One Glorious Summer
The man in the makeup chair had to be asked a second time to sit up straight. With his back to the mirror, he glared at the airbrush tool that the artist, who was quickly losing her patience, had pointed at him.
"I don't need that crap."
She let her arm rest at her side, frowning at him. "If you don't want to look dead on television, then you need a little makeup. Now sit still and close your eyes."
Dead. He should be dead. That's what the doctors had told him when he woke up from a coma over two years ago. And even though he could remember nothing of what had happened before he'd been in the coma, he always thought that had rung true. He should be dead.
His agent, Gage, would have a fit if he caused trouble on his first interview. After a quick glance around the dingy little room, he took a deep breath and squeezed his eyes shut.
"Not that tight. You'll end up with little white lines around your eyes."
"Sod it all," he said while relaxing his face. "You bloody people are never satisfied."
He'd already chased away the flamboyant guy who'd suggested a haircut and had endured having a clip put in to keep the hair back from his forehead while the makeup artist did her work. A few minutes later, the artist attempted to turn the chair around so he could see her handiwork. He firmly put his feet down to stop the chair.
"That's okay. I don't need to see. Don't really like looking at myself in the mirror."
The artist let her mouth fall open. "Why ever not? You are a good looking guy."
With a shrug, he hopped out of the chair. He wasn't about to tell her that it gave him a funny feeling to see the reflection staring back at him in the mirror. No matter how long he looked, he didn't recognize his own face, had no idea who he really was and, somehow, it just felt like a foreign thing to do.
"John!" Gage Michaels stopped just inside the room and folded his meaty arms across his chest. "Aren't you through yet? You're on in five minutes." Then the insufferable man chuckled. "I've never seen you so gussied up."
"Shut your gob and hand me my case," John said with a roll of his eyes to the ceiling.
Gage grabbed the briefcase by the door, opened it, peeked inside and then glared at John. "Where's your copy of the book?"
"Gave it to the errand boy. If I know you, you have six copies in a backpack nearby."
The agent mumbled something about having five of them and left the room, coming back seconds later with a fresh copy to put in John's briefcase.
"That is for Mr. Stanley. Make sure to sign it for him on camera."
John followed his agent out of the room and down a dimly lit hallway to the green room, which was white, sparsely decorated and smelled like stale cologne. After he endured Gage's nervous tugging on his sport jacket and dusting off his creased pants, a crewmember with a headset and clipboard called him out and he followed, carrying the copy of his book tucked under his arm. He told himself that he could do this. It was just a television interview, but his first one since his novel had been published. Gage had thankfully had him start out with a program that did not have a live audience, but the show itself was live.
As he sat at the round table on the stage and waited for the host to walk on, John could only hope that this appearance would bring in more sales.
~ * ~ * ~
With the T.V. on in the background, Buffy methodically added clothes to the growing cluster in the suitcase laid out on the bed. The door to the room was open and Faith suddenly appeared, looking resigned. She leaned against the frame of the door, but Buffy tried to ignore her as the volume on the T.V. increased with the commercials that only came on between shows on the public station.
"You know you could stay longer," Faith finally said.
"Thanks, but I should get back to Europe. Giles has a new assignment for me."
"There are tons of slayers who could do the job. You just spend two years kicking demon ass in L.A. and all you get is a two week vacation on a hellmouth with me, kicking more demon ass."
Buffy paused for a minute and asked, "When was the last time you took a vacation?"
"Had a long stretch in the pokey, remember?"
"You call that a vacation? And that was years ago now."
"Yeah, well, I was top dog in there, so it wasn't so bad."
Faith inspected a fingernail and then bit it.
"Well, you and Robin should get away for a while, "Buffy said as she resumed her packing. "Willow says the Caribbean is very nice and very romantic."
With a shrug, Faith straightened up. "We're warriors. We'd probably be bored out of our minds in a place like that."
Buffy grinned. "Exactly. And that's how I feel. I'm better off working."
Buffy didn't add that she wished she had someone to work with. It had been difficult for her to watch Faith and Robin together, happily getting on each other's nerves and fighting the good fight. She'd spent much of her time in L.A. fighting alongside Angel and the demoted goddess, Illyria, but Angel was just her friend now. Not her partner. Not her lover. She squeezed her eyes shut and forced herself to think of something else. It didn't do any good to think of the time she'd lost out on with Spike when he'd been in L.A. while she'd thought he was dead. He was really gone now and she had to face the facts. Move on.
Buffy'd learned about Spike from Illyria when the blue goddess had woken up days after she and Angel had been found, passed out with multiple wounds in an alley. Illyria had asked about someone named Gunn and they'd had to tell her that he was dead. She'd only blinked and then asked about Angel. When she learned that he was still unconscious, that he would go on being undead, Buffy could see the relief wash over her, but just as quickly she'd asked about Spike.
Spike had been there. Not a pile of dust at the bottom of the Sunnydale crater. When Angel had finally woken up, Buffy confronted him and, over the course of a couple of days, she'd gotten the whole story and had been so angry that she couldn't function. They'd sent parties out to look for Spike, but there was no word on the street about a wounded vampire with white hair. They could only guess that he had been dusted in the battle. She'd hung on in L.A. months longer than she was needed, hoping that they might come across him. But it never happened.
Cutting into her thoughts, Faith said, "Well, I wish you would change your mind. I'll be downstairs if you need anything."
The suitcase was tough to close, but she finally did it. That would teach her to pack so much and spend all her free time shopping. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she took a well-deserved break and watched the show on the public station that was just getting started. She didn't care what was on; she just needed a moment.
"Welcome to another live edition of Stanley on the Arts." The camera shot was a close up of a man at a round table in a room void of decoration, save for an easel just to his right with a large poster that caught Buffy's eye. She leaned in closer and shook her head. The oil painted woman on the cover could almost be her, dressed in a short skirt, black leather boots and filmy red top. The man continued, "I'm your host, Marc Stanley, and today my first guest is an up and coming author out with his first book. John D. Price, welcome to the show."
The camera switched angles and Buffy shot to her feet, letting out a loud gasp, her hands flying to her throat. She forced herself to breath evenly, but had to sit down when John started to talk. That voice: deep, resonating, yet soft and hesitant. That had to be him.
"Faith! Oh my God. Faith!" She couldn't temper her voice.
She was getting ready to scream for her again when she heard two sets of footsteps charging up the stairs.
"What's wrong?" Robin shouted, brandishing a stake.
"I'm sorry. Didn't mean to scare you guys, but I wanted Faith to see this. Tell me who that looks like."
Faith pocketed her own stake and came to sit next to Buffy, her concerned expression still fixed on Buffy, who looked as if she'd just seen a ghost. And maybe she had. Or maybe she was going crazy.
Robin took a few steps into the room, squinting at the small television set. "Is that—"
"Holy crap! Is that Spike?" Faith said, gripping Buffy's arm.
The two women leaned to the right when Robin got in the way to turn up the volume, but then he sat next to Faith, a shocked expression on his face, as he stared at the vampire who'd killed his mother.
"This is for you," the Spike look-a-like said and then patted his pockets the way Buffy had seen Spike do so many times when looking for his lighter. "Do you have a pen, mate?"
While he signed the book, Mr. Stanley talked. "I read the book in two days. It's a real page turner."
"And to think, I almost didn't show it to anyone."
Faith shook her head and said, "Is that him? I mean the hair is darker and longer, but that's Spike's voice."
Mr. Stanley leaned back in his chair. "Before we get into what the book is about, I think we should talk about you. Your story is almost as fascinating as your work of fiction. Can you tell the audience a little about yourself?"
Buffy concentrated on the man's hands as he clasped them together on the table. "There's not much to tell, really. Or rather, if there is, I don't remember."
"You were one of the injured during the first set of L.A. riots in 2004, right?"
"Yeah, I was in a coma for six weeks and when I woke up, I had no memories."
"Amnesia. And no one ever claimed to know you?" Mr. Stanley asked, sadly.
"Well, from what I was told, there was so much unrest and so many other riots that my story wasn't covered very well. There were lots of injured people. They tried to get my face out there again when I woke up, but no one seems to know who I am." John shrugged. "I mean, with the accent I know I'm from England, but no one there has come forward to ask about a relative missing in California and my prints don't show up on any database."
Mr. Stanley picked up the book and pointed at his name. "So the D stands for Doe?"
"Yes. When I was released from the hospital, the social worker assigned to my case suggested I pick a name to go by. I'd been called John for so long that I kept it and just opened the phone book and pointed to get the name Price."
"So, how did you end up writing this amazing book?"
"My therapist suggested that I keep a journal or write poetry. I was rubbish at both of those, so I decided to try my hand at fiction."
"Well, folks, we should all be glad for that. If you haven't read Stalking Summer, go to your nearest bookstore and get a copy." Mr. Stanley turned to John. "So tell us about your writing habits. Where do you do most of your writing?"
"My apartment is walking distance from Redondo Beach. I spend most of my days out there with an arsenal of laptop batteries. I used to always be late for work."
"Now that your book has hit the best seller list, I'm sure you are writing fulltime."
John chuckled. "I can't tell you how happy I was to put in my two weeks' notice."
Mr. Stanley went on to ask John to give the audience a summary of his mystery novel. Robin stood, put his hands in his pockets and shook his head while Faith and Buffy sat, stunned.
"It sounds like him, the face sure looks like his, but there is no way it could be him."
"Yeah," Faith added. "If he was found during the riots, they would have checked for a heartbeat and left him among the dead."
"And hanging out at the beach?" Robin scratched his head. "Can't be him."
"It's him," Buffy said, still looking at the screen as "John" walked off the set and a new guest was introduced. Gazing at the pair as if she just realized they were still in the room, she added, "If you don't mind, I need to make a phone call."
As soon as Robin shut the door behind him, Buffy fumbled with her purse for her little phone book and dialed the long string of numbers. Giles picked up on the third ring.
"Ready to come home?" the head of the Council asked, sounding distracted.
"Change of plans." Buffy switched the phone to her other ear and grabbed her makeup bag off the dresser to toss into her carry-on bag. "I'm due for a real vacation."
"But we agreed that you would go to Ireland and supervise the new group there."
Knowing that she now had his full attention, Buffy said dryly, "I'm sure you can find a replacement."
"Where will you go? And all alone?"
Doing her best to sound casual while her heart was pounding in her chest, she said, "I don't know. Was thinking I might rent a house out by the beach in California. Get some sun, maybe take some surfing lessons or whatever."
"Dear Lord, Buffy, please tell me you aren't taking up with Angel again?"
Buffy let out a breath in relief; at first she'd thought he knew about Spike. "Of course not. Why do I keep having to say it? We're just friends. There are no romantic feelings between us. None."
"Well, why else would you want to go back there?"
"Like I said, I need a vacation." He started to speak but she cut him off. "I'm sorry, Giles, but I need to go now, or I won't be able to switch out my ticket. I'll call you when I get settled and give you my address and phone number."