The character of Clarence Odbody is borrowed from the film It’s A Wonderful Life
; all other characters are borrowed from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
. Some dialogue from ‘Welcome To The Hellmouth’, by Joss Whedon.Xander Harris, This Is Not Your Life2. Fade In
When you’ve just moved to a new town and it’s your first day at a new school, it’s probably pretty normal for your mother to say that you don’t want to be late for your first day, and that you should think positive and have a good time. There’s also probably a lot of mothers who would say that you’re sure to make friends right away—maybe even a few of the ones who can actually remember what high school is really like might still say that.
The number of mothers who’d ask you on your first day to try not to get kicked out is probably a lot smaller.
At least she didn’t say, ‘Try not to get expelled again
And, in her defence, there probably aren’t so many people who got expelled from their last school for burning down the gym.
Buffy hadn’t wanted
to burn down the gym. She’d had to. It was full of vampires.
She couldn’t say that to the principal of her new school, though. She mostly didn’t want to say it to anybody. Back in Los Angeles, in her last desperate little time there, she’d been the Chosen One, the Vampire Slayer, the one girl in all the world with the strength and skill to hunt them and kill them, and anybody who got involved in that side of her life was in danger. Now she was in Sunnydale and she was a retired vampire slayer. She wasn’t going to get anybody involved in that side of her life because there wasn’t going to be
a ‘that side of her life’. She was going to have a
life, the way she used to, the way it should be.
But Principal Robert Flutie knew about the burned-down gym incident, and he was a definite giver of mixed signals. He acted like somebody who was pleased to have her at the school and like somebody who was nervous about having her at the school, at the same time,
which was weird. He told her that all the ‘kids’ were free to call him ‘Bob’; then he told her that none of them did. He tore up the piece of paper with her record on it (including the part about burning down the gym); then he taped it back together again. He told her that at Sunnydale High things were different, they weren’t interested in the past, they weren’t about to give her stern warnings. No, they wanted to service her needs and help her to respect their needs. Then he said, ‘And if your needs and our needs don’t mesh …’
The way he didn’t finish the sentence made it sound a lot like the warning he’d just told Buffy he wasn’t going to give her.***
‘Clarence, I don’t think this is the same way it worked in the film.’— ‘In the film, Xander, George Bailey needed to be jolted, hard, off the course he was contemplating. He needed a shock, in fact. And he needed more of one because to begin with he did not believe what I told him about who I was or why I was there or what I was showing him. He needed to go into that version of reality where he had never been born, not just see it and hear it, but feel it with his flesh and confront the people he thought he recognised but who had never in their lives known anybody called George Bailey. Your case is different, as every case is different. You do not need what George Bailey needed. You will be able to see and hear, and because you are now starting to perceive with the soul instead of the body you may also perceive something of what people are thinking and feeling. But you will not enter into the story. You will not be able to touch or be touched, or to affect anything physically, and nobody will see you or hear you. You will only observe, and perhaps learn.’
‘So why am I not observing my life from the beginning?’— ‘Xander, this is how things would be if you had never been born. There is no Xander Harris for you to observe his life. To learn how the world would be different if you had never been born, you do not need to observe every moment any more than you need to observe every place.’
‘Okay, I can accept that. Is there any reason for this starting point? Can you tell me that much?’— ‘I am here to guide you. Did you notice that when you talked, before, about how you had made a difference in the world, you kept mentioning what you had done with Buffy? Could that be why we’re beginning with Buffy?’
‘Hey, that’s right! It’s almost like this is when my life really began. Except for the part about it not having, in this story. The first time I saw Buffy was the day she started at Sunnydale High. I noticed her arriving, and then I talked with Willow and … Jesse.’ Xander paused for a moment. He hadn’t thought of Jesse McNally in a long time. ‘They both knew a new girl had transferred to Sunnydale, but that was all. And she hadn’t noticed any of us yet. This thing in the principal’s office, with Bob Flutie’—Xander hadn’t thought of Principal Flutie in a long time, either—‘that must have been how she started off. I guess nothing much has changed for her yet, compared to what really happened. But the next thing would be when she comes out of the office into the hallway. Somebody bumped into her and she dropped her stuff, and I saw it happen, and helped her pick things up. That’s how we actually met for the first time. I guess if I’m not there she’ll just have to pick everything up by herself.’***
The girl must have just come out of the principal’s office. She must be the new girl in his grade people were talking about, the one who’d just transferred. Maybe being the new girl and having to see the principal had made her awkward and nervous. She didn’t look like the type who’d normally be awkward and nervous. She looked like the type who’d normally be a cheerleader or a prom queen. But somehow she’d spilled all the contents of her bag across the floor. She looked awkward and nervous trying to pick everything up. Maybe she wouldn’t notice that he was too. Maybe if they were both squatting down picking things up she wouldn’t notice how short he was. She was short, too, even for a girl, but still not as short as he was.
He squatted down and said, ‘You dropped your stuff.’
She gave him a look as if he was being an idiot, which was fair enough, because he was.
‘Uh, sorry’, he said. ‘Uh, can I, uh, help you pick it up?’
Unbelievably, she smiled, showing the whitest teeth he’d ever seen, at least that close up, and said, ‘Thanks’.
He reached out blindly for something and his hand closed on it just at the same time hers did, their fingers brushing each other. He jerked away from the contact and the object fell to the floor again. Blushing foolishly, he apologised again.
‘It’s all right’, she said, ‘really.’
He muttered something incomprehensible, somehow managed to scoop up most of what was left on the floor, and thrust it towards her. Between them they managed to manoeuvre the objects back into her bag and he managed to avoid violating her personal space again. Then they stood up and he went back to being a head shorter than her. He started to turn away.
The girl said, ‘Well, thanks again, uh’—she paused for his name.
‘Jonathan’, he mumbled, and then coughed to clear his throat. He realised that he looked and sounded like a middle-schooler and that she’d never guess he was in the same grade as her. ‘Jonathan Levinson. I’m a sophomore here.’
‘Well, nice to meet you, Jonathan. I’m a sophomore, too. I’m Buffy, I’m new here.’
Jonathan nodded in acknowledgement. Buffy turned and started to walk away, heading for class, no doubt. Jonathan realised he was watching her walk away and looked down, embarrassed. He was still holding something in his hand, something of Buffy’s. He tried to call out to her that she’d left it behind, but she was already too far away in the crowded corridor to hear. He took another look at the object. It was a short piece of wood with a sharp point, like a stake. It looked like something you’d use to stake a vampire.
What could a girl like that be carrying something like that in her bag for? A girl like Buffy couldn’t be into Live Action Role-Play, could she?***
‘Live Action Role-Play? What’s that?’— ‘If it’s important, it will become clear in good time.’
‘And what was Jonathan doing there anyway?’— ‘Think of that first encounter of yours with Buffy, as you remember it. As you said before you saw this, she had a collision with somebody in a corridor where many students were passing by. You happened to be one of them, you noticed Buffy dropping her possessions, and you came to her assistance. But there were other students there who also saw what happened. Jonathan Levinson was one of them. When he saw you helping Buffy, he left the two of you alone. But if you had not existed, he would have acted on the same impulses you did.’
‘So Jonathan is taking my place? That can’t be good. I mean, Jonathan got involved in all kinds of dark magicks. Instead of me as a faithful member of her Scooby gang, Buffy’s going to have some sort of evil magician. I can already see that this is going to be a world filled with badness. But I want to learn more. See, I would never have guessed that just by existing I stopped this from happening. Who knows what other differences my life made?’***
The transfer student had come from LA! and she definitely looked like somebody who knew at least something about style. Cordelia needed to scope her out, find out where she’d fit in—or not. Was there a hook she could use to get in? Yes! The new girl didn’t have her own textbook yet. Cordelia leaned over to share hers. Click! Then, as soon as class finished, as they were getting out of their seats, she introduced herself, learned the new girl’s name (Buffy), and offered to show her the way to the library so she could get herself organised with her own textbooks. Everything was going smoothly. Of course. As they started out into the corridor Cordelia started talking about LA. She let Buffy see that she was just a little bit jealous of her for coming from there, but in a funny way that made Buffy laugh, before letting her know, very subtly, what her social position at Sunnydale High would depend on.
‘If you hang with me and mine, you’ll be accepted in no time. Of course, we do have to test your coolness factor.’ The test was just a bit of fun, like something from a magazine, but it helped them bond. As usual, everything was falling into place.
Except, as usual, Willow Rosenberg. She was in the way, blocking Cordelia from the drinking fountain. Still, it was a good opportunity to give Buffy another signal about how things worked, by putting Willow in her place. That meant letting her know (and letting Buffy know) that she was a loser, a loser who wore clothes her mother picked out and who would never, ever get a guy, a loser that Buffy had better learn to avoid.
Cordelia congratulated herself privately on her strategic skill as she guided Buffy to the library. She used the time wisely to explain to Buffy why she should come to the Bronze that night if she wasn’t too swamped catching up with schoolwork. Buffy said she’d try.
‘Good’, said Cordelia. ‘So, um, I’ll see you in gym, and you can tell me absolutely everything there is to know about you!’***
Xander felt a twinge at the thought of Cordelia. ‘Was that the first time Cordelia met Buffy?’— ‘Yes, just as it was.’
‘I’d pretty much forgotten what Cordelia used to be like. She changed so much later on. I guess I had something to do with that, along with a lot of other things. I wonder how she’ll turn out without me around.’ Another thought struck him. ‘I wonder how Willow will turn out. Everything’s going to be so different, isn’t it?’***
Buffy hadn’t been keen on the way her new friend—or acquaintance—Cordelia had unsheathed her claws and used that Willow girl as a scratching post. And she was way sure she had no plans to tell Cordelia absolutely everything there was to know about herself, especially when she wasn’t exactly sure yet that Cordelia was exactly a friend. But she was totally determined about having a life, and she couldn’t afford to start by turning down anything even resembling a new friend. She’d talk to Cordelia again in gym, and if this Bronze was the place to go, she’d go there. And whatever problems Buffy might have with Cordelia, they didn’t count next to the problems she might have with the school librarian.
She’d just gone into the library to get some textbooks and instead, without even listening to her, he’d offered her a giant ancient dust-covered thing that said ‘VAMPYR’ on the front cover.
Thanks to her highly developed natural Slayer instincts, she figured right away that VAMPYR meant ‘vampire’ in some kind of musty old book language.
She so didn’t need that. She told the librarian and left. Her mind was clear: Cordelia and the Bronze, yes; oddball librarian with the VAMPYR book, no.
The only thing was that she had to figure some way to catch up on her schoolwork without her own textbooks.
‘Excuse me?’ said the girl Buffy hadn’t seen and had almost walked into. ‘Are you the new transfer student from LA?’
Buffy apologised and introduced herself.
‘I’m Marcie Ross. I saw you talking with Cordelia Chase before. Was she able to help you out? You look as if you’ve got a problem.’
Buffy focussed on Marcie. She seemed hard to focus on, almost as if she were fading into the background, but she couldn’t have come along at a better time. ‘Um, Cordelia’s been really nice … to me …’—Buffy realised she didn’t want to talk about Cordelia and she definitely didn’t want to talk about her issues with the school librarian—‘but, um, anyway, the thing is I kinda have this burning desire not to flunk all my classes and with the being new here and all I could use some help getting caught up.’
‘I might be able to help you with that.’
Buffy smiled. ‘Could you? You’re a life-saver!’
‘What I mean is, I might be able to introduce you to somebody. I could kind of ask her to do you a favour. She’s definitely your go-to person for help with schoolwork. Come on, I think I know where she’ll be having lunch now.’
As they headed out of the school building, Buffy said, ‘I so owe you for this. You think she’ll help me if you ask, this person you’re taking me to?’
‘Oh, she loves being a study buddy. Being good at schoolwork is about the only thing people notice her for. Teachers notice her all the time, but that’s about it. You’ll see. Just like you’ll see what the deal is with Cordelia. It’s easy to be popular when you’re beautiful. But I guess you already know that. Are you planning on hanging out with Cordelia?’
Buffy still didn’t want to talk about Cordelia. ‘Well, I had plenty of friends back in LA, but I’m new here and I have to make a fresh start, I guess.’ She wanted to ask Marcie about herself, but she was finding her hard to focus on again, and before Buffy could come up with words, Marcie was introducing her to … Willow.
Willow was Willow Rosenberg, apparently, and eagerly keen to help when Marcie explained what Buffy wanted. She started to suggest that they meet at the library if Buffy was free sixth period. Buffy wanted to avoid the library, and especially the librarian, but before she could think what to say Marcie was excusing herself and saying she hoped she’d catch up with Buffy later.
‘Sure’, Buffy said, and just managed to thank her once again for her help.
Marcie was already starting to head away and didn’t seem to notice when Willow said, ‘Hey, good to see you again, Marcie!’ Willow pulled a face, as if she was disappointed but used to it.
Buffy began a sentence, ‘That was kind of …’, and then tailed off.
‘… abrupt?’ Willow suggested. ‘Or am I being too harsh?’
‘No, it’s just that I don’t get it.’
‘Well, that’s Marcie. I feel like I’m the only person who ever notices her at all. Sometimes I think she could just disappear completely. Even teachers don’t seem to pay much attention to her. She hangs around Cordelia sometimes as if she hopes the popularity will rub off on her, but it doesn’t work.’
‘I noticed Marcie talked in kind of a strange way about Cordelia. I guess you and Cordelia don’t exactly get on, either. Look, let’s forget about that and get back to the bit where you are going to be the study buddy I need so desperately and I am going to be hugely grateful forever. I’m really hoping for everything to fit into place for me—you know, new school and everything, so much hoping not to make a fool of myself with the teachers or the, the kids, or, or, anything. So why don’t you pick out some place where we can meet to start cracking the books? Only not the library. Also, not any place where Cordelia hangs out—I mean, if that’s an issue for you.’
Buffy realised she’d been talking too fast when Willow started stammering, but the words that got out of Willow’s mouth made it seem that her mistake hadn’t taken her totally over the line. ‘Oh, o-o-okay’, Willow said, and then paused for a moment to catch her breath. ‘Th-that’s cool. A-a-although I do kinda like the library. It’s a great collection, and the new librarian is really cool. But, you know, a lotta kids feel like you, I guess, you know—I mean, like, library? musty old books?
As Willow paused, Buffy said, ‘The librarian’s new?’
‘Yeah, he used to be a curator at some British museum, or, or maybe it was the
British Museum, I’m not sure. But he knows everything, and he brought all these historical volumes and biographies with him, and am I the single dullest person alive?’
Buffy smiled at Willow. ‘No, not at all. I think it’s cool you enjoy all that stuff, plus, it will also make you the perfect study buddy. But … it’s hard to say, there’s just something about …’—Buffy stopped herself from saying ‘that guy’, because of the way Willow so obviously admired the librarian—‘… that place that gives me the wig.’
‘Well, sure’, Willow said, ‘no problem, we can find some other place to study.’ She took a deep breath and Buffy smiled again when she saw the way Willow’s eyes glinted with excitement. ‘Let me think …’
Willow’s pause was interrupted by the approach of Cordelia, saying, in two completely different tones of voice, ‘Buffy!’ and then ‘Willow’.
‘Uh’, said Willow, ‘she’s not hanging out with me, it’s just about study help.’
‘Please’, said Cordelia, ‘did I ask? Anything of you, ever?’ She turned to face Buffy only. ‘I just wanted to tell you that you won’t be meeting Coach Foster, the woman with the chest hair, because gym was cancelled due to the extreme
dead guy in the locker.’
‘What?’ Buffy said, chilled. A moment later she heard Willow asking Cordelia for an explanation.
‘Some guy was stuffed in Aura’s locker!’ said Cordelia.
‘Dead’, Buffy repeated flatly.
‘Totally dead’, Cordelia said. ‘Way dead.’
Before Buffy could ask any more questions, Cordelia was distracted by somebody looming up at her shoulder, saying, ‘Hey, Cordelia.’
‘Oh, yay’, said Cordelia, ‘it’s my stalker.’
‘I heard about the dead guy in the locker, and I want you to know that I’m here for you in your time of need.’
Cordelia took a short step away from him. ‘Don’t you have an elsewhere to be?’
The guy took a half-step back as well, but kept addressing Cordelia. ‘Just remember, if you need a shoulder to cry on, or even to nibble on …’
Now that Buffy had had a moment to gather her thoughts, she decided this scene was something she didn’t need to hang around to be an audience for. She grabbed her things and stood up. ‘Sorry, uh, Willow, Cordelia, I got an elsewhere I need to be. I guess I’ll see you around later—oh, and, uh, you too’, she added, not sure which remark was addressed to whom, and not bothering to stick around to sort it out. There’d be time enough for that later, she thought as she made tracks, after she’d checked on the body that had been in the gym locker …***
‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! Now this story is running seriously off the rails. Can I get some explanation?’— ‘I’m here to guide you, Xander.’
‘Well, first of all, Buffy was really ticked off with Giles when she first met him. That seems … well, way odder than seeing the old Cordelia.’— ‘That was just as it happened. Buffy had a difficult time when she first discovered her role as the Slayer. When she first came to Sunnydale she was desperately hoping for a different balance in her life. Remember, she didn’t know Giles as Giles, then. When she first encountered him she perceived only somebody who wished to upset the balance she was trying to achieve.’
‘Okay, I guess that changed pretty quickly when the vampire trouble started, and I didn’t really have much to do with that. All right, I can deal with that. But Marcie Ross? What’s that all about? Isn’t that the name of the girl who turned into an invisible homicidal psycho because nobody ever noticed her, and tried to slice Cordelia’s face off? How come she’s visible now?’— ‘You are observing a world which has already been accumulating differences from the one you know, because of your absence, for a decade and a half. Buffy Summers is exactly the same as the person you met because while she lived in Los Angeles your life did not touch hers, and so she is no different for the absence. But already the ripples, as we might think of them, have spread from that absence to make some of the people in Sunnydale different from the way you knew them. The difference to the life of Marcie Ross has not yet been great because your life barely touched hers directly. But there are also indirect effects. The Marcie Ross you were previously aware of, if barely, the one you would think of as the real Marcie Ross, did not become invisible all at once. The mystical influence emanating from the Hellmouth, combined with the way people did not notice her, worked on her bit by bit. The same process is working on the Marcie you are observing now. If you were paying attention, you will have observed the signs of it. But the process has gone a little more slowly for this Marcie, because there is one person who has been prepared to take somewhat more notice of her.’
‘Willow?’— ‘Willow Rosenberg is not the sort of person whose notice Marcie Ross most craves, but she accepts some attention from her, and it has been enough to stop her from vanishing from view altogether—yet.’
‘Hey, I remember something! When we found Marcie’s yearbook—I mean, the real Marcie’s yearbook—everybody had written in it “Have a nice summer”. We had to explain to Giles how that was the kiss of death. But Willow had been just a little different. She’d written “Have a great summer”, bless her generous heart. She cared.’— ‘And now you have seen her care a little more. Because there is no Xander Harris in her life. Without you, she has spent more time all by herself, but she has also spent more time paying attention to other people. Marcie Ross, for example.’
‘So Marcie’s going to be back, I bet. This is amazing. Just by being alive, I stopped Buffy from falling into the hands of evil magician Jonathan and psycho killer Marcie.’ Xander remembered something. ‘But what about Willow and Jesse? It was like they didn’t even know each other. Didn’t you say Willow paid more attention to other people because I was never there?’— ‘You remember how shy Willow was around boys.’
It was not a question. ‘Well, sure. But she always hung around with me.’— ‘With you, yes. The two of you knew each other from the age of five. She accepted you as her best friend despite your maleness, not because of it. How did she know Jesse McNally?’
‘I guess that started a few years later. I made friends with Jesse at school, we started hanging out together, and then …’— ‘Willow spent time with Jesse as part of spending time with you. Not knowing you, both of them spend their time in other ways.’
‘I see Jesse’s still spending time chasing after Cordelia, just the same.’— ‘And other girls, too.’
‘I remember. That’s what got him into trouble.’ Xander remembered what had happened to Jesse. ‘It’s like this world still has all the bad stuff from the real one, plus more, but the good stuff is missing.’
Clarence made no reply as they continued to observe.