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Chapter Three - Strange Little Girl
Have you ever had one of those days where you felt completely out of place? You know, like that kid sitting at the back of the class who's had to repeat the year? Or the one guy at an N'Sync concert? Welcome to my life.
It's crazy enough at the best of times how many other kids my age can claim to hang out with witches and werewolves (when they're not reading Harry Potter, anyways) but it might be nice to feel I belonged. But I'm not a member of the gang, am I? Buffy's friends belong, and their boy and girlfriends, but Buffy's sister gets conveniently left behind. I mean, it's not as if I haven't had my share of adventures. Buffy even invites the ghosts and zombies home with her. But that's okay. I make the mistake of inviting a vampire in just one and I'm grounded for a month. But who was it who found that nest of boojums? (We were hunting for snarks at the time, but whatever, right?)
Not that that matters to them. Oh no.
Case in point:
Today, Buffy wanted to hang out with her friends at the quarry. Am I invited? We are still talking about the same Buffy, aren't we? Apparently the quarry is a college place, not open to school kids like me. What's up with that? It's not as if there's a coolness gene that gets switched on when you turn eighteen, not if they're any example anyway. And besides, Xander's not even in college, but he gets invited. Mind you, he's a guy with a coolness gene
Not that I'd want to go on their stupid get-together anyway. I mean, I grew out of picnics years ago. But it would have been nice to be asked.
Not that it would have mattered. Mom's still got this idea that I'm six years old and need babysitting all the time. I can look after myself. Okay, there was that one time, but that was ages ago. I've matured since then. Not like Buffy, who still thinks a pointy stick is an in fashion accessory, but she gets to do what she wants. I'm not na´ve, I know she's off saving the world and stuff, but that doesn't make her the centre of the universe. Other people matter.
So I'm packed into the back of Riley's car where I'm sure Buffy's hoping I can be forgotten about. Yeah, like I'm going to let that happen. Good thing Riley wants to talk then. He'd be okay, if he wasn't so stiff. And if he stopped treating me like a kid. I'm fourteen! Buffy refuses to talk to me through the entire ride. Her loss. She's got a major bee in her bonnet about something.
I was still awake when she came home last night. Mom thinks I go straight to sleep when the light goes out, but I can read perfectly well by torchlight. Mom was waiting up, of course. She would have been sitting in the lounge, the TV on low and her work strewn across the table. But she wouldn't be watching television and she wouldn't pick up the papers. Instead she would be watching the clock and listening for the sound of the key in the door. I wonder if she'd wait out if I was out late?
Anyways, I've just decided to put my book away (honest) when I hear the front door open. Mom gets up off the couch to see if Buffy's okay, but Buffy runs straight past her, feet pounding up the stairs. I hear her close her bedroom door. She doesn't slam it, but she closes it firmly enough to discourage intruders. Mom must have taken the hint because instead of following her in, she raps gently on the door. I can hear her whispering, but I can't make out the words. Finally she gives up and goes to bed herself.
I wait for the house to settle, listening to the furniture creak as it eases itself into its resting position, then I pull back the duvet and get out of bed. There's enough moonlight filtering through the curtains to see by, so I leave the torch on the floor and cross the landing to stand outside Buffy's room. I knock, but she ignores me. Tough. I open the door and take a look inside.
'Dawn? Is that you? What are you still doing up?'
Buffy looks up at me, sleepy eyes straining in the semi-darkness, hair in disarray. Bet Riley wouldn't think she was half as hot if he ever saw her like this. Wait a minute, he probably has.
'I couldn't sleep,' I lie, 'and I wanted to find out what's wrong.'
'Wrong? Nothing's wrong.' Now who's lying? 'Does Mom know you're up?'
'C'mon, Buffy, even Mom can see something's wrong.' I sit on the end of the bed, but Buffy tugs the duvet out from under me, forcing me to stand back up. 'Whatever it is, you can tell me. We're sisters, aren't we?'
'Whatever you say, Dawn,' Buffy replied, rolling over so that her back was to me. 'Now go back to bed.'
'It's you and Riley, isn't it,' I guessed. 'You've had a fight.'
'No,' Buffy snapped. 'Riley and I are fine, but you won't be when I tell Mom you're still awake. Now get.'
Things hadn't improved all morning and I can't say I expected them to get any better that afternoon. It's a bummer being right all the time.
I chatted to Riley about school, about the play I'm auditioning for a part in, about Mrs Schofield, the Math teacher who's got it in for me, and absolutely NOT about Matthew Granger, the cute kid at the back of the class. He wouldn't understand. Matthew's no Xander, but at least Matthew doesn't have an Anya hanging round his neck.
Speaking of which, that was exactly how I found Xander when we arrived. Anya was crawling all over him. I mean, there should be laws against that sort of thing. And Buffy's the centre of attention, as always, first with Xander, then Willow. And me? I get teased. By Xander, of all people. I mean, I smile and I pretend to get the joke, but it hurts, you know. I thought that of all of them, he was special. The rest of them can be Buffy's little automata (okay, that's a bit harsh, but let me rant here), but I thought Xander was different. Guess I've still got a lot to learn, huh? It's still them and us, only here's parked his butt on the side of 'them'.
I just want to feel like I belong, you know. There's all this stuff going on in my life that I can't talk to my friends about because they wouldn't believe me and I can't talk to the 'Scoobies' about because they don't want me around. And I'm stuck in the middle and I don't seem to fit in anywhere and I can't help feeling that maybe
* * *
'Maybe you're not supposed to be here?'
Dawn sat upright, eyes darting around the room. She had been lying face down on the bed as she updated her diary.
'Who's there?' she asked. She stepped slowly off of the bed, backing towards the door. She could not see anyone, but given the amount of clutter in her room was that really a surprise?
'I'll scream.' That was a bluff. Buffy was on patrol and Mom was not back from the art gallery. Xander had offered to stay, but he and Anya clearly wanted to be somewhere else and Mom was due back any minute.
'Scream if you must, but I only want to help you,' the voice said.
Dawn stiffened. She had just about convinced herself that she had been hearing things. She stumbled backwards and slammed into the door.
'Help me?' Dawn prompted. She reached behind her and tried to find the door handle.
'Yes, help you,' cawed the crow on the windowsill. 'You don't belong here and I am going to tell you what you really are.'
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