Becoming What?


Summary: Dawn's thoughts after Buffy runs away between seasons two and three.

Author's Notes: I just looked back at the last chapter and noticed that I promised I'd update 'fairly soon' and that I wouldn't leave the story for three months again (which was the interval of time between updates last time). Well, I'm really sorry, 'cause I just went, like, ten months without updating. Sorry!

Today Mom and I went to the beach.

It was a nice change from all the moping and grumpiness, but at the same time, it was really depressing. Because, la-di-da, here we are, moving on without Buffy, If she came back tomorrow, would she still fit into the family? Maybe we'd be able to squeeze her in, like a puzzle piece that doesn't quite fit. You know, like when you've finished the puzzle and there's only one piece left, but it doesn't really line up with the others. You squeeze it in anyway, but after that, whenever you look at the puzzle, all you see is the squished-in piece, not the whole picture.

Anyway, we drove to the beach—not the Sunnydale beach, but one down the coast a little bit. The Sunnydale beach sucks, as far as I'm concerned.

I never used to say 'sucks' before this summer. I never swore or anything. But things have changed. People swear when they're mad, and, since I seem to be mad the majority of the time, I figure it gives me the right to swear. Maybe they could add it to the constitution: You have the right to swear, regardless of age, if your life is falling apart.

But anyway, back to the beach. We drove down and parked at one of those meters that's so close to the beach there's sand in the parking spot. Mom let me put the quarters in; I used to love doing that when I was little. It's not so big a deal now; I mostly just do it to keep up appearances. Buffy and I used to fight over who'd get to do stupid stuff like that: who'd put change in the meter, who'd get to ride in the front seat of the car (she did, usually), who'd get to pick the radio station. I'd let her do all that if she'd just come back.

Once we'd parked the car, we found a good spot on the sand. Mom laid out towels and a picnic blanket and put the umbrella in the sand, and I took off the T-shirt and shorts I'd put on over my bathing suit. Mom slathered sunscreen all over me and sent me off to swim or make a sandcastle or look for shells or something equally beach-like. I didn't really feel like doing any of that, so I just kinda sat at the edge of the water, close enough so that when the waves came in they'd spin me around, if I kept my body loose enough. That got uncomfortable after awhile, though, because every time the waves would spin me, they'd get a bunch of sand in my bathing suit. So I waded out into the ocean up to my elbows (with Mom watching me like she was a warden and I was a prisoner, of course) and I shook out my bathing suit. I could feel all the sand brushing past my legs as I emptied it out of my swimsuit. When that was done, I tried to bodysurf back in. After a few tries, I successfully caught a wave and rode it back in. It was kind of fun until the wave got too shallow. Then the wave sort of just dumped me onto the beach. The sand scraped against me and scratched my chin as I landed face down in on the shore. At least there were no shells or something sticking up out of the sand.

I made a sandcastle (or what I guess you could call a sandcastle; it was really just a bunch of lumps with a ditch dug around them to be the moat). I watched some teenagers splash each other and some little kids run away from incoming waves, screaming with delight. Mom sat on our blanket, reading her book. Every so often, she'd glance around and look at me, just making sure everything was still okay, and that the little brother of Jaws hadn't ground my bones to dust or anything.

That got me thinking of all the things that could go wrong on the beach. I could get sucked out to sea by a riptide, never to return, and my body would never be found. If it started thundering and lightning all of a sudden, I could die from electrocution. I could get stung by a stingray, eaten by a shark, or drowned by…seaweed. Seaweed clamping itself around my leg and dragging me down to Davy Jones's Locker (which I think is a very funny, and not at all threatening, phrase. When pirates say it in movies, I know the hero will prevail, because no one who is truly threatening can use the phrase "Davy Jones's Locker" with a straight face. Except in this case, of course, in which I can say it in all seriousness. I read a story in Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul where this girl drowned because she was swimming in a pool and the cover came off the pool drain and it sucked her feet in and she got stuck and drowned. So drowning by seaweed is really not a very far-fetched idea, if you ask me.).

Anyway, I was thinking of all the ways I could die horrible, sea-related deaths and then I thought, If I did die, Buffy would never know. And then I swore (I was finding this newfound swearing right gave me a feeling of just a little more control) and threw a handful of sand into the ocean. The sand clump fell apart in midair and dropped into the ocean in a whole bunch of little clumps: Bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop. I watched them for a second, then I got up and rinsed the sand off me as well as I could before walking back up the beach to where Mom was still reading.

"Mom," I said, "I don't feel good. Can we go home?"

"Sure sweetie," she said, and we packed up our stuff and left.

I fell asleep in the car, and when Mom went to wake me up, she said my face felt hot. "Looks like you might've gotten a little sunburned, Pun'kinbelly," she remarked. But I felt dizzy and lightheaded. I added sunstroke to my list of Things That Can Go Wrong At The Beach.

But Mom took my temperature and it was 99.6, so she put me in bed and made me drink a whole pitcher of grape Kool-Aid. She brought the TV up to my room and took the fan from the kitchen up, too. She told me to stay in bed and drink lots of fluids, and that when she went to work tomorrow she'd have Mrs. Jameson look in on me from time to time. I was too tired to argue.

I kept waking up all night, first sweating uncontrollably, then so cold it felt like the walls should have icicles hanging all over them. Every time I woke up, I'd swear and mutter about the beach, and about my ex-sister.