with a resigned air. “I’ve come to accept that this isn’t a fight I’ll ever win, no matter how hard reality stares them in the face.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“It’s not your fault. Besides, I agreed to the price even before Giles called and gave me a legitimate reason to leave. I already knew that I’d have to deal with some kind of accusation that I was planted in the Seattle center for nefarious purposes.” Xander gave her hand a friendly shake before sincerely adding, “George, thank you for this. I have no idea how many lines you crossed to make this happen, but thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” George suddenly stopped.
“What is it?” Xander asked.
George reached into her pocket. “I shouldn’t be showing you this.”
“Showing me what?”
She pulled out a post-it and handed it to him.
Xander read it aloud. “A. Harris, the Georgia Lass Memorial, 9:57 p.m.” He looked up at her with alarm. “This can’t be right. I’m going to be at Sea-Tac by then.”
“It’s not for tonight,” George said. “It was for Sunday night.”
“Sunday?” Xander said with shock.
“You missed your appointment,” George said. “That means you get to live. It’s very rare. I only know about one case that happened back in 1971, and that’s only second-hand information. But it does happen.”
“So why show me this?” Xander asked.
“I’m curious,” George said. “I want to know what happened to make you miss your appointment, that’s all.”
Xander shook his head as his eye was drawn back to the post-it. “It was a rendezvous point for clean-up.”
“Clean-up?” George asked.
“Yeah. The mage had minions,” Xander said. “The plan was to take out the mage. Once we did that, Willow and Buffy would be able to kill the N’goth, and I’d meet up with a team of Slayers in the city proper and sweep the streets for any minions that might want to put up a fight.”
“And something went wrong,” George deadpanned.
“Yeah. We thought Willow took out the mage, but he was playing possum. The second her guard was down he did the magical equivalent of stabbing her in the back,” Xander said. “He knew the minute he did that, his life could be counted in seconds. I guess he figured he’d take her out with him.”
“But you told Dawn that she was okay,” George said.
“Now,” Xander answered. “It was touch and go there for a day or so. That’s why the emergency teleport.”
“Okay, your friend getting injured aside, mission still accomplished,” George said. “So what changed?”
“Willow was our big gun,” Xander said. “When we lost her, we had to come up with a new plan on the fly. We decided to lure the N’goth to the port and use the cargo containers and construction equipment to physically trap it so the Slayers could gang up and kill it. I was the only one who knew how to operate construction equipment, so…”
“You had to go there instead,” George finished for him.
Xander suddenly looked stricken. “Did Buffy…” He swallowed. “Did Buffy die in my place?”
George shook her head. “You both had a post-it. What happened to her has nothing to do with what didn’t happen to you.”
Xander bit his lip as he looked at her.
“It’s the truth,” George assured him.
“Okay,” Xander meekly agreed. He held the post-it out to her.
“Keep it.” George waved it away. “Frame it or something.”
“Or hide it in a deep, dark place,” Xander said as he stuffed it in his pocket. “Like the bottom of a well.”
“Well, this is where I’ve got to leave you,” George said. “Remember our deal. Once you’re out of the city, that’s it for contact with Dawn. We’ve pushed our luck as it is. Push it more, you, me and Dawn could wind up so deep in a hole we’ll never get out. Also, you can’t tell anyone about anything. You can’t tell them about Dawn, and you can’t tell them about reapers.”
“I’ll stay away and I won’t tell anyone,” Xander fervently said. “The Council would go ape if they found out about reapers. They’re in a full-blown panic now over Buffy and Dawn. Can you imagine what they’d do if they found out they could reach out and touch death’s own employees just by finding out where they lived? The result would be positively biblical.”
George relaxed. “Glad you understand the problem.”
“Yeah, well, when I was younger and much dumber I helped in a resurrection spell,” Xander said. “None of us ever really got over the backlash, Buffy especially.”
“Dawn hinted something about that,” George said. “I called her on it, but she said, ‘Find yourself a powerful enough witch and black enough magic, and you’d be shocked what you can do.’”
“Yup. That sounds like something Dawn would say,” Xander said. “Trust me when I tell you, I’ve got no interest in getting anywhere near that line again. I don’t even want to hint to anyone else that it’s possible to get near that line. And God knows I don’t want to accidentally leave a breadcrumb trail to it, which would happen if I tried to keep in touch with Dawn. Believe me, I know it’s safer for all of us all around if I just stay away.”
“That backlash must’ve been something,” George said.
“Let me put it to you this way,” Xander said. “If I knew what you were the first night we met, I wouldn’t have just run screaming from the bar as fast as my drunk legs could carry me. I would’ve run all the way to Africa without the benefit of hopping on a plane or a boat. My legs would’ve been moving so fast, I would’ve been hydroplaning across entire oceans.”
George was impressed. It appeared that breaking the rules could bite the living as hard as the dead.
“Look, before I go,” Xander patted down his pockets. “I’ve got something for you.”
“That’s…really not necessary,” George said. “Actually, it might be a bad idea.”
“Actually, it’s a really good idea.” Xander withdrew a business card and handed it to her. “We hand out these cards to any Slayers we find.”
“I’m not a Slayer,” George said as she stared at the card.
“I know. But these cards have a memory charm on them,” Xander said. “Just look at the card for a minute, and then if you ever find yourself in trouble that I can help you with, you’ll instantly recall the number.”
George suspiciously looked at him. “What kind of trouble?”
“There’s more us around then there used to be,” Xander said. “A lot more Slayers, a lot more Watchers, a lot more magic users, and just a lot more people who know about the wacky and weird. Sooner or later, someone is going to find out about grim reapers whether I say anything or not.”
George doubtfully looked down at the card.
“George, I got the drop on you just by tracking your license plate number,” Xander said.
George peered up at him. “I kicked your ass.”
“Yes, you did,” Xander easily agreed. “But I also had no idea what I was dealing with, either. That might not be true of the next person who goes after you or some other reaper. They’ll know exactly what they’re chasing and they’ll prepare for that. They may not be able to kill a reaper, but they might be able to catch one. And from there, God knows what happens.”
And there it was. The real reason why Xander missed his appointment, and the real reason why I got away with everything that I did.
Maybe that was why I had Dawn in my crew. Maybe that was why Xander and I kept crossing paths at seemingly random intervals. Maybe that was why Dawn landed a job in a book store whose owner also happened to be a reaper in the supernatural division.
Not every death has a reason, but Death never does anything without one. I should’ve realized that there was pattern before this ‘Ah-hah!’ moment.
Chances were that Xander’s worst-case scenario was never going to happen, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have an ace-in-the-hole just in case.
George looked down at the card. “How long will this memory thing of yours work?”
“Six years and still counting,” Xander said.
George looked questioningly at him.
He shrugged. “We’ve only been passing them out for that long. I have no idea what the expiration date is, or even if there is one.”
“And the phone number?” George asked.
“Will never be disconnected. That I can tell you for sure,” Xander said.
“So, if I get into trouble with your Council, or someone I know does, I call you,” George said.
“Yes,” Xander promised. “Assuming I’m still alive, I’ll do everything I can to help.”
I suspected that that Xander was going to live a very, very long time. By the time he came across another reaper holding a post-it with his name on it, he was going to be very old and very grey.
I’m not saying that I can see the future, because I can’t. It was more like a gut feeling. A reaper feeling.
George stuck the card in her pocket. “I’ll hold on to it, and make sure I give it a look every once in awhile.”
George looked up at him. “You really better go.”
Xander nodded as he began to turn. Suddenly he stopped, turned back, and lunged toward her.
“What the fu—” George began. “Mmmph!”
She had to admit. It was a hell of a kiss.
When Xander finally broke away, he was almost out of breath. “You hold your breath for a long time.”
“Reaper,” she grinned up at him.
“George, thank you for everything,” Xander said as he brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “I can’t even begin to tell you how much you’ve helped me. And not just with Dawn, even though Dawn was the most important thing on the list of things I needed help with.”
George raised an eyebrow. “That urban legend is still bullshit, Xander.”
Xander stepped back with a grin. “Oh, I don’t know about that.”
Xander burst out laughing as he turned and finally left.
As I watched Xander disappear into the workday pedestrian crowd, I realized that it was possible to say good-bye and not feel bad about it.
What we had was…
Okay it was weird. But it definitely wasn’t boring.
While I was kind of sorry it was over, I was still glad I had it, whatever it was. But I wasn’t angry and I wasn’t upset. It was just one of those things that I knew I could look back on with a smile on my face.
There’s something to be said for that.
Once George was sure that Xander was gone, she turned went back to the Pancake Stack.
By the time she arrived, Mason and Daisy were engaged in one of their regular arguments about whose turn it was to clean the bathroom.
They kept trying to get Dawn involved, like they used to do with me. Their goal was to get her so frustrated that she’d agree to do it just to get them to stop arguing, also like they used to do me.
“I’ve got an idea,” Dawn said. “How about I borrow my boss’s computer and we’ll put together a spreadsheet that spells out the cleaning schedule for the whole house?”
Daisy and Mason stared at her with horror.
As it turns out, Dawn’s a lot smarter than me.
“Okay, break it up,” George said as she marched over to the booth. “Argue about the roommate rights, privileges, and obligations on your own time.”
Dawn looked up at her. Her face was shinning and she seemed more centered than George had ever seen her. As George slid into the booth, Dawn mouthed, ‘Thank you.’
“So,” Mason clapped his hands, “anything good on tap for today?”
George flipped open her Day Planner. “You get a five-star motel,” she said as she slapped a post-it in front of Mason.
“Not fair,” Daisy pouted.
“And you get the Admiral Theater,” George said as she slapped a post-it in front of Daisy.
“Well, they are showing a retrospective of movies from the ’30s,” Daisy lightly said as she picked the post-it up. “It’ll be nice to see the stars who were big before the screens got so small.”
“Thank you Norma Desmond,” Dawn said.
“And you,” George slapped two post-its in front of Dawn, “get a street corner.”
“How come I have two?” Dawn protested.
“Could be because you have a boss who’s an actual reaper, and therefore is understanding of your predicament?” Mason asked.
“You’re not even employed,” Dawn said.
“And I work very hard at it too,” Mason said.
“Dawn, look at the post-its,” George sighed. “They’re happening on the same street corner at the exact same time.”
Dawn peered down at them. “Oh. Yeah.”
“Get run over by a car, you think?” Mason said.
“I like ‘fighting over a woman’ myself,” Daisy said as she primped her hair.
“Guys,” Dawn sighed.
“Just let them have their fun, Dawn,” George said.
“Oh, I know.” Mason held up his hands as if he were framing a picture. “One guy falls off a building and lands on the other guy.”
“Why not go for synchronous heart attacks?” Dawn asked.
“We don’t reap heart attacks,” Daisy said. “That’s natural causes.”
“Fine. They both ate at the same restaurant and have food poisoning,” Dawn said.
“Who has food poisoning?” Kiffany asked as she appeared at their table with the coffee pot.
“No one,” George said. “Can I have a coffee? Oh, and oatmeal with raisons, please.”
“Make mine a blueberry muffin,” Dawn said.
“I’ll go for the breakfast fruit salad,” Daisy said.
“Eggs with the works,” Mason said.
As soon as Kiffany moved away, Mason and Daisy began bickering about something else, with Dawn occasionally chiming in with a sharp comment of her own.
George just put her elbow on the table, rested her chin in the palm of her hand, and smiled.
She knew that today Mason would do something completely boneheaded at the motel, and then turn it into a funny story. Daisy would go to the Admiral Theater, get lost in those old movies, and then reminisce about her days in the sun after she got home and gang-pressed Mason or Dawn into becoming her audience.
And Dawn at some point today would track her down and bug her to spill everything that happened between her and Xander. She wouldn’t give up until she got all the answers, or at least thought she got all the answers.
George was already mentally editing the story she’d tell.
This is how it goes.
One day you’re floating through the days thinking that you’ve got a system, and that you’ve got a routine that’ll never change. You wrap yourself up in it like it’s a comfy blanket, because you trust that the people you know will always be there and the things you’ve got will never be broken.
Then there’s an explosion. Everything that you’ve got, and everything that you’ve built, turns into rubble or disappears in a cloud of dust. Worse, you lose some people, and the people you gain don’t make up for the loss.
For awhile, everything is crazy. Everyone who’s been affected by the blast is running around trying to figure out what they still have, and what’s gone forever.
Eventually the running stops and everyone starts paying attention to what’s right in front of them.
Then they start to rebuild.
If you’re really lucky, you walk away with something. Maybe it’s the realization that you’re not alone in the world. Maybe it’s a new roommate. Maybe it’s closure with someone that you never thought you’d get. Maybe it’s a second chance.
Or maybe it’s a promise that’s as solid and as real as a business card in your pocket.
But the important part is this:
When it’s over, when the last echoes of the explosion fade away and you’re done cleaning up the mess, you’re left with something new. Life will never be what it was, but there’s nothing wrong with what it is.
One thing you can count on, though. When you start to get too comfortable, another explosion will happen and everything will change again.
But you’ll survive, and you’ll rebuild, and then you’ll get something completely different.
It’s not a bad thing to know, even when you’re dead like me.
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