|Story Title:||Can't Buy Me Love|
2000 Light Years From Home
Bess thinks she’s going ‘home’, is she really just getting more lost?
July - September 2010
MacKenzie Verity Weckerly born October 9th, 2010
Edmond “Eddie” Giles Rosenberg-Maclay born March 11, 2010
Joshua "JJ" Harris was born on April 21st, 2004
The twins (Danielle Dawn, "Dani" and William Rupert, "Billy") were born on February 12th, 2004.
Annie was born on February 14th, 1999
Spike and Buffy were married in February 1999
Buffy was born January 19th, 1981
William/Spike was turned by Dru in
All the Potentials were endowed with full Slayer power in February 2003.
Buffy and Spike learned of the other dimensions and got the memories from the 'Rome' Universe in May, 2003.
The ‘Wish-World’ lasted from January 19th, 2005 to January, 16th 2010.
Rumors that the Harley mechanic, Sammy, is based on my step-son should not be taken seriously and will be denied vehemently ... despite the uncanny resemblance, right down to the earrings and chaw of ta-bak-ee ... bless his heart.
If you aren't familiar with the very southern expression, 'bless your heart' (or 'his heart' or 'her heart') and its real meaning and usage ... check this out:
2000 Light Years From Home, The Rolling Stones http://youtu.be/drwM5jQvrpU
ScreenCaps courtesy of ScreenCap Paradise: http://www.screencap-paradise.com/?cat=3
Thanks to 'epd4' for betaing this chapter - any mistakes are mine because I can't stop fiddling ...
|Rating / Warnings:||
NC17. Content is only suitable for mature adults. Contains explicit language, sex, adult themes, and other adult situations that some people may find objectionable. If you are under the age of 17 or find any of these themes objectionable – GO AWAY.
(5 months ago), Friday, July 2nd, 2010, 9:45pm:
Bess could hear Buffy screaming at her as she roared out of the driveway on Spike's Harley, “Bess! Damn it! Come back!” … but she couldn’t turn back now – she’d made her choice and it was to run. Despite the tears that stung her eyes, Bess handled the large bike easily, she’d gotten several lessons from Troy over the last few weeks and was more than competent on a motorbike. She steered the powerful machine towards the ‘Lover’s Lane’ up in the hills above Sunnydale – she needed time to think and Troy had shown her a well hidden path that went up into the wooded area above the lane, she could get her thoughts under control and figure out what to do now.
The argument with Buffy replayed over and over in her mind as she rode and she couldn’t stop the tears that streamed from her eyes – Buffy just didn’t understand. Bess had tried, she’d tried and tried and tried to be ‘normal’ to be what Buffy and Spike wanted, but it was no use. She wasn’t ‘normal’ and the only two things in the world she was qualified for and good at were slaying and screwing; slaying didn’t pay anything … not even enough to cover her blood and chocolate, according to what Buffy had said on the phone conversation that Bess had overheard – that left screwing. She longed desperately to fit in, to be what everyone wanted her to be, but it was no use … she couldn’t fit in and Buffy and Spike were going to send her away … again, she was sure of it.
Bess rode the Harley up the steep, narrow path that lead to a rocky cliff above Lover’s Lane and cut the motor. She dropped the kickstand, got off the machine and walked over to the edge of the cliff, climbed up on a large boulder and sat down so she could look over the sparkling lights of the city below and keep an eye on the trail, just in case someone found it and followed her up. She couldn’t get the argument out of her mind, Buffy’s disappointment in her had been evident, her anger crystal clear.
“This isn’t about money!” Buffy had informed her adamantly. “This is about … self-respect! We didn’t risk our lives to get you out of that dungeon just so you can turn right around and sell yourself! We did it because we love you and want you to have a good life.”
Bess snorted a sad, sarcastic laugh ... she thought that love would be enough, but love didn’t buy blood and chocolate, did it? What difference did it make to Buffy and Spike, anyway? She wasn’t doing anything she hadn’t done thousands of times before … only now she was getting money for it instead of a whole lot of nothing. All they wanted to do was control her with their rules … do this, don’t do that … they were suffocating her – it was like being back in the dungeon – there was a rule for everything. She was so tired of rules, but this time she could do something about it. She wasn’t locked behind heavy bars, she wasn’t shackled any longer – this time she could escape the oppression – escape the torment of their rules. This time she could leave before they sent her away … this time things could be on her terms, not someone else’s.
Bess sat on the boulder and ran the last couple of months over and over in her mind … is that all it had been, a couple of months? It seemed longer … much, much longer. She thought about Billy … he was going to be upset when he found out that she’d gone and Bess felt a pain stab in her heart. He’d helped her … he was the only one that really seemed to understand her – without judgment, without rules and without asking for anything in return. Then she thought of Dani … Bess loved spending time with the fireball of a girl – riding bikes and roller-blades and skateboards … she felt an indescribable kinship with her, more than a friendship, more even than sisterhood. Then Annie forced herself into Bess’ mind … despite Bess being older in every way than Annie, Annie still felt like the older sister, just like Anne in her human life. It was a comfort to have her there … she often helped Bess with the younger kids and took the newcomer under her wing and worked hard to include her in everything they did.
Bess shook her head – it didn’t matter … she couldn’t go back now and try again; that bridge had been burned. The kids may miss her for a while, but they’d get over it quickly now that she was out of their lives. Bess was pulled from her thoughts when she saw Buffy’s minivan pull into the lane below. She scrambled back off the boulder and ducked down so she couldn’t be seen. The eastern sky was just starting to lighten with the dawn … had Bess been sitting here all night? Had Buffy been looking for her all night? Bess slipped to the side of the rock and peered down the hill and watched as the van crept slowly down the now deserted lane, stopping at the end and parking. Buffy got out and walked around; Bess could hear the Slayer calling her name and she turned her back to the boulder and sat down on the ground behind it, covering her ears and head with her arms and hands to block out the horrible sound of Buffy's voice.
Bess felt trapped … that meaning that everyone talked about cinched a tight noose around her heart and began to strangle her. It was frightening … it was terrifying – they’d drawn her in with their promises, but she couldn’t live up to their standards and now they were going to take everything back and toss her out. Why did Buffy come looking for her? Just so she could tell her to not come back? Why couldn’t everyone just leave her alone? Bess suddenly realized that alone was safer … she’d told Spike she didn’t know how to be ‘not alone’ and he promised to show her how to be part of their family … but now she realized that alone was the best way to be. Alone kept that pain of letting other people down away, alone meant you didn’t have to explain yourself to anyone, alone meant you didn’t have to follow any rules but your own, alone meant that meaning that everyone wanted her to experience didn’t exist, alone meant no one could send her away again.
Through her covered ears, Bess heard the minivan start back up and she slowly stood up, looked over the boulder and watched Buffy pull away. Bess started to cry again and her tears turned to sobs as she watched the woman who claimed to be her mother drive away … Why did it hurt so much to watch her go? Maybe because that small glimmer of hope that Buffy hadn’t come to tell her to stay away from her family died a painful death in her heart. She didn’t even want to think about that possibility …
Bess took a deep, shuddering breath and tried to calm down … she was alone. That’s what she wanted, and now she had her wish. Now that she could do anything, go anywhere, be anyone … what is it that she wanted to do? All she’d ever wanted over the last century was to go home … she didn’t want to be a Slayer, she didn’t want to be a vampire, she wanted to be fourteen and living in Philadelphia with the two people that she considered her mother and father – Wanda and John. Yes, she knew they were dead, but somehow it just seemed like the only thing to do was to go back there … back to the last place that she’d felt like she really belonged. Maybe she could find answers there; figure out what was wrong with her, why she kept letting everyone down and getting sent away. Maybe then she could figure out how to be ‘not alone’.
Bess got up from her hiding place and went back over to the Harley and cranked it up, her decision made: she’d follow the sun to the east until she found what she was looking for … she hoped she’d know it when she saw it.
(late that night, into the next day) Sunday, July 4th, 2010, 12:00am:
Bess found the interstate and rode the Harley full out, going as fast as she could, weaving through traffic like she was a twenty-something guy who still thought he was indestructible; like an organ donor riding a kamikaze mission on a rice-rocket. She had to make a quick exit off I-40 in Flagstaff, Arizona when she saw the blue lights of the state police flashing behind her. Per Spike’s advice, she pulled into a crowded, yet grungy looking, bar (‘cos none of the stores were open at this hour) just off the interstate. She drove the bike around back and parked it quickly, then jumped off and ran inside. She watched out the window as the police car kept going down the main road; she’d been far enough ahead of it that they didn’t even see her pull into the parking lot.
After that scare, she slowed down a bit and stopped weaving through traffic like a bat out of hell. There was no hurry really … she was going to live forever, what would one or two more days mean?
Just outside of Albuquerque, she ran into rain … it got so hard that even she was having a hard time seeing and controlling the bike in the strong winds and wet road, so she pulled into an old, abandoned gas station. She pulled around back, parked the bike, and kicked the back door in, then rolled the Harley inside the small, dry space with her. She’d been up for over twenty-four hours straight; she needed some sleep, anyway.
“Bess? Are you ok?” Billy questioned, shaking her shoulder as she slept on the cold, hard floor of the old filling station.
Bess sat up sleepily, rubbing her eyes. “Billy …”
“Bess, are you ok?” he asked again. “How come you left?” Billy questioned, sitting down on the floor near her.
“I’m fine. I left because I wanted to … you need to just leave me alone now,” Bess informed him tersely, standing up.
“But … I don’t understand. I thought you liked us …” Billy questioned, standing up as well.
“Well, I don’t – so you need to get out of my head and just leave me alone!” Bess insisted.
“Did I do something wrong?” Billy wondered, his brow furrowed in confusion and worry.
Bess rolled her eyes. “Everyone in your family thinks everything is about them … well, it’s not. I just got tired of being held back, so I left. Now, I’m not gonna tell you again – get out of my head,” Bess repeated, pointing a finger at the door of the building.
“But …” Billy began to object.
“Get out! Get out, get out, get out!” Bess screamed at him, pushing him towards the open back door of the gas station. She shoved him out into the rain and slammed the door behind him. “And stay out!”
Bess jerked awake, half expecting to find Billy there with her, but she was alone. Her chest tightened in anguish and tears stung her eyes … she hated being mean to him, he’d only ever been nice to her and helped her … he was, in a word, her savior – but he needed to leave her alone now – forget about her. It would be best if everyone back there just forgot about her.
Bess stood up stiffly and peered through the dirty window at the front of the station – the rain had stopped. She didn’t know how long she’d slept, but she suddenly felt like she needed to be moving again; she needed to get as far away from Billy and the rest of them as she could, as fast as she could.
July 7th, Renaldo, Oklahoma:
Bess sat on the steps in front of the repair shop where she’d pushed the Harley when it stopped running. The mechanic told her they didn’t typically work on motorcycles, but after a few shy smiles and woeful looks, he made an exception in her case.
“You threw a rod … engine’s shot. Didn’t your daddy tell you to watch the oil pressure? It’s dry as a bone after a week in the desert,” the young man told her, wiping his hands on a blue shop rag as he walked out to where she was sitting.
“Can you fix it?” Bess asked, standing up.
“I can’t … there’s a guy I know, Sammy … he works on Harleys – I can get it towed to his place and he can take a look, but I’m gonna say it’ll need a whole new engine – you’re looking at anywhere from five grand up…”
“Five THOUSAND dollars!?” Bess exclaimed, her eyes as wide as saucers. “I don’t have that kind of money! Are you certain?”
The mechanic shrugged. “Maybe less if he has a rebuilt engine he can replace it with, or he might be able to rebuild that one if the block isn’t damaged … It’ll be fifty bucks for the tow – he can tell you for sure.”
Bess sighed heavily and nodded her ok to have the bike towed to Sammy’s, although she had no idea how she’d pay to have it fixed, especially if it cost that much. She had a little over four hundred dollars on her … that was it. She had hoped that would be enough to pay for the gas to get her to Philadelphia … now it looked like she was going to need to do something to make more money.
The Harley mechanic was a six foot tall, redheaded, good-ole-boy in his early to mid-twenties with a beer belly and tattoos covering most of the skin of his forearms, which, thankfully, was all the skin Bess could see. He wore broke-down cowboy boots, oil-stained blue jeans, a t-shirt that claimed he did 'not need anger management, he needed people to stop pissing him off', a dirty ball cap which sported the 'Stars and Bars', and gold hoop earrings in both ears – which seemed completely incongruous with the rest of his appearance. Between spits of brown tobacco juice, Sammy spoke with a thick southern drawl, telling Bess that he could probably get a rebuilt engine for the bike for $3,000. After some negotiation, including some tears and her best ‘damsel-in-distress’ look, Bess got him down to $2,500. She’d been prepared to go further than woeful looks, but doubted she could get the price down any further, regardless of what more she did, and he didn’t make any moves on her, so she let it go at that.
She gave Sammy all the cash she had as a deposit and left the bike with him as she went to work on earning the rest of the money. She’d been working the streets of the small town about a week and had made almost one thousand dollars, most of which she’d given to the mechanic for the repairs on the Harley. It definitely wasn’t as lucrative here as it had been in Sunnydale … these men were cheap and a lot of them were just plain smelly and gross. She didn’t care how much they paid her or how much she needed the money, she wasn’t sleeping with men that smelled like they hadn’t bathed in a month or had bad breath and brown teeth … or no teeth.
(a week later) July 15th, Renaldo, Oklahoma:
Bess leaned in through the car window and smiled at the man in the driver’s seat, just like she’d done many times before. He was attractive enough and had no discernible odor except some sort of spicy cologne. “Looking for a date?” she asked congenially.
“How old are you?” the man wondered, looking her over carefully.
“Old enough…” Bess assured him.
The man furrowed his brow but shrugged. “How much?”
“What kind of date do you want?” she questioned.
“Everything,” the man told her.
“A hundred for everything…” Bess replied.
“A hundred?! Where do you think you are, New York City?” the man objected. “I can get everything for $25 any day of the week!”
Bess shrugged. “Not from me you can’t…” she advised him, licking her lips and smiling seductively.
The man sighed … “Fine – get in, but you better be damn good.”
“I am,” Bess assured him as she got into the car. “I have a room at the Berkley Arms – just turn right here,” she directed him.
The man followed her into the hotel room and shut the door, then pulled out some money from his pocket and began counting it out on the bed. “A hundred right? And I get sucked and fucked,” he clarified.
“You got it…” Bess agreed as she reached for the money.
As soon as the money was in her hand, the door to the room crashed open, splintering the jamb, and several police officers in Kevlar vests burst in on them, screamed at her to get down, that she was under arrest. The man that she’d been dealing with grabbed her wrist and spun her around, pushed her down face first onto the bed, and put a knee in her back. Bess was so surprised that she didn’t react for a moment … but when he started handcuffing her, she felt panic rise in her like a tidal wave. Her mind flashed back to the dungeon, to the shackles and the cruelty, to being under someone else's control, and she began to fight back.
The moment she started to pull away from the policeman, Bess felt a warm blanket of calm come over her, like a peaceful shroud. It covered her limbs with an invisible, sticky, thick taffy, making them feel heavy and weak, but inexplicably safe at the same time, like a protective cocoon engulfing her. Bess first thought they had drugged her, but then she heard her mother’s voice, Wanda’s voice, admonishing her calmly. Be still, child; don’t fight. You’re a fine, sweet girl … you don’t want to hurt anyone.
Bess lifted her head and turned it from side to side, looking for the source of the voice, but she saw no one there but police officers. She closed her eyes and tried to hear the voice again … had she just imagined it? “Mom?” she called softly. “Mommy?”
“Your mom can’t help you now,” the man that she’d made the deal with assured her as he pulled her up to her feet. “You’re under arrest for prostitution within a thousand feet of a school, a class four felony,” he continued before beginning to spout off her Miranda rights and pulling her towards the door of the room. But Bess didn’t hear him … she was still trying to find the source of that voice, she was sure it had been her mother, but she couldn’t hear it any longer or find where it had come from. Her limbs still felt heavy as they dragged her along to the paddy wagon and put her in with the other prostitutes that they’d collared this night – four in total.
Maybe they had drugged her after all … maybe she’d just imagined her mother’s voice, something induced by the drugs. After fingerprinting, taking her mug shot, and processing her into the small town jail, they put Bess in a cell to await a bail hearing. Once alone in the small cell, Bess felt the heavy blanket of calmness lift off her, as if the drugs had finally worn off, and that feeling of panic returned.
Bess banged against the heavy door with her fists, feet, and shoulders for a long time, but it wasn’t giving – and there were no windows or any other way in or out of the cell. Finally, she dropped down onto the cold floor, her back against the hard block wall; she could almost feel something inside her physically snap and she began to cry. She was right back where she started – caged like an animal. The last two months in Sunnydale seemed like a fantasy … a dream. It was as if she’d fallen asleep in one hell only to wake up in a new one. Had she really been out of her cage at all? Had the time outside the dungeon been some kind of false memory her captors had implanted in her mind, a new type of psychological torture they’d inflicted on her to further whittle her down, to make her fit into their mold even better? Was Billy even real? Did Buffy and Spike exist? She felt like she was losing her mind … they had finally done it – they have finally taken the last thing she had left, her sanity.
The next days were a blur for Bess, she wasn’t sure what was real any longer – she just went through the motions in a state of depression and disassociated resignation. She’d never get out of this place … and why should she? Even the imaginary family her captors had woven into her memories hated her and were going to send her away … she couldn’t even fit in with figments of her own imagination. This was where she belonged, locked up for all eternity.
“Elizabeth … are you sure there’s no one I can call to post your bail?” her attorney asked for the tenth time in as many days as they awaited trail.
Bess shook her head. “No … I’m alone,” she murmured, her eyes unfocused, unseeing, speaking more to herself than the woman sitting across from her.
“Your parents, perhaps? You know … no matter what you’ve done, I’m sure…” the attorney prodded.
“They’re dead,” Bess interrupted her.
“If you were on drugs or abused, we can use that to try and mitigate the charges … perhaps get you into rehab,” the attorney suggested, but Bess again just shook her head.
“Ok, then … I can probably cut a deal, since it’s your first offense, if you’ll plead guilty, I can probably get a suspended sentence and a fine…” the attorney tried.
“I don’t have any money to pay a fine…” Bess pointed out.
“Elizabeth, I can’t help you if you won’t work with me,” the woman advised her.
Bess looked up at the woman … she’d been here several times, always asking questions and trying to ‘help’ … Bess couldn’t figure out what this was, but she was sure it was another form of torture, like Billy, and later Spike and Buffy, they’d sent someone offering help which, in the end, would evaporate at the last moment like wisps of smoke, leaving her even more depressed and broken than before and still caged like the monster she was.
“Then why don’t you go away and leave me alone?” the girl questioned, her voice even … despondent, as she stood up and moved to the door of the interview room, waiting for the guard to come and take her back to her cell.
(two months later) Monday, September 13th, 2010, 10:00am, Renaldo, Oklahoma:
As Bess adjusted to the rules of her new jail, she’d ‘escape’ every night in her dreams. She often dreamt of Sunnydale and the imaginary family she had there. She’d seen Billy cowering in the corner of her dreams more than once, but never approached him or spoke to him – it would just make things worse to perpetuate the fantasy that he was real. She also dreamt of Philadelphia and the family she grew up with from the age of five to thirteen – a family long dead. She dreamt of memories she thought were long forgotten, of happy times and a loving home, of Wanda and John, of William and Anne. What she didn’t dream about was the future; there was no future for her, that was the one thing she was certain of.
Every day she waited for the guards to take her to the white room … but they never did. There weren’t many prisoners in the small town jail and each one had their own cell – for the most part she was alone, and that suited her well enough. Her biggest problem was they never gave her any blood and she was getting weaker and weaker living on only ‘people food’. She couldn’t actually recall the last time she’d had any blood ... it seemed very long ago. She didn’t know if that was part of the new regimen of punishment or if it was a new experiment, to see how long a vampire could survive without sustenance. She finally talked one of the guards into bringing her raw hamburger, instead of cooked, on the one day a week they served beef … it wasn’t much, but it was enough to keep her mind functioning – barely.
Today she stood in a courtroom in her orange jumpsuit, the woman that she’d told to ‘go away’ stood next to her. Despite Bess not cooperating with her and constantly telling her to leave her alone, the woman persisted. That, as far as Bess was concerned, was all the more reason to believe it was just another cruel hoax meant to break her spirit and make sure hope never surfaced again.
The man behind the large desk at the front of the room was talking, but Bess was only half listening; she had a hard time concentrating recently and frankly, it was just more effort than it was worth. He was saying something about a motion to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor because although Bess’ room had been (just barely) within 1,000 feet of a school, the place where she had picked up the law enforcement officer and actually made the deal, was not.
“…., young lady?” the judge questioned.
Bess suddenly realized he was talking to her. “I’m sorry … what?”
“What is your plea to the charge of misdemeanor prostitution?” he asked again.
“Ummm…” Bess looked at the woman beside her, not sure what they wanted her to say – not really sure what he was even talking about.
“Say ‘guilty’,” the woman advised quietly.
Bess looked back at the judge. “Guilty,” she parroted her attorney, not having enough energy to even question it.
“The plea will be so entered. You are sentenced to a fine of $200 or one month in jail,” the judge announced.
“Miss Weckerly’s already been incarcerated for two months…” her attorney pointed out.
“Weatherford … my name’s Weatherford,” Bess corrected the woman quietly, but no one acknowledged her or even seemed to hear.
“Then she’s free to go,” the judge proclaimed, handing the file to his clerk. “Next case.”
(Later that afternoon) Monday, September 13th, 2010, 5:30pm, Renaldo, Oklahoma:
Bess felt like she was in a haze as the guards took her back to the jail and sat her in the processing area. She really just wanted to go back to her cell and lay down … she was so very tired. She still didn’t quite comprehend what was going on when they gave her her street clothes back and sent her into the bathroom to change. When she came out, they handed her her personal belongings and had her sign for them, handed her a one-way bus ticket for Oklahoma City and sent her on her way.
Bess stood on the sidewalk outside the jail and looked around in a daze … what just happened? She was almost afraid to step foot off the sidewalk into the street lest someone tackle her and drag her back inside. She looked up and down the street, then back at the jail … what was she supposed to do now? What did they want from her? Was this another test? Another experiment?
“Elizabeth?” Bess heard from a car that stopped in front of her. “Do you need a ride, dear?”
Bess bent down and looked inside the car … it was her attorney. She looked warily back at the jail … no one seemed to be coming out after her. Bess bit her bottom lip and nodded and the attorney signaled for her to get into the car.
“Where do you want me to drop you?” the woman asked when Bess had gotten in.
“I … I don’t know…” Bess stammered, trying to get her mind to work, trying to think of what she should do now.
“Do you have some friends in town?”
Bess shook her head, she really couldn’t remember. She opened her purse and began digging around in it, finding the receipt for what she’d paid the mechanic to work on the Harley inside. It was the only clue she had ... so she went with it.
It was dusk when the attorney pulled the car up in front of Sammy's garage and stopped in a parking place out front. As Bess started to get out of the car, the woman laid a hand on the girl’s arm. “Bess …” the woman started and the Slayer-vamp turned back to look at her – the attorney had never called her ‘Bess’ before. Bess blinked her eyes and shook her head, trying to get them to focus … the woman next to her in the car was Wanda.
“Mom?” Bess questioned, sure she was hallucinating.
“My sweet child … you’ve been through so much. I’m so sorry I couldn’t have come sooner,” Wanda continued.
“M-mom?” Bess stammered again, still not believing her eyes.
“I can’t stay, child … you need to listen now. Follow your heart and it will lead you home. Trust in yourself and you’ll find your way back to the ones that love you,” Wanda advised.
“Oh, God, Mommy!” Bess exclaimed, wrapping her arms around Wanda and hugging her tightly.
“Elizabeth … are you sure you’re alright?” the woman in the driver’s seat questioned, taken off-guard by the sudden hug she found herself wrapped up in.
“W-what … but …” Bess stammered, pulling back and looking at the woman who was not her mother. “Oh … I’m … sorry … I …” Bess stuttered as she gathered her purse up and got out of the car. “Thank you…” she muttered as she closed the door.
“Take care of yourself,” the attorney called as she put the car in reverse and backed out of the parking space, then headed back out into traffic.
Bess stood looking at the building in front of her – it did look familiar now that she was here, but she couldn’t get the image of her mother out of her mind. Bess lifted her fingers to her nose and the soft scent of Lily of the Valley wafted gently through the air ... the perfumed water her mother always used. She turned back and looked at the car that was now halfway down the block and shook her head … she was definitely hallucinating … she needed food – she needed blood.
“Well, well, well … look what the blasted cat drug in,” Sammy teased in his thick southern drawl as he walked out of the garage towards Bess, a fresh chaw of tobacco swelling his bottom lip and accentuating his southern accent. “I’d just about given up on ya, sweetheart.”
Bess gave him a small smile, trying to buy time for her brain to kick in and tell her how she knew this man.
“Got ‘er all done – it runs like a champ, you’re gonna love it – that baby purrs,” he told her, waving an arm towards a motorcycle parked off to one side of the garage.
“Oh … great,” Bess hedged as images of the argument with Buffy, and riding off on the motorcycle flashed in her mind. She rubbed tiredly at her eyes … was that real? Is this real? Is anything real?
“You know … I need to … I’m not feeling really well – I think I’ve got low blood … sugar,” Bess stammered.
“Well, it just so happens I’m starving myself,” the mechanic announced, patting a hand on his XXL stomach. “C’mon, I’ll buy ya a slice,” Sammy offered, heading over to his well-worn pickup truck and opening the passenger door for Bess.
Bess hesitated momentarily, then climbed in, not really sure what else to do, and the mechanic headed into town. After a short drive, Sammy pulled up in front of the pizza place in ‘downtown’; downtown Renaldo consisted of one main street lined with small ‘mom and pop’ shops and little else. Bess got out of the pickup and started to follow him into the pizza joint when her nose caught the whiff of something much sweeter … blood.
She turned around, following the aroma, and saw a butcher shop across the street. Her demon came up unbidden, right in the middle of Main Street and no matter how she tried, she couldn’t get it to go down.
“Hey – you comin’?” Sammy called from behind her.
“Yeah … uhhh … I’ll be there in a minute – I … ummm …” Bess didn’t finish her thought, her mind too focused on the food to come up with any reasonable explanation. She reached back in the pickup truck and grabbed a ball cap that was hanging on the gun rack in the back window and pulled it down over her face as far as she could.
The demon urged Bess across the street and into the butcher shop, heedless of traffic, making several cars blow their horns and squeal tires as she sprinted towards the manna that she needed so badly. Bess kept her head ducked as she ordered three quarts of pig’s blood.
“Don’t see many young people making blood pudding these days,” the butcher commented as he got the order ready.
“I’m an old fashioned girl…” Bess replied, silently willing him to hurry lest she lose control of the demon completely.
“That’ll be ten dollars …” the butcher announced, setting the containers of blood on the counter in a brown paper bag.
Bess opened her purse and pulled out her wallet … but there was no money in it. She searched through the other pockets in her purse, but all she had was the bus ticket to Oklahoma City … the police had confiscated all her money as proceeds from illegal activity. “Shit … shit, shit, shit…” she muttered under her breath.
“Is there a problem, young lady?” the butcher asked congenially.
“I’m sorry but…” Bess looked up at him and bared her teeth, growling fiercely as she grabbed the bag of blood off the counter. The butcher jumped back away from her and shrieked in fright as Bess streaked out the door with the blood, running down the sidewalk as fast as her starving legs would carry her and turning into the first alley she came to.
She ducked behind a dumpster and lifted one of the containers out of the bag, pulling the lid off and gulping it down like a ravenous beast. Blood surged down her throat like manna from heaven and she swallowed greedily even as more of the blood overflowed her lips and ran down her chin, covering her clothes with a thick, deep red layer of hemoglobin.
When the first container was empty, she dropped it and started on the second, this time under slightly more control, but still gulping it hungrily. Not even Buffy’s Frappichino that first morning out of the dungeon tasted as sweet as the red, coppery liquid that flowed down her throat. Suddenly, the alley was lit up with a spotlight from a police car and Bess dropped down behind the dumpster quickly and froze in place. As the blood began feeding her plasma-deprived brain, the daze and confused state she’d been in started to clear and she began to realize that it wasn’t the Council that had imprisoned her, but the police, and that the time she spent with Buffy and Spike was real, not a figment of her imagination … she still couldn’t suss out seeing and hearing Wanda’s voice, not only today, but that first night when she’d been arrested.
The police car turned and started driving slowly down the alleyway. As it got near, Bess slithered behind the dumpster, wedging herself between it and the red brick wall behind it, out of view of the approaching car. At the last moment, she realized she’d left the bag and blood containers in plain sight on the back side of the dumpster and she reached out and pulled them into the hiding place just as the car came even with the dumpster. Bess held her breath, not daring to move as the police car stopped and shone its spotlight over the dumpster and up and down the alley looking for the crazed, devil-worshiping drug-addict who had stolen three quarts of blood; at least that’s what the butcher told police had happened.
After a few moments, the car began to move again, finally exiting the alley and continuing its search on the service road behind the storefronts. When she was sure it was gone, she let out a long, relived breath, but didn’t move from her hiding place for some time. As she cowered in the cramped space, Bess thought about everything that had happened, about the time spent with the Weckerly’s, how she had tried to fit into their mold and be someone they could be proud of, but had, in the end, failed. She could remember screaming at Buffy, telling her that she was not her mother …
Bess closed her eyes against the tears that stung them, how that must’ve hurt the woman that had risked everything to save her, she was just so sure that Buffy was going to send her away that night for what she’d done; her fragile ego felt like it had to strike first – protect itself the only way it knew how, by throwing the first punch. Since the night that Buffy said she could get a job, Bess had gone looking for one every day – a real job, one she could tell her parents about. She put in applications all over town, but most places weren’t hiring, and even those that were had twenty applicants that were more qualified than her.
“You need to get your GED,” one man down at the docks had advised her, before crumpling up her application and tossing it in the garbage. She didn’t understand why she needed to know how to do math with the alphabet when all they were doing was unloading cargo from ships …
“It shows that you’re not a quitter, that you’re capable of learning … that you got half a brain between them pretty little ears,” the man explained. “Don’t need any prissy girly-girls down here anyway,” he muttered as he turned away and went back to his paperwork.
That was when she decided to do something she was perfectly qualified for – overqualified perhaps … and Buffy had caught her on her very first night.
Bess sighed heavily then listened carefully before shimmying out from behind the dumpster, careful not to spill the last container of blood. That still didn’t explain her break from reality on the night she was arrested … it seemed perfectly clear to her now – it was just the police. If she had only cooperated with her attorney, she could’ve been out a full month earlier. But it seemed she was incapable of rational thought at the time …
Bess sat down on the dirty ground next to the dumpster and opened the last quart of blood and began sipping it slowly … and then it occurred to her. She hadn’t had any blood since the day she heard Buffy tell Willow that Bess’ blood and chocolate was costing too much (that’s what Bess’ heart heard, anyway) … that had been over a week before she’d run away. The night she was arrested she’d already gone three weeks without a sip of blood … she had been in jail for two months after that with only the occasional raw hamburger to feed her demon ...
Bess shook her head. No wonder it had been so easy for her mind to wander off into its own little world … it had already started starving for hemoglobin. But why didn’t the demon demand blood? Why wasn’t it more adamant? She could’ve easily overpowered one of the guards at the jail or even another prisoner and taken what she needed …
Then the sound of Wanda’s voice rang in her ears from the night she was arrested, Be still, child; don’t fight. You’re a fine, sweet girl … you don’t want to hurt anyone. Was that what had stopped her from fighting against the officers? Was that her mother’s arms around her, holding her still, keeping her from hurting them? Was that what kept her from feeding even as she got hungrier and hungrier ... on the verge of starvation? Or was it her soul?
She’d never taken a life … not a human life … well, not before the battle to escape from the dungeon, and not out of demonic blood lust. Even before the dungeon she’d only killed other vampires; taken their cold, tainted blood to satisfy her hunger and soothe her vindictive heart; after her capture, she’d only fed on animal blood. Maybe it was simply habit that kept her from hunting, even in the jail … or maybe it was a combination of everything, she didn’t know.
Bess sat the container of blood down and lifted her fingers to her nose again. Although they were covered with blood and dirt now, the unmistakable fragrance of Lily of the Valley still remained under it all. Bess closed her eyes and tried to remember what Wanda had said in the car earlier … had that really been her mother or was she hallucinating again? She wasn’t sure, but she was pretty certain she wasn’t hallucinating now, and her vampire nose never lied.
Bess concentrated on the scent, her eyes closed, taking herself back to her mother’s words. “Follow your heart and it will lead you home. Trust in yourself and you’ll find your way back to the ones that love you,” Bess spoke them aloud as they came back to her.
She opened her eyes and looked up at the clear night sky as tears streaked her face. “It’s too late, Mommy … I … I hurt them too much. I couldn’t be what they wanted…I can’t go back now,” she cried up to the sky before curling herself up into a tight ball on the dirty, garbage and blood stained pavement of the alley and crying for the family she’d lost … both families that she’d lost.
Sometime after midnight, Bess pulled herself up off the hard pavement – her tears had run dry long ago. She stood in the alley and took a deep breath as she tried to figure out what to do now. The only thing she could think to do was get the Harley, although she didn’t know how she would be able to pay the rest of the bill for the new engine. Bess leaned down and picked up the rest of the blood she hadn’t drunk earlier and downed it quickly, then started walking back towards Sammy’s garage. Maybe … maybe she could talk him into letting her owe him the rest of the money and she’d send it to him when she got it.
(The next morning) Tuesday, September 14th, 2010, 8:30am, Renaldo, Oklahoma:
Bess woke from a dreamless sleep when someone shook her shoulder. She had curled up against the door to the garage the previous night to wait for morning. She moaned tiredly and turned over to face the sun and her ‘alarm clock.’
“Good Lord Almighty damn!” Sammy exclaimed when she turned to face him. “Who the hell beat you up?”
“Huh?” Bess questioned as she sat up and rubbed her eyes.
“You’re covered in blood! I came lookin’ for ya last night when ya stood me up … Lord, I’m sorry … I shoulda kept lookin! Figured ya’ just changed yer mind ‘bout dinner,” Sammy exclaimed as he helped her up to her feet.
“Oh … Uhhh … No, I’m alright … I just … uhhhh, fell down and got dirty,” Bess stammered as she stood up.
“Dirty?! Girl, I seen dirty ‘fore … that ain’t dirty – that there's beat up!” Sammy insisted as he unlocked the door to the garage and guided her in.
“Really … I’m fine,” Bess assured him as he steered her to a chair and urged her to sit down.
“Do ya’ want me to call the Sheriff? File a report?” Sammy offered. “Not that they could catch cold in snow drift, bless their hearts…” he admitted, shaking his head.
“NO! No … no police. Honestly, I just fell down and … there must’ve been blood on the ground or something. I’m fine,” Bess insisted, standing up and moving her arms and legs to demonstrate her ‘fineness’.
Sammy looked at her doubtfully, but finally shrugged his acceptance of her story. “I’ll see if Suzy-Q left anything here that’ll fit ya…” he offered, heading to the back room of the shop.
“Who’s Suzy-Q?” Bess wondered as she followed him.
“My little sister … best little grease monkey you’d ever wanna see,” Sammy offered with pride and affection, then his voice sobered. “Run off last year … only fifteen – said she had to go, wouldn’t tell me why or where. Got one letter from her – postmark said Detroit … says she’s ok, not much else. Never could understand that young-un after she hit puberty …” Sammy admitted, shaking his head. “Our folks died in a car crash when she was ten … I did my darnedest to raise her right, but … reckon it was just too much for her.
“Here …” Sammy offered, pulling a pair of jeans and a t-shirt out of a locker in the back room. “These oughtta fit ya. You can clean up in there …” he offered, pointing to the bathroom.
Bess thanked him and headed into the bathroom to wash off and change. He’d been so nice, she dreaded having to tell him that she didn’t have the money to pay him for the work he’d done … and she had no idea how she’d get any money. She had one marketable skill, but she really didn’t want to spend any more time in jail.
When Bess came out of the bathroom, cleaned up and changed into Suzy’s clothes, she waited in the office for Sammy to finish talking with a customer. She paced nervously back and forth across the worn linoleum on the floor, trying to figure out how to tell him that she didn’t have the rest of the money for the bike.
“Well now, don’t you look prettier ‘an a blue-nosed mule!” Sammy exclaimed when he came into the office. “An’ smell a lot better now, too.”
Bess laughed – she’d never been compared to a mule before. She had to agree about the smell … although she hated washing the faint scent of Lily of the Valley from her fingers, the blood on her clothes was starting to reek. “Ummm … Sammy,” she began as he started riffling through the stack of work orders, looking for hers. “I don’t quite know how to tell you this, but … ummm … I don’t have the rest of the money for the motorbike.”
“Well, I guess it’s a good thing your guardian angel wired the money to me a while back, ain’t it?” Sammy asked, pulling the receipt out and handing it to her, along with the cash that she’d already paid him.
“Who? What? Who?” Bess stammered, absently taking the paper and money from his hand.
“Three right good questions,” Sammy admitted. “But I don’t reckon I know … got a phone call from a guy that talked funny, said he was looking for the bike – gave me the tag number … described you. When I told him it was here and what it needed, he said he’d wire the money t’ get it fixed … said it was his fault for not tellin’ ya’ ‘bout the oil leak. Figured it was your daddy or boyfriend…”
Bess’ jaw dropped open as she looked down at the receipt marked ‘Paid in Full’ and the nearly $1,200 in cash that she’d already paid Sammy. “How… how did he know where I was? Where to look?” Bess murmured, looking up from the bill to the mechanic.
Sammy’s eyes turned worried. “I didn’t mess up did I? I mean … that ain’t a crazed lunatic stalker you’re running from, is it? The way he talked … other than the funny accent, he sounded ok. ‘Course, don’t suppose you can always tell by the way a feller talks…”
“No … I, no … it’s ok,” Bess assured him. “I just … I didn’t tell him where I was going and … I didn’t think he’d … care.”
“Well, he cares almost three grand worth, with tax…” Sammy pointed out with a shrug. “Boyfriend?”
“What? … No…no … just … uhhhh … he’s just a …” Bess’ voice trailed off – what was Spike? Her father? Her friend? Her savior? Just one of the many people she’d let down in her life? Someone whose expectations she’d stomped on and ground into dust under her heel?
“Just someone I used to know,” she finally finished, stuffing the money down into the pocket of her jeans and folding the receipt and putting it in her purse.
“Ya know … it’s really none of my business, but … you should call him. He sounded worried about ya. Soon as he knew the bike was here, he asked about you 'fore he did the bike…wanted to make sure you were alright,” Sammy advised. “I know I sure spent a mess o’ sleepless nights worrying ‘bout Suzy-Q after she runned off. If she’d a’ just called, or written more … let me know she was ok, it would’ve ... well, it wouldn’t have made me stop fretting ‘bout her, but it woulda helped just a tad.”
Bess nodded solemnly. “Perhaps.”
(Later that day) Tuesday, September 14th, 2010, Ft. Smith, Arkansas:
Bess pulled the Harley off I-40 at a rest stop then retrieved the US map that Sammy had given her out of one saddlebag and studied it again. When she started this trek, her goal had been Philadelphia … she just wanted to go home, but what did she really expect to find there? She shook her head, she didn’t know … she really didn’t know what do to now or where to go. What had seemed so clear to her before now just seemed … hopeless. Certainly there was nothing left in Philadelphia for her now … so many years later.
As Bess scanned the map her eyes kept being drawn north, to Cleveland. Something about it seemed ... right. What had her mother said? Follow your heart? And hadn’t Spike advised her more than once to listen to her gut? She took a deep breath, her decision made … she folded the map and put it back in the pannier and cranked the bike up. Cleveland it was.
Early morning hours Friday, September 17th, 2010, Terre Haute, Indiana:
Bess had taken her time as she headed north towards Cleveland, not wanting to risk getting a ticket … and Sammy told her to keep the speed down until the new engine had been ‘broken in’… she didn’t quite understand that, but she wasn’t in any big hurry now anyway. She’d stopped a few times, taking side trips into small mid-western towns along her route, sampling pecan pies and peach cobblers; in one small town diner she had a chocolate cheesecake that could be described as nothing but heavenly … so good, she ate three pieces. She also made sure that she didn’t go too long without blood … she’d learned that lesson the hard way.
She’d been sleeping outside under the stars, parking the bike off the road and just sleeping on the ground next to it, but she was starting to get grimy and dirty. She’d found that most people pretty much didn’t like to deal with people that looked like something the cat dragged in, so this night she stopped at a rat-trap 'motor-lodge', which espoused 'Air Conditioned Rooms' as its big drawing card on a faded sign out front, and got a room. She took a long, hot shower/bath combo … her favorite, and washed her clothes in the sink and now she was flipping through the channels on the telly, looking for something to watch before falling asleep. At this hour of the night, there wasn’t much on … lots of infomercials and preachers, both of which promising more than they could ever possibly deliver.
Bess stopped her channel surfing abruptly when she heard a familiar voice … John Cleese. She sat up in the bed and watched with a furrowed brow … it wasn’t Monty Python … it was something called Fawlty Towers. Bess watched the comedy, laughing at the silly, dry humor of the old show. Her mind involuntarily drifted back to the time spent with Spike and Buffy in London and how much they’d helped her and what they’d sacrificed to find her and get her out of the dungeon. Bess looked over at the bedside phone as Sammy’s advice echoed in her head; she should call home, let them know she was ok … thank Spike for paying for the repairs to the Harley, perhaps promise to pay him back as soon as she could.
Bess turned the TV down and picked up the phone, then took a deep breath and dialed the number they’d made her memorize on the long flight from London to L.A.
The phone rang … once, twice, three times … after the fourth ring it went to the answering machine. Tears welled in Bess’ eyes as Buffy’s cheerful voice came on the line…
bet you’re wondering where we are!
Well, put your mouth up to the phone,
And leave us a message for when we get home.
And if you can make your message rhyme,
We'll call you back in half the time!!!”
Bess bit her lip … suddenly not sure what to say. When the answering machine beeped, she panicked and slammed the phone back down on the receiver. She remembered when Buffy had recorded that message … Annie complained that their answering machine had the most boring message ‘in the world’, so Buffy challenged the kids to come up with something better … and they did. All four of them worked on it for over an hour to get it to rhyme – they were so excited about it. They all stood by, waiting excitedly, as Buffy tried to change the announcement on the machine; she'd been laughing so much that it took her four times before she could get through the whole thing without cracking up at their silly poem.
Now the laughter in Buffy's voice grated against the very air in the dingy room, like fingernails across a chalkboard. The warm, happy feeling that memory inspired in Bess faded to a harsh loneliness that chilled her from the inside out. She sunk down in the bed and pulled the blanket up over her head, wrapping it tightly around her body to try and hide from the barren, empty feeling – but it wasn’t something she could escape. The sudden, overwhelming sadness followed her into her cocoon and painful cracks seared her heart with a bitter cold. That life, those memories, felt so very far away now, too far to touch, too damaged to repair. As much as she tried to deny it, to forget them, to embrace her ‘aloneness’, the stark truth was that she missed them … she missed them all so much. But it was too late for that now...
2000 Light Years From Home, The Rolling Stones
'round with graceful motion
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