Breakfasts and basements
Author’s note: I’d like to thank everybody for reviewing and reading. I also need to remember to put more things to the vote… it seems to draw reviews. Halloween suggestions anyone? And No JEDI among he main cast! I don’t think I can top Scribbler’s magnificent works Jedi Harris and The Terran Jedi. And yes, this is a serious question. I assume you’ll tell me when I go all Gary Stu? I try to avoid it and heaven knows Simon has more issues than National Geographic, but a little warning if I drift off course…. Hank Summers will be appearing officially in this story for the first time in Nightmares or at least my version of it. So far the vote is Three for hard Hank, four for soft Hank, six for medium Hank and one undecided, depends on the needs of my story. I’ll leave the vote open for a while yet. (And update this occasionally.) Chapter 11: Breakfasts and Basements
Breakfast was eaten earlier than usual that Saturday and with the exceptional attendance of Xander who had shown up looking harrowed. Joyce went off to tend the gallery and the teens and Simon set about finishing the tree house. The inside was going to be purple and pink, much to the amusement of Simon.
The building activities were interrupted by the arrival of Miller, carrying a briefcase. The butler looked up at his employer with a certain amount of amused surprise. “Good morning Dr. Meier. Pink is an excellent colour for you, sir.”
Simon put down his brush and rubbed a cloth over his face and hands, removing some of the stains left by his paintwork. “Good morning, Miller. Is there a reason you are here during my holiday?”
“Yes sir. It regards your return to work.”
Simon muttered a phrase under his breath and walked into the house, sitting on a stool in the kitchen, gesturing for Miller to do the same.
“Coffee? Tea? Scone?“ The butler smiled. “No thank you sir, this will not take long.”
“Well, what do the directors want?”
“Nothing sir.” He opened the briefcase, removing a sheet of paper. “This is the sketch outline for the new administration model sir.”
Simon sighed and accepted the paper, glancing at it. Then his eyes widened. “We’re moving juniors to Sunnydale? And Geraldine Yancey? Opening an executive support office?”
“Yes sir, we are using one of the empty office buildings on Mainstreet, the Architectural Trust has owned it for several decades but has been unable to rent it out for a number of years. It will be an excellent use of the space, as well as bringing much needed jobs into the local economy. And as you know Mrs. Devereaux has stated her desire to retire next year and this will allow you to work in a new principal secretary. And of course spare you the commute to LA. Or living in New York.”
“Miller… Thank you.” Simon’s voice was soft and his eyes were riveted on the pages.
“You’re welcome, sir.”
“Miller, have you ever constructed a tree house?”
“Yes sir, I have some experience along those lines.” The twinkle in the man’s eyes was unmistakable.
“Want to help?”
“Actually sir, I need to go and oversee the… cleaning… of the basement at Hooghwater.” He shrugged apologetically. “It seemed wise to do so without construction workers around.”
Simon grimaced. “Found anything about that?”
“Your father used it, as you surmised, for the purpose you thought. The costs were very well disguised in the books.”
The corners of Miller’s mouth quirked. “No corpses sir, merely a lot of… interesting equipment. Most of the larger pieces installed by Gabriel Meier.”
Simon sighed. “Ah well. Thank God for small mercies.”
“Yes sir. Will you be moving into the manor sir?”
“I don’t think so Miller. I rather like this place. Have you made enquiries about the ownership of the surrounding properties?”
“Yes sir, the report will be on your desk Monday. Sir…”
“I have taken the liberty to acquire you the services of a cleaning lady for the apartment.”
Simon grinned. “Thanks Miller.” He rose. “Anything else?”
“No sir.” He looked out of the window and sighed. There was a crash and a high pitched yelp of ‘OUCH!! Xander!’ “Except that you will need your case sir, Mr. Harris just jumped out of the tree on Miss Rosenberg’s foot.”
Simon laughed, grabbing his bag. “The pitter patter of little feet, old friend…”
“I was sort of hoping to work up to this age by slower increments sir.” The butler kept a straight face but his eyes twinkled with amusement. His employer squeezed his shoulder and nodded in thanks, then went outside to see if anyone was injured.
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Joyce returned to see a table made of scrap wood and MDF outside, with her lounge chairs around it, under a tree house lit with Christmas lights and had to giggle. A trench had been dug and closed in again from the garage to the tree and a heavy duty electric cable ran up the tree. Laughter and light flooded out from the open kitchen door. She stepped up to it, peering in at the scene before her. Simon was making pizza, keeping an eye on Willow, Buffy, Dawn and Janice who were attempting to bake a cake. The cherry and apple filling seemed to be causing trouble, since quite a lot of it was around the girls’ mouths, as was a good amount of the chocolate icing. And the amount of dough seemed to her to be inadequate to cover the cake tin. She snorted with laughter and walked up to work surface where Simon was putting together the pizza topping.
Buffy groaned. “Oh great. Parent smoochie alert.” Joyce laughed and merely kissed Simon’s cheek.
“I see your baking has much improved. There’s actually something left to go into the oven.” She smiled fondly at the foursome. Simon lightly tapped Xander’s hand as he reached for a slice of Salami. Xander too, bore traces of the unfinished pie. Simon exchanged a look with Joyce and they burst out laughing.
The teens looked at their crumb and filling spattered faces and in Xander’s case the traces of Salami and cheese as well, and had the grace to look sheepish. Joyce took of her jacket, put on an apron and turned to try and salvage some of the cake for desert.
They ate a home made pizza dinner, with salad on the side, under the light of Christmas lights hanging from the tree house and had coffee, juice soda and small apple cherry tarts afterwards.
The elder teens were going to the Bronze and Janice managed to beg another night of sleepover from her mother, which was granted only after Joyce got on the phone with her and assured her it was no problem.
Joyce then took her daughter aside while Simon and Janice talked about carpeting the tree house. Janice favoured electric pink.
“Dawn… How do you feel about Willow staying over so often?”
“It’s way cool. She helps with my homework and she plays chess much better than Buff. And she’s nice.” Dawn grinned. “She doesn’t want to wake up in the morning’s either.” Joyce ruffled her youngest’ hair. “And this way she’s not so lonely, ‘cause her parents are gone all the time. It sucks to be lonely.”
“Sorry Mom. But it’s true.“ Dawn quickly hugged her mother. “I’d hate for you to be gone as often as Willow’s parents. It’d be awful.”
“Very awful. I don’t know how her parents can stand being away from her so long. It’s good of you to think of that. Dawn…how would you feel if Xander stayed over more often too?”
“Is this because his parents are nasty?”
Joyce blinked. “How do you know?”
“I heard him talking to Willow, she saw a bruise… Does his dad beat him?”
“Yes… Dawn… were you eaves dropping?”
“No, I swear. I just was sitting on the other side of the floor; they were working on the roof. Simon wanted the bottom varnished too. Can you imagine? I got varnish in my hair even!” She drew a lock of her hair in front of her and scowled at it. Joyce suppressed a giggle at her daughter’s cross eyed look at her hair. “Do we have to cut it off?” Dawn’s voice sounded distressed, her long hair was one of her vanities.
“I don’t think so dear. We can get that out with some turpentine or white spirits. So, do you mind?”
Dawn blushed, trying to look unconcerned. “No, Xander’s nice. I don’t mind. It would be like having a big brother. So where would he be staying?”
Joyce smiled at her daughter’s ingeniousness. “We’d clear out the loft over the garage or part of the basement.”
“Oh.” Dawn looked just a smidgen disappointed. Joyce was certain she had rather hoped her crush would be sleeping on her floor. She reached out and took the lock of varnished hair.
“Does Janice have paint in her hair as well?”
“Think so. Mom?”
Joyce was thinking of where she’d put the white spirits and if she still had enough to clean her daughter and her friend, or if she needed something else. Oh, and she needed conditioner, white spirits was unkind to hair. “Yes honey?”
Dawn’s voice was tiny. “Simon’s leaving tomorrow isn’t he?”
Joyce’s happiness dwindled away. She’d known that he would be leaving. That the two weeks were up and that he would fly back to New York, his office, his work, his life, in the morning. She realized that her finances would take a hit; he’d been doing the groceries. She could afford having Willow over so often, and Xander, but it would pinch. But what she would miss most was his easy presence, the laughs, the hugs, the kisses. She would have to do with phone conversations and an occasional weekend. There would be no more lunches, no more stolen Moments, and no more smouldering looks when she donned her specs…glasses. She shook herself.
“I think he is. He only had two weeks.”
“When will he be back?”
“I don’t know Dawnie. It may be a while.”
“Thought so.” She sighed.
Joyce put an arm around the girl’s shoulders.
“We’ll get Janice, then we’ll get the paint out of your hair, then you can take showers and get the smell of the spirits out. Come on.”
They went outside and collected Janice. Joyce took them to the bathroom and cleaned their hair, using most of her bottle of turpentine that remained from painting the house. Both girls got a bit sick from the smell and the fumes and needed to be revived with a scoop of ice from one of the tubs of Ben&Jerry’s Simon had bought in the morning. She had one herself too. After all she had removed the paint and therefore had a right to feel a bit sick as well. She sent the girls to bed, with a firm message she would be up later to check if they were indeed sleeping. She went down stairs where Simon was reading a book on New York history, murmuring things like “Codswallop” and “Idiocy.”
“Something you disagree with in there Simon?” She gave him a fond look.
“Apparently my great-grand Uncle Gabriel was a paragon of virtue whose donations to New York Charities made him a much loved figure in social circles.”
“I see. And how was he in real life?”
“Well, if the ‘charity’ was young, willing pretty and ermmm… obedient…He was probably quite generous.”
Joyce grinned. “Had someone do some editing?”
“No, Gabriel just went for lower class partners. And he was quite discreet. It’s the ones who had a dozen affairs in high life who really get the attention in this book. And of course Gabriel moved to California where morals were… different.” He waggled his eyebrows at her.
Joyce flicked his ear with her finger, softly. “Twit.” She leaned against him and sighed contently if a bit sadly as his arm circled her . “I’ll miss this. So… what time do you have to leave tomorrow?”
She turned around. “But I thought you only had a two week vacation?”
“My staff has been working very hard.” He looked a bit guilty. “They’ve set up an executive branch office here in Sunnydale. I can work from there, most of the time.”
Joyce felt the sad feeling that had been settling over her the past few hours lift. “So… you’re not leaving?”
“No, well, I do have to go to the office here.” He suddenly looked uncertain. “Unless you want me to leave? I can…”
Joyce shut him up with a kiss. “That’s the best news I’ve had all week. And I’ve had some good news this week.”
“Hmmm. Glad you approve.”
“Very much. Why don’t you set the alarm?” Simon grinned and performed the requested action.
Joyce climbed onto his lap as soon as he was done and wrestled with him on the couch until ten minutes before Buffy and Willow came home, splashing some water on her face and straightening her clothes before taking her place against him in matronly prim fashion. The girls arrived a few minutes late, both looking a bit down.
“Sorry we’re late, Mom, we walked Xander home.”
Joyce looked up over her glasses again. “I see. I’d like to talk to you about that.”
“Mom…” Buffy whined. “We’re only a few minutes late and Xander…”
“Sit down, both of you.” Joyce gestured at the couch opposite. Simon put down his novel and smiled encouragingly. He took Joyce’s hand and squeezed it lightly.
“I want to talk to you about Xander.”
Willow and Buffy looked at each other. “What about Xander?” Buffy asked.
“About the way his parents treat him. I’m certain you both know about it.”
The two girls gawped at the adults. “W-what?”
Simon sat forward. “I know the effects of abuse when I see them Buffy. I’ve had far too much experience with it.”
Joyce nodded. “Xander apparently isn’t ready yet to report this, but he needs a safe place to stay. Dawn is willing to put up with him in her bedroom….” Amusement was clear in her voice.
Simon winked at Buffy and Willow and Joyce continued speaking. “But I… we think a bed in the basement under or in the garage loft might be better, on such nights as he shouldn’t be with his parents.” She gave Buffy a look. “As I said Dawn is in agreement…Buffy, do you mind? And do you mind Willow, considering how often you stay here?”
Buffy was off the couch with her arms around her mother in seconds. “Mom, you are the bestest!”
Willow was trying to contain her tears and failing badly. Joyce gently prised Buffy’s arms away and moved over to the sobbing redhead. “There, there Willow. I’ve got you. I’ve got you.”
Buffy looked at her mother comforting her best friend and sighed, speaking softly. “I never realized how lucky I’ve been to have Mom and Dawn. “
Simon smiled a bit sadly. “Many people do not realize how lucky they are with the family they have. Why don’t we go outside and give them some privacy.”
Buffy nodded and followed him, stopping in the kitchen, picking up the box of tissues, taking it back into the living room and putting it next to Joyce, who smiled gratefully. Then she joined Simon in the porch swing and he set it in motion with a kick.
“So how’s the slaying business? Would you mind telling me what’s been happening here since you moved? Or at least the beginning of it?”
Buffy grimaced. “Ugh. Do I have to?”
Simon shrugged. “I’ve found talking about it helps. Miller is a good listener.”
“I thought you didn’t fight demons!”
“No, I said I tried to avoid it. There’s a difference.” He grinned at her.
“Why you sneaky…” Suddenly she looked worried. “But you can’t. I mean, you’re not a Slayer and some demons are really strong. Stronger than vamps.”
“They are the ones I especially try to avoid.” He said it dryly and Buffy laughed.
“So you been doing it long?”
“The family has been involved for a very long time. Myself, I got involved when I was fifteen.”
“Wow… So are you like, destined or Chosen?”
“No, volunteers. We’ve even aided a Slayer or two.” He put a hand to her face. “So don’t hesitate to ask.”
Buffy smiled. “You’re a touch old to be a Slayerette…”
Simon laughed. “Well, I can’t say that I like the name anyway. Now tell me, what has been happening since you moved here?”
Buffy shrugged and started telling her tale.
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Joyce managed to calm Willow down enough to talk after a few minutes. She reached for a tissue on occasion, handing it to the girl and a pile of them ended up in the waste paper basket. Then she sat for a while, her arm around the slender shoulders and rubbed Willow’s arm.
“So… Want to tell me why that just happened?”
“No-one’s ever c-cared about Xander. His parents…I don’t think they even like him…” Willow raised her tear stained and blotched face to that of Joyce. “I went to the school nurse a few years ago, to try and… she wouldn’t listen.”
Joyce hugged the girl. “That was a very brave thing for you to do Willow, and the right thing too. Don’t blame yourself that a so called responsible adult dropped the ball.”
“I should have d-done more. I should have…” Willow’s incipient babble was stopped by Joyce’s gentle finger on her lips.
“No, Willow. This is not your fault. It’s Xander’s parents’ fault, and all the teachers and nurses who ignored it. You tried Willow. You did your best, the best a girl your age can be expected to do.”
“No Willow. You did. You did good. Other people should have done more. And now Simon and I are on the case…” She gave the red head a determined look. “We’ll take care of it. We’ll take care of both of you.”
Willow started sniffling again and Joyce held her close. Willow, exhausted by her emotions and comforted by the presence of Joyce fell asleep, a weary happy smile on her face.
Buffy and Simon came back in after half an hour, to see Willow snuggled into Joyce, peacefully sleeping.
Buffy had to blink tears away at the sight. Joyce smiled at her, then down at the rumpled red hair under her chin.
“I hate to wake her up… but I don’t think I can carry her upstairs.”
Simon walked over to the couch and deftly lifted the redhead after gently disentangling her arms from around Joyce. Once he had her firmly in his arms she immediately snuggled into him. He carried her upstairs and laid her on the camp bed in Buffy’s room, caressed her hair and then left. Buffy and Joyce undressed her, putting one of Joyce’s nightshirts instead of her PJ’s on her and Joyce tucked her in, the tattered teddy bear under her chin and the blankets over both. Buffy looked at her friend with a sad yet satisfied look on her face.
“My pleasure love. Now you get ready for bed too. Teens need lots of sleep.”
Buffy rolled her eyes and Joyce grinned and left. “Yes Mom.” Buffy undressed quickly then lay down to sleep. After a few minutes she got up and went downstairs in her robe.
Joyce looked up from her reading in some surprise. “Yes, dear?”
Buffy gave Simon a glance and blushed little. “Mom would you, umm…”
Joyce’s face lit up in amusement and understanding and she rose immediately from her comfortable position against Simon. “Of course dear, come on.”
She followed her daughter upstairs and Buffy lay down, Joyce sat on the bed and tucked her in, then kissed her. “Good night, Buffy.”
“Sorry, Mom, it’s just…”
“Buffy… No mother minds. It’s nice to be needed on occasion.” She sighed. “I’m just glad you still want this after…”
Buffy rose up and hugged her mother. “Always, Mom. Always.”
“Buffy! I just tucked you in.” Joyce whispered mock sternly and Buffy stifled a giggle.
“I love you, Mom.”
Joyce tucked her daughter in again and kissed her forehead. “I love you too, Buffy. Now sleep.”
She went to check on Dawn and Janice, covering both girls who seemingly had fallen asleep talking, and walked downstairs.
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The next morning Xander arrived early enough for breakfast to find Simon and Joyce clearing out the basement. “Good morning Xander, mind giving us a hand? We need to make some room.”
Xander nodded. “Sure Ms Summers. Good morning. Buffy and Will not up yet?”
“No, and Dawn and Janice are still asleep as well.” She spoke indulgently. “Hunger will wake them.”
“So, no tree house today? And I figured you’d be packing?” Xander addressed the question to Simon while he lugged a box upstairs. “What’s in here? Lead?”
Joyce shrugged. “Most of this stuff was left by the previous owners, I haven’t had a chance yet to sort through it or throw it out or hold a yard sale. It’s sad really the family that lived here was attacked by rabid dogs while out picnicking, and the nearest relatives just sold the place with almost everything in it.” She frowned a bit and then shook her head.
Xander nodded sagely. “Yeah, those dogs are a real problem around here.” He took the box upstairs and put it on the porch with a pile of others, then went back down. “So, what are you clearing the basement for?”
“A guest room, possibly more than one, maybe a home office. The space is badly used.”
Xander looked at the clerestory windows at the back and sides of the basement that let in good daylight and nodded. “Yeah. That would work. Ummm…It’s just… Willow’s really not fond of enclosed spaces though. This might be a bit too… ummm…”
“Don’t worry about Willow, she’s fine with Buffy for now. This one’s going to be yours. After we clean it of course.” Joyce gave him a warm smile.
Xander dropped the box he’d lifted and looked open mouthed at the adults who calmly continued packing loose junk into boxes and crates. “F-for me?”
“Well, yes. I know that a basement is not ideal Xander, but I’m not putting you on Dawn’s floor.”
Xander looked between them wide eyed. “Seriously?”
“Xander, we trust you, but people would
talk if we put you on Dawn’s floor.” She winked and Xander grinned.
“Don’t worry, I know that Pat several houses over has made a very nice apartment in her basement. It’ll be quite comfortable.” Joyce said it straight faced and Xander could not help but grin again.
“Thanks.” He stood looking shyly at his feet and Joyce dropped something in the box she was loading before walking over and giving him a warm hug, which he gladly returned. “You’re welcome dear. Now start lugging. If we do this in the morning the varnish and paint will be dry enough for you to work on the tree house in the afternoon.”
Xander nodded, his smiled wide enough to crack his face and carried the box he’d dropped upstairs, then went down for more. After a quarter of an hour Joyce went up to start squeezing juice and to turn on the oven for the baked goods and buns. Simon and Xander kept carrying boxes. Simon addressed Joyce as he wiped his grubby hands.
“I think the previous owners had the same sort of idea about the basement, Joyce. There’s breezeblocks, tiles, grout, MDF, drywall, and other DIY stuff down there in abundance. As well as about a truck full of old aluminum siding and several bushels of old wooden planks and siding. At least you’ll have something to stoke that hearth of yours with.”
“Silly. Aluminum won’t burn.” She flicked his ear and he gave forth a long suffering sigh. Willow walked into the kitchen, followed by Buffy. They took in the mess on the porch and the open basement door.
Buffy looked at Xander who grinned broadly and Willow went over to hug him and he grabbed her in a bear hug. “Mornin’ Will.”
“This is of the good.” Buffy said with obvious satisfaction as she drank her orange juice and looked at the pile of stuff on the porch and the heap of junk at the foot of the stairs.
The upbeat mood of the teens was spoiled when Dawn came in with a woebegone expression on her face, settling on her stool after uttering some subdued good mornings. She gazed at Simon mournfully. Janice joined her, a thoughtful expression on her face. Joyce could see that her youngest had been crying and moved over to Simon, putting her arms around his waist. “Now would be good.” He smiled at her.
“Is anyone interested in visiting my new branch office in Sunnydale?”
Buffy exchanged glances with Willow and Xander. Dawn just looked more sad. “It’s where I’ll be working from come Monday.”
Willow squeaked, hopping on her stool in excitement. “You’re not leaving!”
Joyce laughed. “Well, he will need to go to the office.”
Dawn had slid of her stool and threw her arms around her mother and Simon. “You’re staying! You’re staying!” Simon ‘whuffed’ as the breath was pushed out of him by the girl’s enthusiastic dive into his stomach.
Joyce laughed and helped Simon to gently disentangle Dawn’s arms. “Yes Dawn, he is. Now let him breathe.”
Simon looked at her gratefully. Joyce whispered something in his ears that made him both blush and beam a huge smile at her. Buffy was the only one to hear the whisper and blinked in surprise. *The dangers of fatherhood? What the?*
Dawn beamed from ear to ear. “So you want to go there now?”
Simon pursed his lips. “Actually it might be better to do it tomorrow; we can work on clearing the basement this morning and the tree house this afternoon. There’ll be staff on hand to log you in tomorrow.”
Dawn blinked at him owlishly. “Log us in?”
“Get you security clearance and entry passes.” He shrugged. “Standard operating procedure.”
“Cool.” Dawn grinned.
“Now I think we should have some breakfast and then get to work on the basement…”
Dawn pouted. “No park?”
Simon looked at Joyce over his shoulder. Joyce who gave him an evil grin and whispered something in his ear which made his lips quirk though he shot her a reproving glance. Buffy heard the words though. *Problems of fatherhood… Ok Mom, weirding me out here…*
Simon sighed. Joyce laughed. “Dawn, I’ll call Janice’s Mom and ask her to mind and then I’ll take you and Janice to the park and get you later in the afternoon to help with the tree house. You all willing to help clear out the basement?” She looked her inquiry at the older teens who nodded. “Then let’s have breakfast.”
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Joyce drove Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Xander to the address Simon had given her the next afternoon. It turned out to be a stately early twentieth century building, a one time lawyer’s and doctor’s office that had been abandoned for some time, like so many in Sunnydale. There was new glass in the windows, the place was newly painted, the graffiti had been sandblasted of the walls and the roof was retiled. A discreet brass plate by the door merely stated that it was the Sunnydale branch of MIC. The large varnished door was closed and a bell pull, a speaker, an alphabet-numerical keyboard and a cardswipe were next to it. Joyce pulled the bell cord and an old fashioned clang resounded.
Xander grinned. “Now the door is opened by Lurch.”
The door opened on the last word and Miller stood there, dressed in a dark blue suit, towering over the callers. “Indeed Mr. Harris?” Xander grinned uncertainly.
“Good afternoon Ms Summers, ladies, Mr. Harris. Please come in.” He stepped back, allowing the group to enter. The hall was marble tiled and paneled in old oak. A large reception desk stood to the side and directly opposite the entrance was an old fashioned gated elevator. A receptionist smiled at them and a very large security guard mustered them carefully.
“Good afternoon, I’m Neave Cameron. Welcome to MIC.” The receptionist rose, her red curls framing her lightly freckled face. ”I’ll just need to take your picture and then I can make your security cards and assign each of you a code.”
She took a digital camera and took pictures of all of them, plugged in the camera and typed quickly. “I already have your particulars. It’ll be just a minute. You understand these are just temporary cards, the permanent ones will be ready in a few days.”
Willow looked at the technical equipment longingly and Neave smiled. “Dr Meier said you would be interested, Miss Rosenberg. You may come closer if you wish.” Willow managed to contain her squeal and almost skipped to Neave. The two redheads fell into an animated discussion as the new smelling computer and other machinery hummed softly.
Joyce stared at the animation on Willow’s face with amazement and enjoyment. She waited until she was handed a plasticized card with a picture of her face on it, looking startled as she always did in such pictures. Her name was on it and there were five small golden stars on the card below her portrait. A quick glance at the others showed the same. She was happy to note Buffy’s expression was similar to her own. Apparently some things were hereditary.
Miller gestured towards the elevator and the security person stepped aside, opening the gate, the lift behind was obviously restored. Willow looked around a bit wild eyed as she saw the small space and Joyce held her back, remembering Xander’s words the day before. “Is there a staircase we can take Miller?”
“The staircase is to the side, through the office. I will take you. Dr Meier’s office is on the third floor.” He gestured at the elevator buttons and led Joyce and Willow away.
Willow smiled wanly at Joyce. “Sorry. I just really don’t like small spaces.”
“No problem Willow. Exercise will do me good.” She snorted genteelly. “Especially since my beloved sister tells me I need to move my legs to get thinner thighs.”
Willow grinned. “You look good, don’t worry.”
Miller had led them to the stairs, which lay through a door behind the entry desk, an office space where several young men and women were working behind computers and desks. Several of them stared quite openly at Joyce and Willow and Joyce could see that it made the girl uncomfortable. She gave her a quick shoulder hug and they entered the stairwell, climbing smoothly until they reached the third floor. A security guard at the top of the stairwell smiled as they exited, showing their cards. Buffy, Dawn and Xander were already on the landing. A double green baize door faced the elevator and two single green doors were at either end of the landing. The security guard ran his card through the cardswipe and then typed in a number. Miller smiled at Joyce. “Once you have the permanent cards you’ll be able to get in here without Sam’s help, Ms. Summers. ”
The large guard grinned and opened the door. “My pleasure Mr. Miller, my pleasure.” He stood aside to let them pass and they filed into an office. A woman of about Joyce’s age who was what Lolly would describe as ‘comfortably padded’ looked up over her monitor and rose. Miller closed the door behind him and nodded at her. “Mrs. Yancey, this is Ms. Summers, her daughters Miss Buffy and Miss Dawn, Miss Willow Rosenberg and Mr. Xander Harris.”
Mrs. Yancey rose, approaching the group, extending her hand and shaking all of theirs. “Geraldine Yancey, Dr. Meier’s Sunnydale secretary. Very pleased to meet you.”
Joyce smiled. “Likewise.” She glanced at the single baize door and nodded at it. “Simon’s through there?”
“Yes, Ms. Summers.”
“Joyce.” She said it quite firmly. “I’ll never get Miller to say it, but I do have my limits.” Mrs. Yancey smiled. “Gerry, then please, Joyce. Want to go through?”
“Please.” Gerry walked to her desk and picked up her phone. “Dr Meier, Ms. Summers and the rest of the family are here.”
Buffy heard a soft laugh from the other side, but not through the door. “Send them through, thanks Gerry.”
Gerry opened the first and second door of the sound sluice and waved them through, closing the doors again as she left. Joyce’s first impression was that the office was an old fashioned lawyer’s or doctor’s office, with paintings on the walls and bookcases with law books. The walls were paneled and the floor covered in a warm green carpet. A leather-topped desk stood in it, and several comfortable leather chairs as well as a more modern desk with a top of the line computer and laptop. She could hear Willow’s excited ‘eep’ from behind her at the sight. Simon rolled back his chair and rose, spreading his arms.
“Welcome to my office.”
Joyce looked at him, raising an amused eyebrow. “Let me guess, someone else did the decorating here.”
Simon grinned. “Yes, except for the etchings and the photographs. They did however; manage to reflect my old fashioned taste. Yes, you may play with the laptop Willow,” Willow produced a real squeal this time and Simon laughed. “As a matter of fact there’s a mail in the box you might want to answer after playing and working with it a bit. I barely know how to turn the thing on, and they ask me for my considered opinion…” He rolled his eyes, kissed Joyce on the cheeks and grinned at Xander and Buffy. Dawn walked to the desk chair and gave it a push. It rolled smoothly and swiveled at her touch.
Simon took Joyce’s hand and grinned. “No more than five revolutions Dawn.”
Dawn grinned back, sat in the soft leather chair and twirled. Joyce groaned. “Dawn! Remember the Teacups!” Buffy laughed and walked over, stopping the spin.
Dawn looked rebellious. “Hey! I was having fun there!”
Buffy grinned down at her sister. “Better do as Mom says, O hurler from the Teacups. This carpeting is way too nice for you to puke all over it.”
Dawn stuck out her tongue.
Xander smiled and walked around the room, noting pictures and etchings as he went. Reproductions of famous Moments in American history, a picture of Simon in military uniform, standing with three older gentlemen in front of a hospital tent…a picture on the wall of a much younger Simon and one of the older men, a stocky balding man with a distinguished face, sitting on a bench in front of what he thought was liberty Hall… He went, trailing his fingers over fine leather surfaces and shining wood. One of the bookcases moved, revealing a bathroom. “Woah. Cool.”
“It’s just a bathroom.” Simon shrugged
“Behind a secret door! Hey Wills, come check out the secret door!”
Willow was tapping away at the keyboard and hummed softly to herself. “Moment Xand! Which mail is it?” Her voice sang out happily.
“The one from development@apple.”
Willow nodded and scanned the mail. “Hmm, well little test drive for this cute little Apple. Haven’t seen this model yet…” She swiveled her own chair, eyes suddenly wide. “This is an experimental model. How did you get it?”
“I own stock. Also I’m famous for mucking them up, so they figure that if I can use one, any idiot can.”
“You can’t be that bad!”
Simon winced. “Err, Willow, I’m an executive… I tell people to use computers. I can turn it on in the morning. I can use word processors, but I get my secretaries to check it before it goes out. I can e-mail. And I’m barely internet capable.”
Willow sighed. “You really should learn you know; computers and the internet are the future.”
“I know that Willow. Which is why I own IT stock. Henry Ford told my great-grandfather the future was in automobiles and he bought stock, but that didn’t mean he ever got into a car.” He looked a bit defensive.
Joyce put a hand on her beau’s shoulder. “I’m sure Willow can teach you anything you need to know.”
Simon gave her a twinkly-eyed smile. “I thought…”
Realizing that he was going to make a remark that would make her blush she put her hand on his lips. “Shush. Ne pas devant les enfants.”
Willow giggled and leant back in the chair. “Awww. And it was just getting interesting too.”
Joyce gave her a look and then flashed a wicked grin. “Mmmm. Desire-tu un exemple plus pratique, ‘tite Saule?” She ran her other hand up and down Simon’s chest suggestively and felt him shiver just a bit.
Willow flushed, eyes wide. “NO!!!” She glanced at her friends who were looking a touch confused and groaned. “I’ll just write a nice little report on this computer shall I? I’m sure that will be fine, much more interesting than French. And what can be said in French. And should not be said in French. Bad French, well actually, your French is pretty good, your accent is lovely, but what you said was…Ummm… Going to play with the computer now.” Willow ducked behind her hair and her babbling sank away into confused muttering.
Buffy looked at her mother. “Oooookaaaayyy. I so do not want to know what you just said. So, what’re we gonna do now?”
Joyce felt Simon’s tongue flicker against her fingers and noticed his eyes and face were completely innocent as he did so. She hastily removed them and wiped them dry on his shoulder, hiding the act in an affectionate gesture, giving him just a hint of reproving eyebrow. He quirked one of his back. Oh yes, the hand down his chest. Turnabout. Not quite
“We’ll get in the cars and go home dear, have dinner, you do your homework, work a bit on the basement maybe and then we go to bed.”
“Will we now?” Simon’s velvet baritone made shivers run down her spine and she struck his chest with the flat of her hand. “Simon, behave.”
Buffy groaned. “I need brain bleach. Oh god.”
Joyce chuckled. “Anything else here you want to show us, Simon?”
“Well the gym is not finished yet and the infirmary still needs most of its equipment so not really. Unless you want to have a look at the cafeteria?”
Joyce mustered the expressions of the group. “I don’t think so.”
Simon nodded. “The carry case for the laptop is under the desk.” Willow started shutting it down and the main system as well, picked up the case and packed it away.
They left the office saying goodbye to Gerry and Joyce led Willow to the stairs. “C’mon dear, we’ll take the stairs again.” Simon followed, muttering something about getting some exercise, carrying a slim brown leather briefcase and the laptop in a leather bag hanging from his shoulder. There were several office workers who looked at him with wide eyes, especially when he took Joyce’s hand as they arrived on the ground floor and could walk side by side. Joyce could hear the whispering behind them as they left the office and stepped into the foyer. Even Neave looked stunned at seeing them, though she recovered far more quickly.
Once they were outside she gave him a look. “Is it really so remarkable for you to hold hands with anybody that people stare at you?”
“People over the age of eight, yes.” Simon admitted.
“Oh, Simon…” She pulled him into a quick hug. She saw a young girl behind a window not just go wide eyed but also gawp like a fish. Then Simon drew her off to the parking lot. There were five parking spaces marked for executives, one empty.
“That one is yours, if you don’t want to park by the side of the road.”
“Executive parking space?”
“One’s been set aside for your use at all the branch offices.”
Joyce smiled. “Oooh a parking spot in New York…”
“Well, it’s in a parking garage.” He kissed her gently and she walked to the front of the building to get into her own car and drove off, Simon following in the old Volvo. They cooked dinner and helped the teens make homework and then worked a bit more on clearing out the basement and readying it for renovation. Xander was delivered to his parent’s house by Simon and Joyce sent Dawn to bed. Buffy and Willow withdrew to Buffy’s room to talk the talk that teen girls talk and Joyce went upstairs to remind them it was a school night. Willow scooted under her duvet quickly and Joyce walked to her bedside, smiling, and tucked the redhead in, kissing her forehead. She rose and Buffy moved down under the blankets herself. Joyce raised a questioning eyebrow and Buffy nodded. Joyce tucked her in as well. Once Joyce had left, after bidding them goodnight, Buffy rose and put on her patrol clothes.
“The annoying thing about this is that I don’t get tucked in when I get back from patrol.”
Willow snuggled deeper. “Hmmm. Want me to help?”
“No, I want you to stay here and keep safe. And don’t wait up this time, you don’t have Slayer metabolism and do need more sleep than I do.” The blonde scowled. “I need more sleep than I get, dammit.”
Willow giggled, sleepily. “Hmm, language Buffy.” Buffy rolled her eyes and left through the window. End note : Translations: Ne pas devant les enfants : Not in front of the children Desire-tu un exemple plus pratique, ‘tite Saule?: Would you like a more practical example, Lil´ Willow?