It was the last weekend of November and Joyce had brought her daughters to meet with the ailing Mrs. Chandler. The old lady however was not as ailing as expected. She stood waiting for her guests herself, straight and proud and defying even death as she leaned on her cane.
Joyce got out of the car, followed immediately by her two youngest, both of whom raced to the well trimmed topiary animals and started running from the one to the other, yelling the names of the beasts they were hiding behind. “Otter!” “Hedgehog!” “KANGAROO!!”
Joyce climbed the stairs with a rueful smile on her lips, her two elder daughters in tow, if giggling inanely. “I’m sorry, Dawnie’s been telling Kit all about your garden….”
Mrs. Chandler laughed. “Not a problem dear, it’s there to be enjoyed, both by looking at and playing in. Shall we go back to the lake?”
Joyce looked at the two running nine year olds and sighed. “If we can get their attention.”
Buffy grinned and stuck her fingers in her mouth only to be surprised by a piercing whistle. Old Buffy took her fingers from her mouth and grinned. “What? I’ve cheered on quite a few teams in my time.”
Buffy grinned at the old lady and noted that her little sisters were making haste towards them, laughing happily. “Yeah, and they’re well trained to respond. Better than puppies.”
Mrs. Chandler laughed and Joyce sighed. Dawn and Kit had reached them and stood before them, panting slightly. “Mrs. Chandler, this is Katherine, we call her Kit. Kit, this is Mrs. Chandler. Buffy is named after her.”
Kit looked slightly uncertain and then extended a hand that Mrs. Chandler gracefully accepted.
“Pleased to meetcha! I heard you’ve got real big fish?” Kit blurted out before realising what she had said and ducking behind Joyce in embarrassment.
Buffy Chandler laughed. “Yes, yes I do. Want to come and take a look at them?”
Kit was now too tongue-tied to speak and looked in desperation at her nearest sister, who happened to be Willow.
Willow nodded encouragingly, but Kit shook her head.
Willow grinned and then looked at Mrs. Chandler. “Can we feed the Koi again?” she asked.
“But of course my dear. They will be delighted to see you instead of me.”
Willow harrumphed, “I doubt that, Mrs. Chandler.”
“Oh, Koi are very intelligent. They will recognize you, I think,” Mrs. Chandler assured her.
Willow still looked doubtful, but followed their hostess through the great house. Mrs. Chandler looked with affection at the younger girls, who ran from nook to nook admiring artworks she had collected over the decades. Once they reached the lake, Willow, Kit and Dawn moved to the water’s edge, while Buffy and Joyce sat with Mrs. Chandler, after helping her sit.
“You look a lot better,” Buffy observed, after looking at the old lady for some time.
“I’ve been getting some new treatments. They tire me, but they seem to be working, keeping the cancer at bay.”
Joyce blinked. “I thought you had decided not to get treatment? Except for the pain?”
“Ah, but then they would not be able to test this treatment, and it might save the life of someone younger, and with more to live for than just a few more years of age and pain,” Old Buffy smiled. “It’s the last thing I can do to help.”
Young Buffy looked thoughtful. “So you’re gonna suffer a lot of pain so’s other people can live longer, and in pain too?”
Old Buffy smiled at her. “The pain eventually lessens and things get better, or they should. When you’re twenty-five, or fifteen, or five, don’t you think a year of pain might be a good trade for a longer life, several more?”
Buffy bit her lip. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she looked at her mother, a touch accusingly. “You had to pick someone like her for me to be named after? This gonna take some living up to!”
“It was her or Elly May Clampett.” Joyce replied in a dry tone of voice.
Mrs. Chandler started to laugh. “Oh, that would have been wonderful, don’t you think, Elly May?” She dug a sharp old elbow into Buffy’s side, who glared at her mother.
“Very funny, Mom.”
“Well, I knew when you were born that you were going to be a handful,” Joyce smiled. “And boy, was I ever right.”
“Mom!” Buffy whined.
Old Buffy laughed again. “Oh, don’t worry dear. It will be fine.”
Dawn bounced up to the table and smiled. “Can we have the fish food?”
Old Buffy smiled back and gestured at the table. “Of course dear. You can use the bottle and feed Simon.”
Everybody turned to the old lady. Joyce broke the silence. “I beg your pardon?”
“Simon, he usually swims over by the pagoda, over there.” Old Buffy pointed with her cane.
“Simon. Named after anyone we know?” Joyce inquired.
Old Buffy sighed. “I doubt it. He’s named after your Simon’s father.”
“Why ever would you name a fish after a man like that!” Willow burst out, angrily. “He beat Dad!”
Old Buffy nodded. “Yes, he did. Simon the Koi is well over sixty years old, almost seventy, Willow. He’s my oldest Koi. Back then, Simon’s father was… different.” She looked into the distance, rather sadly. “I remember him when he was young, so wild and full of plans, ingenious and happy.” She sighed. “He’d gotten an Act through Congress, to help and protect children; he was like a force of nature.”
“Wait, Simon’s dad did that?” Buffy demanded to know.
“Yes, he did. I don’t know what happened to him, to make him the man he became, but when I first met him he was warm, kind, funny and gentle. He spent some time in Sunnydale, living in the house his uncle had built there. I think he fell in love there.” Old Buffy looked at the rippling water. “And something went very wrong. When he went back to New York he was angry. When I saw him again, he was frightening. He was here for a funeral; it was in Sunnydale, for a lady he had met there. I never asked, but I know it was the lady, the one he loved.” Mrs. Chandler’s gaze rested upon the pagoda.
“I don’t know exactly, but I think she was married, and for some reason would not have a divorce. After that… The man I knew, the young man who came back from World War I, wanting to party and wanting to make the world a better place… He was gone.”
Joyce looked at her feet. “He came to Sunnydale?”
“Yes, he did. Didn’t you know that?” Old Buffy asked, sounding rather surprised. “I thought you’d be living in Gabriel’s Manor, statues and all…” she teased.
Joyce blushed. “No! I mean, possibly the manor, but Simon took out the statues. And the paintings. And the dishware. And the carpets and tapestries. And a lot of the balusters.”
Buffy started to laugh. “Well, I hope he put them in storage, so later they can be restored to their old glory. The stories Simon used to tell me about them…”
“You really liked him,” Buffy said wonderingly. “He must’ve really changed.”
“Yes. He did. It was like marvellous butterfly changing into an ugly, spiny, hairy caterpillar. With warts and oozing sores,” Old Buffy replied, half teasing, half serious.
“EEEEEWWWW!” The girls called out together, while Joyce laughed.
“GROSS!” Dawn sniffed, took the baby bottle, stuck out her tongue at Kit and giggled. “I get to feed Simon and you’ll never catch me! Hah!” She took off and led Kit a merry chase over the narrow, humped oriental bridges. Willow and Buffy exchanged looks and then took off as well, running by the pools and the little waterfalls and jumping the little streams, until they reached the ones they could not cross without using the bridges and finally all four arrived, panting, at the island with the Pagoda, to feed an old fish named after a young man who had become a monster.
Joyce Summers sat looking at them thoughtfully, playing with the ring on her finger and wondering what to tell Simon. There was a soft cough. “Is that an engagement ring, my dear?”
Joyce smiled, a beaming smile that lit up the afternoon. “Yes, it is.”
Old Buffy smiled. “Excellent. Tell me all about it,” she grinned wickedly. “Every salacious detail.”
Joyce blushed furiously. It was going to be a long day. But maybe in between being mercilessly grilled about every detail of her love life, she’d get some more information about her fiancé’s father.