Disclaimer: All recognizable elements contained herein belong to their respective owners.

Whedonverse fans: I have borrowed a few Whedon characters to help tell this story, but this isn't Whedonverse-related fanfiction.

I sat frozen on my bed, listening to Warner King tell me about a fatal car accident, and all I could think was…

Royce is dead.

The summer before my junior year at State University of New York, I met Royce King. He was charming, self-possessed and mature, and he had me wrapped around his little finger before the season's end.

Royce was a law student in Buffalo, but he was sharing a lake house in Brockport with some friends for the season. A few nights a week, he and his friends would come into Aro's, the restaurant and bar where I worked. Royce made his presence known with hefty tips and flattering comments-comments I considered to be flattering at the time. One night, as I set a pitcher of beer on his table, he told his friends about a dream he'd had where he bent me over the hood of his car. As embarrassed and angry as I should have been, I was too dazzled by his money and his looks, and the fact that he pursued me so aggressively. He made me feel so wanted.

Other boys-slobbering boys with no finesse or charisma-had certainly pursued me, but Royce was different. He didn't follow me around like a fucking puppy dog or put me on a pedestal. He boldly told me, and everyone else, how hot I was (even if I could "stand to lose a few pounds") and he had a bright future ahead of him in which I wanted to exist.

Looking back, I should have seen through his backhanded compliments and the condescending smirk that almost always played on his lips. I should have likened him to the bitchy girls I had grown up with, who told me I was fat and who cut the hair off my Barbie. My mom always said they were jealous, but it didn't hurt any less. But Royce was smooth and cool as silk, and I was eager to find my prince.

Two months after we met, he went back to Buffalo for his final year of law school. On weekends he'd drive through Brockport to take me on trips to Rochester. We'd dine at the finest restaurants and stay in luxury hotels. He'd bring me flowers and lingerie and take me to parties to show me off. His friends would watch and whisper. I could see our future, painted in shades of brilliant gold and sprinkled with diamonds so bright everyone would have to fucking squint.

Most of my friends at work-Emmett, Alice, Angela-didn't like Royce. Emmett said he didn't trust him. I told Emmett he was just jealous because the girl he'd dumped me for had dumped him and he was alone. Emmett stopped talking to me for a while after that. Alice and Angela claimed Royce hit on them when I wasn't around. I convinced myself they were lying, and told them so. They were all just jealous, or so I thought at the time.

When Royce graduated and moved south to take a job with a law firm, I quit my job at the restaurant because he complained that he wasn't there to keep an eye on me. I considered what to do next. Masters? Teaching certificate? Marriage and babies? Even though he hadn't officially asked me to marry him, I assumed he would eventually, and we'd be just like my parents.

Dad, a successful attorney, and Mom, dedicated to staying at home to take care of me, cooking and baking, and sitting on all the right committees. Their relationship was ideal to me, and I wanted that for myself.

I dreamed that Royce would sink on bended knee and offer me his grandmother's ring. The ring his brother Warner talked about like it was the highest fucking honor to give any woman. I couldn't wait to see it.

On the phone, I would tell Royce every day how much I missed him. I tried hard not to ask too many questions about what he had planned for us, though. He'd tell me not to worry, that I was right where I needed to be, and he had everything under control.

I fantasized about him giving me everything, making everything easy. I had paid my dues with mean girls, half-assed boyfriends, and fuck buddies. My time had finally come; I was mere months from beginning a beautiful life with wedding bells and blue-eyed babies.

One sunny Friday at the beginning of the first of my last two semesters in Brockport, I waited patiently for Royce and my weekend getaway. He was running a little bit late, so I began opening mail, tossing junk into my recycling bin and sorting bills, catalogues, and magazines.

I came across a letter from my advisor, informing me that I was going to have to do 40 hours of community service before I could graduate from my Psychology program. The letter included contact information for a few suggested organizations she thought would have "opportunities" within my "areas of interest." My academic advisor seemed endlessly irritated by my lack of enthusiasm for my future endeavors, so it was slightly awkward to admit to her that my only real areas of interest were to get my degree, marry Royce, and live happily ever after. I had no interest in dicking around with community service when I had a life to plan.

I went into my bedroom to find my laptop for further investigation of my advisor's proposed options. My research of the different organizations made me to lose track of time until I realized that Royce was officially three hours late with no phone call.

I began to get worried, so I called his cell. The call went directly to his voice mail, which could have meant that he was out of cell range, but I had a bad feeling. I decided to call his house, and no one answered. The voice mail greeting said that Royce, Jim, and Mike were not able to come to the phone and that I should leave a message. I didn't leave a message. I just hung up, dumfounded. Something was niggling in my brain.

My last thought was to call Royce's brother Warner. I had never called Warner, but he had once called me about six months before, so I had his number in my phone. I hit send and waited for him to pick up. Once he did, I began a phone conversation that validated the feeling of foreboding, trumping the irritation the letter I'd just received had caused. The conversation I had with Warner derailed any sub-conscious nagging questions I may have had regarding my ambition or lack thereof for volunteerism, or a career, or anything other than Royce.

"Are you sitting down?" Warner asked, his voice watery and faint.

I wasn't sitting down, but his tone told me I should be. I sat on my bed and listened as Warner told me about a car accident that had happened the day before. Royce had been pronounced dead at the scene, and Elaine, poor Elaine, died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Royce is dead.

Royce had been dead a full 24 hours before I knew. No one had even bothered to call me.

"He'd just given her our grandmother's ring. Such a tragedy..."

Warner continued speaking, clearly unaware of my status in Royce's life. I had no idea who Elaine was. I had no idea what Warner was talking about, but he kept talking, and I kept trying to listen, gripping the receiver tightly in my fist.

"I'm sorry I didn't call you… I just wasn't sure how to tell you since I know you two were once close."

Just last weekend I'd given Royce "the best blowjob" he'd ever had, right on the very bed where I was sitting. Just yesterday morning Royce and I had spoken on the phone about our weekend plans. I sat stunned, listening to the world disintegrate and fly apart around me.

Royce is dead.

Clearly they were all unaware of what was going on with Royce and me-especially Elaine. Sure, he'd stood me up before, but he couldn't beengaged to someone else. She couldn't possibly know what I meant to Royce.

"Are you going to be all right, Rosie?"

Warner's concern knocked me out of my stupor.

"I really have to go, now," he said. "I need to get back to the families. I know you've never met my mother, but she has a tendency to be quitevivid in her emotional responses."

Cold dread enveloped me. It hit me, right then, that I had never met anyone in Royce's family other than Warner. Royce had hidden me away. He'd had a whole other life going on without me. My heart was pounding in my ears. My fingers and toes were tingling. I forgot to breathe.

I could hear voices behind Warner's over the line, and I tried to picture Royce's parents' home from the little I had learned from the brothers. I had always thought about Royce and my future engagement as an introduction and presentation to his family and their estate. I'd have been the belle of the ball in ruffles and bows, and Royce would sing rhapsodies of me to the King Family.

But I wasn't, and I wouldn't be. From the tone of Warner's voice, that was never the intention. I was never, ever, in line to be Mrs. Royce King. The realization was stunning, and absolutely humiliating.

Royce was engaged to someone who wasn't me. Royce was dead. I'm… I wasn't the only one. I'm not special. I'm alone.

I nodded in agreement, as if Warner could see my gesture. I went through the motions of someone with dignity and grace. I gave my condolences to the family. None for me. Why would I need consoling? I was just some fling.

My voice sounded foreign and uncharacteristically polite to my own ears, part of me silently screaming to ask Warner, or God, or whoever would answer me, what the fuck was going on. My mind buzzed and my heart continued to pound, coursing cold blood through my veins, facts and words scattering around in my brain.

I laid down on the couch and let memories, thoughts, judgments, and words wash over me.

Warner had spoken to me on the phone as if I were nothing but an adverse side effect of Royce's past social escapades. The real family, the people who genuinely suffered, were together and supporting each other in their time of grief and loss.

Who am I now that Royce is gone? Am I the grieving ex-girlfriend? The mistress? The dirty little secret he hid from Elaine and his mother? Did I have the right to mourn at all?

Oh, my God, Royce is… dead.

I curled onto my side and stared out my window as the sun set. He was dead, and I had to figure out what that meant. I was going to have to call my mom and explain. I couldn't bear the thought of what she was going to say, how she'd react. She was going to be so disappointed.

As I drifted into unconsciousness, I pulled the pillow from under my head and hugged it tightly to my body, wet tears and darkness covering me in my sleep.