Everything Starts Tonight
From his viewpoint on top of the dunes, he could see everything happening on the beach at the Sunnydale High Senior Bonfire Extravaganza. The last big school sponsored event for the exiting class. Among the partying students mingled member of the faculty along with parents who volunteered to chaperone.
"They're all bloody wankers," William muttered, staring down at the crowd of kids on the beach.
Immediate guilt set in because he didn't hate them all. He liked a few down there. Especially one girl. Buffy was the reason he even bothered to show up tonight. William came to almost all the events where he could watch her in action, from the sports events where she did her thing as a cheerleader, to the charity drives where she always volunteered, and to these parties.
Usually he came in a crowd of others labeled the "unpopular kids". Not that he was trying to get noticed or even get a little of the spotlight for himself like some of the kids did. He just came for Buffy. She was always in the center of all the happenings along with the others in the popular set so it wasn't hard to get his fill of her without being labeled a stalker.
William sat in the soft sand so he could watch Buffy do her thing. She looked cute in a pair of khaki shorts and a Sunnydale High sweatshirt. Her feet were bare as she raced around, playing and flirting. He wished he had the guts to go down there, to ask her to be his girl, but he was afraid she would laugh at him. Like the last time he set his sights on Cecily, another girl who existed in a different world. She hadn't let him finish asking her out before she let him know how far beneath her he was.
The ocean lapped at the shore, soothing the painful ache of his heart wanting something it couldn't have. He knew there were girls who would willingly accept his heart, his body and his time. Sometimes he even let them in, but never too far. They weren't Buffy. Despite her popularity, he saw something special inside of her that they didn't see, a courageous heart, a girl who would one day lead the world if she wanted, and an innocent wonder that gave him hope of a better life beyond the one he was living.
After high school was over, he wouldn't be able see Buffy every day. He could only hope for sporadic glances of her since their mothers lived in the same neighborhood. Their paths would cross again, but not as often as they did going to the same school every day. From her mother, he knew she was planning on living at the dorm instead of staying at home.
The last conversation they shared on her back steps confirmed this fact. Along, with her excitement about starting a new life. Her eyes shone in the darkness as she described the life she wanted. About the plans she was making to study criminology so she could make the world a better place. He listened to her, offering a few comments before she said goodnight to him.
It saddened him that once she moved on; there would be very few chances for those talks to continue. Ever since the Summers moved into the neighborhood, Buffy and he moved in orbit around each other. They were too different with different cliques in school that kept them from ever being more than casual friends in school, but every once in awhile they would run into each other while they went about their lives. Those meetings led to talking which made them know each other better. The kind of friends who would talk when they ran into each other, help each other out in emergencies and sometimes share a little soul searching conversation when the rest of the world was hiding behind the darkness of night.
Tears burned his eyes at the thought of having to leave her behind as they moved on with their lives. She would never know how much she was loved by someone who would do anything to make her happy. This was his night to drink his fill of her beauty while letting himself fantasize about them being a real couple. A life filled with her changing the world, him writing best selling novels, and a dozen fair-haired children running around their big suburban home with the pool in the back yard. It was perfect. They were happy.
Too bad it was only a dream.
He wouldn't be depressed, he decided, as he rubbed his eyes. Leaving high school was a turning point. Not the end of the world. Maybe that life wouldn't happen, but he would find a place for him while Buffy still lived in his heart and mind.
Pulling himself together, he watched as Buffy came to a stop by the fire, warming her hands by the flames, as she seemed to drift off somewhere else. He was curious as to what or whom she was thinking about that took her away from the party. The fire lent an ethereal glow to her face as she stared into its depths. Almost as if she wasn't a part of this world anymore. It only proved how special she was to him.
The vision was broken when another boy, Riley, came up behind her. He dared to put his arms around her waist. William wanted to ask how he could think Buffy would ever give him the time of day.
Except Buffy leaned back against Riley's chest making William jealous and angry. It wasn't a new feeling in his crush on Buffy. He sighed, staring at a scenario he could only dream about happening. Cub Scout, his nickname for Riley, whispered in Buffy's ear. Whatever it was made her giggle, but she did step out his arms. Relief flooded William at not having to watch anymore intimacy between them.
That feeling didn't last as suddenly things changed.
Riley threw his head back in a gesture of frustration. It was then that the big dope spotted William. Somehow the other boy knew of William's feelings for Buffy. It was a rare moment when Riley didn't take the chance to rub it into William's face that someone like him would never have a chance with Buffy. The football player and the cheerleader were much better suited to be a couple. Apparently Buffy agreed since she'd gone on dates with Cub Scout in the past. Thankfully, she was smart enough to ever take his affections seriously and be his girlfriend. It just proved to William that she was more than what her image proclaimed.
William's chest tightened as he saw Riley grin in his direction. Everything unraveled in tortuous slow motion while he could only wait for the inevitable outcome. It was another moment of ridicule from someone who looked down on the geek with a romantic soul. It was something William learned to live with a long time ago. Most of the time he just let it go. Tonight it was going to sever his heart in two.
Then finally the climax came in a bone jarring explosion of cruel words.
"Hey," Riley hollered, pointing toward the dunes. "Look its Willie boy. Maybe he's going to read us some of his poetry to commemorate the occasion. You know some love poem about a girl he can't have."
Following the announcement, quite a few of his schoolmates turned to stare at him. He scanned the crowd noting the amusement on some of their faces, pity on a couple and on the rest was total indifference. He wouldn't look at Buffy, afraid of what he would see there. She might decide not to even be friends with him if she knew how he felt. That he couldn't bear.
Uttering a string of curses, William scrambled to his feet, grabbed his shoes and took off in the opposite direction in just short of a run. Mingled shouts about him trying to hone in on the party and laughter followed in his wake.
"Only three more weeks until I get the hell away from them," William said. "Then I never have to see those arses again."
It couldn't be soon enough.
"Riley, you're an oaf," Buffy said, punching the big brute in the arm.
William was okay. She didn't want to see him hurt by this stupid rule that the popular kids had to make fun of everyone that was supposedly beneath them. It never made sense to her because there was something to like in everyone.
"Oh come on, Buffy, you're going to stand up for that assface?" Riley asked, hovering in her personal space as if he belonged. "Why?"
"Because he's a nice guy." Buffy stepped back, putting her hands on her hips while she stared up at Riley.
"And a guy who's in love with you," Riley added in triumph. Like it was a trump card he'd been saving for a special moment. "Why do you think he comes to all the school events? Just so he can watch you. Do you really think that someone like him really likes football?"
"What are you talking about?"
In a bright flash of confusion, the bright starry clear night was gone. Buffy felt like she was sinking into the deep end of a murky pool with no exit sign. Riley was lying. He had to be, because William couldn't possibly care about her like that, could he? She tried to take a deep breath, but air wouldn't fill her lungs as she waited for answer.
"You've never noticed," Riley said, with a smirk. He gave a dramatic pause before continuing, "William is in love with you."
"No, he's not." It was automatic. They were neighbors, casual friends and went to the same school, but that was where the relationship ended. She tried to find a clue, something that would make Riley think it was something more. Yet she couldn't. "Why would you say that?"
Air, she needed air. Buffy gasped as the old oxygen was expelled from her lungs and she tried to take in new. Most of the party was continuing as if Riley wasn't trying to kill her slowly. Maybe they were in a different dimension or something because nothing outside the two of them was real.
"Because he moons over you, following you around, just hoping you'll notice him," Riley said, pushing her back under the water.
"It can't be true." This time she let herself sink without fighting. It was kind of nice under the water where there wasn't any reality. Warm and comforting…safe almost. Except the truth wouldn't leave her alone. Something kept whispering in murkiness, telling her it was always true. "I'm not William's type," she blurted, desperate to find anything to keep her from facing the truth.
"It's true, Buffy, ask anyone."
She wasn't going to ask anyone something so silly. They would just laugh at her because William wouldn't consider dating anyone who couldn't spout literary quotes for every situation. She was the queen of movie quotes. A constant duel between then that had never been won by either side. Usually it ended in a peaceful truce of laughter. Buffy stepped back, ready to end Riley's weak attempt at causing problems when his next move only made it worse.
"Willow, come here," Riley shouted, motioning for Buffy's friend to come over.
Yes, it was an alternate reality, because Riley never spoke to Willow. The redhead was beneath him and their crowd. It never stopped the friendship between the two girls. Buffy liked the spunk the other girl had and refused to give in to pressure to drop her from her social list.
"Don't ask her that," Buffy said, trying to prevent the scene from exploding. Embarrassment flooded her at having someone else drawn into Riley's attempt to get attention from her.
"Ask me what?" Willow asked, looking back and forth between the two. "Are you okay?"
The question was directed at her. Buffy laughed. Too shrill for it to be considered normal.
"Riley here thinks William is in love with me," Buffy said, clinging to a clump of seaweed at the bottom of the pool. Its nametag said it was denial. What else could she do? Accepting anything else would change all of their plans. Hers and Williams. Everything was already set for the future. A future her heart had already accepted wouldn't have William in it. Buffy swallowed. When had that happened?
"It's true," Willow said. She looked sad as she said it. Not the kind of sad that she was disappointed it wasn't her William wanted, but more of the sympathy that you're a dork for never noticing kind of sad.
Buffy tried the breathing thing again, but it wouldn't reach her lungs. The last four years were passing in front of her eyes. William coming over on the day Buffy, Dawn and her mom moved into the neighborhood. He helped them bring the boxes in and made her mom laugh despite the depression that had been clinging to her since the divorce. She remembered all the times William was there to mow the lawn or to help watch Dawn when Buffy wanted to go out or the way he showed up at all the school functions even though he never participated. The long talks they had over the years while sitting on her back steps. Her favorite retreating ground when the world became too much, and somehow William always showed during the darkest times.
William was always there on the fringe of her life. Helping, supporting and being the good guy. William with the second-glance-good-looks that could suck your breath away, the sexy little tongue roll he did when he was concentrating on a project and an all around sweetness that made a girl feel she could call him for help with anything. Whether it was something as small as hanging posters in your new room or as big as getting your car started when you were out past curfew.
No, he wasn't on the fringe on of her life, he was smack dab in the middle of it, and she'd never realized it before.
Letting go of the doubts, inhibitions and fear, Buffy shot to the surface of the dank pool. Clarity as sweet as the night air rushed over her. She breathed deep of its nectar letting it feed her aching soul. All the confusion of never finding love exploded over her head in a brilliant firework display. It never happened because no one else would ever make her feel the way William did. He was the only one who really understood her and took her dreams seriously. It had been right there in front of her and she never took a hold of it.
"I am such an idiot," Buffy said.
"We'll forgive you," Riley said.
Buffy didn't answer him. Instead, she hugged Willow. "Best friends forever," she promised. All the regrets about leaving high school were gone as Buffy accepted what she'd been denying for so long. The life she wanted to carve out wouldn't be filled with the likes of Riley, or the superficial girl she'd been in high school. The dreams of changing the world weren't just a hopeful fantasy anymore.
Determination sank into her being, as surely as the bonfire would burn her if she got any closer. The life she wanted was going to be hers, the friends she carried to college would be ones carved out of reality and not of circumstance, and the love she'd been waiting for was walking away.
"Bye Riley," Buffy couldn't help from saying. She grinned. "Call me later," she told Willow as she grabbed her beach bag from the pile of towels and bags. Then she waved to the crowd. "Wish me luck," she said, knowing that most of them would think she was crazy. Maybe she was, but for the first time in forever things felt right.
Without another doubt, she took off running in the direction William had taken.
From somewhere behind him, he could hear water splashing as someone ran through the surf. Their feet patted against the sand as they picked up speed. William wasn't sure if he should slow down or start running. He glanced over his shoulder, almost stumbling over his own feet as he realized it was Buffy.
Nausea overwhelmed him, as he turned first hot then cold. He closed his eyes as he wondered if he was dreaming. It couldn't be that she was coming for him. She probably needed a ride home or something. Still he stopped. He wasn't going to be the kind of guy who would be cruel just because things didn't go his way.
"William," Buffy said, coming to a stop beside him. She was panting softly. Her hand waved in front of her face as she tried to breathe normally. "I'm glad you stopped. I'm not much of a sprinter," she managed to get out with a smile.
"Is there something you need?" William bit his tongue when he realized how harsh he sounded. "Sorry." He shrugged. "Not been a good night."
"It's okay," Buffy said, acting shy as she looked anywhere but at him. "Um, I wanted to apologize…you know for…them."
It wasn't them. It was only one person.
"Riley meant everything he said. I doubt he'd want you apologizing for it."
"You're right." She grinned. "I wouldn't want him to apologize either, because if he did then it wouldn't be true. And I want it to be true."
"Thanks a lot. Glad to know you think I'm a loser, too," William said, ready to walk away. Maybe he was wrong about Buffy. Maybe she was the uptight bitch some of her enemies called her. Shaking his head, he said, "See ya later."
"No," Buffy said, taking his hand. She squeezed it. "Not the things you heard. The things Riley said after you left."
"What things?" William swallowed. He wouldn't hope. He couldn't even if she was smiling up at him, taking a step closer to him with her eyes shining in the moonlight. She was beautiful. Too beautiful for words. A tingling started in his stomach that would only spell trouble in a few moments if he didn't get away.
"He said..," Buffy traced a line in the sand with her toe, and then continued in a whisper, "Remember the poem you wrote for English last year? The one you read in front of the class."
"Yeah," he said, wondering what was going on with the girl. She was jumping from one subject to another without any directional signals so he could keep up. He blinked, forcing himself to pay attention to what she was saying.
"I thought it was beautiful. Never heard anyone use the word effulgent before."
"Thanks," William mumbled. She liked it? No one liked his poetry. Well, at least no one had ever said they did. He stared somewhere over her shoulder. "Didn't think anyone liked it," he said, deliberately fishing for a confirmation so that he could she did. His pride was on the line as he waited for her next words.
"I did," Buffy said. She smiled, as her hand trailed up to his bicep where it finally came to rest on his shoulder. "I'm just sorry that I never told you before."
"At least you told me," William said, swallowing down the urge to dance with delight. Between her touch and what she was telling him it was almost too much for him to handle. He could almost see sparks dancing on the air between them as the air became electrically charge between them. He wanted to know what brought her running after him. "So, are you going to tell me what Riley said or not?"
"He told me something I'd rather hear from you," Buffy whispered, studying his face. She seemed to be making a decision while he hung on a thin thread of hope spun from a deep longing for more than a fantasy with this girl. The earth stopped spinning for a moment while they tried to figure out what was between them. Something in her eyes made him believe.
"And what would that be?" William took a chance as he put his hand on her waist. She didn't resist. Rather she leaned toward him until he could feel her breath on his face. The soft exhales tickled his lips. Any closer and she wouldn't have any doubts about how much he wanted her, but maybe it didn't need to be a secret anymore.
William took a deep breath before leaning forward, but at the same time she opened her mouth to speak. They pulled back, stared at each in disbelief for a moment before laughing.
"Oops," Buffy said.
"What were you going to say?" William asked, thinking he would never have the courage to try to kiss her again.
She surprised him by cupping his cheek. "I like what you were going to say more than what I was going to say."
Stepping closer, she rose to her tiptoes, and praying he wouldn't screw it up again, he accepted her kiss. Her lips were soft, sweet and oh, so delicious as he took his time learning the curve of her mouth. Somehow, their arms encircled each other, pulling close, as their tongues tangled. The night closed around them until it was only them.
"Please tell me I'm not dreaming," William whispered, without taking his lips from hers.
"You're not." Buffy nibbled his bottom lip. "Unless I am to…"
No, she couldn't mean she'd been pining for him, too. But as she kissed him again, he knew it was true. There were a thousand questions he wanted to ask. Wanted to know how she ended up in his arms. It shouldn't matter, but it did.
Breaking the kiss, he leaned his forehead against hers, while he tried to figure out what to do next. Fear told him that if he asked any of the questions racing through his mind the moment would be gone yet his heart said it needed to be sure of what Buffy wanted from him. His heart won as he asked, "Buffy?"
"Yeah," she took a tiny step back, but her hands still rested on his chest.
"I guess I'm a little confused," he said, hoping he wasn't going to lose her with his insecurity.
"I am, too," she said. "I guess it's my fault. Being a cheerleader, and popular was such a big deal to me. I wanted to be the perfect daughter after everything that happened in LA. I wanted my mom to be proud of me again." She laughed. "Dawn was taking all the attention when our parents separated. Guess I wanted someone to notice me."
"Your mum loves you."
"I know. I just wanted the security back from when I was a little girl and my parents still loved each other."
"Yeah, before Dawn was born and before Daddy decided other women were better than my mom."
"Did you find it?"
"Honestly no," Buffy said. "It's all been fun, and I really do love cheerleading. The attention has been a great ego boost, but something's been missing."
"Someone to love me," she said, staring downwards. "Someone who really sees me as I am. Not just the popular girl."
"Like I do?" William asked, and then immediately wished he could take it back. He sighed, hoping she wouldn't laugh or run away.
"Yeah," Buffy said, looking up again. "Riley says you love me. Is it true?"
No matter how much he wanted to, William couldn't lie. "Yes…I do love you."
"Would you believe me if I said I think I love you, too?"
"Do you? Or do you just want someone who loves you?"
"I understand you doubting me. I'd doubt me, too." She kissed him then snuggled into his chest. "Riley said it and I was like there's no way that William would love me. It wasn't until Willow said it that I believed it. Believed there could be an us."
"What do you want Buffy? I love you, think I always will, but you've never shown any sign of caring about me before."
William wanted to smack himself for arguing with her. She was there. She wanted him and he was trying to send her away, except he wanted her love, not her pity, or to be a summer fling to while away the time until college. When she left his arms, stepping back until there was a few feet between them, he wanted to declare that he didn't care as long as she was with him. Yet his pride wouldn't allow it. He waited.
"No, I haven't. For a long time I've thought I've known who I am, what I wanted out of life," she looked down at the sand. "You know that because I've told you. But it wasn't clear. There were pieces missing. Things I wasn't willing to admit to or accept yet. Riley changed that tonight. He told me that you loved me and things became clearer."
"Yeah, something like that," she shrugged. "I suddenly knew that Riley wasn't someone I could see in my future. Someone I could count on. That my mom and sister would accept into our lives. You are already that someone. I've been so blind to you. Maybe I do love you, maybe I don't, but I want to find out."
"At least you're honest."
"Will you give me that chance?" Buffy held out her hand offering a shy smile, too. "I do know that I really like kissing you."
William couldn't help but grin. He pulled her against him, wrapping his arms around her waist, and kissing the end of her nose. "You do know that once your mum and lil' sis find out they're never going to let you get away from me."
"Egotist." She giggled. "But you're right and I have this feeling that I won't mind at all."
"Okay, you've got a chance," he teased. "Just don't blow it, okay?"
"Promise," Buffy said. "Can we stop talking and just start kissing again?"
That he couldn't resist as he lowered his lips to hers. He made a note to thank Riley on Monday. The stupid clod had finally done something right. Then as Buffy swept her tongue against his, he promptly forget anything else, but the girl in his arms.