Buffy moved through the school awkwardly, keeping to the shadows as much as she could. She knew that right now her mother was locking the car that stood parked in the staff parking area of Sunnydale High. It was her first day in the school and she knew that her entire stay here was going to be a disaster the minute she stepped foot inside the door. No, she’d known it when her mother had told her she would attend Sunnydale High. Her day so far had only confirmed that knowledge.
The boy who'd fallen at her feet was a slight tonic to her ego, with his typical male mouth-not-attached-to brain remark. 'Can I have you' indeed.
Now she was heading for the Principal's office. And if this talk went wrong, her mother would know ten minutes later. *Life is hell. School is hell. And mom is in the running for the Devil himself*
Buffy groused silently to herself.
Joyce stood in the parking lot, looking up at the back of the school. She reached into the car for her bag and swung it over her shoulder. At first she'd had looked for a job in a gallery or other artistic venue, or a place to run her own. But pretty soon it became clear to her that tourist and through trade was almost absent in Sunnydale, and that the local population was woefully insufficient to allow the existence of the sort of art sales needed to support an art gallery. And Joyce was not going to go the 'interior decorating' way.
So she'd applied for the job of Art and Art history teacher at the High School. And the School Board and the Principal had been impressed enough with her résumé (an art historian with command experience from her rank as an Army Reserve Officer was not that common) to offer her the position of vice principal as well. Since it meant a pay check a good deal higher and fewer actual classes to teach, Joyce had accepted. Fewer classes meant fewer essays and other work to correct, which translated it more time for her daughter.
Buffy knew, logically, that it was good that her mother had a job and one that paid relatively well, or at least better than what she could have expected to make while working in a Gallery or setting up as an art dealer herself. And that she would be home more, which would allow them to work on their strained relationship. And that her mother had teaching experience before she was born, and even some while she was growing up, mostly as a temp and teaching college level courses.
But to stand here, waiting for her talk with the Principal, seeing the opposing office marked Vice-Principal in fading black and gold letters on the milky glass pane, and the newer letters below reading J. Summers… Knowing that she would be discussed by teachers with her mother hearing about any transgressions within minutes?
And going to school with her mother, in her car? Which might happen every day, since 'I have to go there anyway, honey'? Deadly for her school cred, but possibly not as deadly as every time she was greeted with a 'Hi Honey' in the corridors. That notion was far beyond awful.
Her mom at least seemed to have guessed that Buffy's mortification was considerable, so today she merely dropped her off at the front and then drove to the back and the staff entrance there. And she would keep away from the first talk Buffy would have with the Principal. Thankfully. Buffy closed her eyes and waited until she was called.
Buffy Summers had spent some time in an institution. She felt she was right back there, among the crazies. She'd sought out Willow Rosenberg, but Rosenberg had introduced her to her friends. And the conversation the friends were having was not of the good.
“Did you see the new Art Teacher? Hot! I think only the Comp Sci teacher could possibly be hotter!” Xander told Jesse.
“Dude, you're like totally right! That's one hot lady. I'd almost take Art,” Jesse replied.
Buffy knew it wasn’t fair to judge the boys like she did. That they couldn't know her hearing was way, way better than that of a normal person. But she could hear them and it was freaking her out.
“Are you okay, Buffy?” Willow asked quietly. “A-are you having second thoughts? A-about being friends?”
Buffy shook her head. “Nope, no way. No, I was just contemplating the horror that is my life.”
“Oh come now. It can't be that bad?” Willow ventured.
Buffy sighed. “Have you heard about the new art teacher?”
Willow frowned. “Yeah, a lot of the guys say she's totally hot so she's a great teacher. Which is stupid, I mean yeah, sure, she's attractive-”
Willow blushed deeply. “Ummm, in a purely aesthetic sense, errr, not in a I-may-like girls kinda sense, ummm, if that creeps you out.”
Buffy buried her face in her hands. “I don't care if you like guys or girls, Willow. Or -or fungi or think the Cookie Monster is the ultimate in boyfriends!”
“I liked the Count von Count myself,” Willow ventured.
Buffy came out of the shelter of her hands and gave Willow a disbelieving look. “Not the point, Willow. The point, see, is that the woman you find attractive in a purely aesthetic sense and that no-brain and bird-brain over there want to hump like dogs is MY MOM!”
Willow leaned back from the cry, wringing her hands, her blush intensifying. “Oh... that's ummm. So you're mom's a teacher? D-does she know how to count?”
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Joyce was in her office. She had taught a few classes and had shaken off the feeling she always got in the vicinity of teenage boys, that they were undressing her with their eyes but wanted to undress her with their hands and go from there.
The advantage of college students was that they tended to have blunted the first edge of the onslaught of hormones. Joyce looked at the filing cabinets that lined one wall and wondered at the one marked 'Deceased/Obituaries. She opened it really hoped that the classification was a joke. It was full to bursting. The files were sorted by year and again by name and Joyce took out a few of the newer ones.
“Marcie Ross…” she read the file and winced at the disinterest that poured from the pages. Marcie had been an average student, possibly abused, her grades falling ever more, with few interests. Her older brother was a troublemaker who had left Sunnydale High within the lowest percentile and was working for his father’s used car dealership. Marcie had run away, but Joyce’s predecessor had considered it likely she was dead.
It made depressing reading and a after a while Joyce rose and looked out of the window, seeing her daughter talking to a redheaded girl. She thought she recognized her as Willow Rosenberg, pointed out as one of the schools top students, if not the top student, with genius level grades and course load that extended to correspondence courses at UCLA and even a few classes at UC Sunnydale.
She'd also been told that Miss Rosenberg was only recently coming out of her shell, having been bullied dreadfully and had taken a long time to dare to fight back, even verbally. There were also quiet whispers of considerable emotional neglect, but the girl's parents were influential enough that nobody wanted to make something of it.
Joyce intended to do something about that. No child would fall by the wayside while she was Vice-Principal. There would be no more Marcie Rosses.
She smiled as Buffy lightly swatted the other girl's arm. It was a gesture that reminded Joyce of the protective relationship Buffy had had with her cousin Celia. Her cousin's loss had hurt Buffy deeply and she'd become a bit of a Bully in Junior High and Hemery. Joyce's deteriorating relationship with Hank hadn't helped there. *Good girl, Buffy.*
Joyce thought approvingly as her daughter quite obviously began a friendship with the other girl. Joyce guiltily repressed the thought that Willow ought to be just the sort of influence to help her daughter calm down.
She bit her lip and decided to take a walk around the school. She'd come back later, perhaps tonight to look at some of the files.
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Buffy was silent at dinner and Joyce worried a little. She was worried about Dawn too. But Dawn at least was talking, even if most of what she was saying was complaints.
“I hate my school!” Dawn whined. “Nobody likes me!”
Buffy glared at her little sister. “Yeah? Well some people are liked a little bit too much at mine!”
Joyce frowned and wondered what Buffy meant as the meaning suddenly became clear. She took a big gulp of water and wondered what sort of conversations Buffy had heard. That was one complication she hadn’t counted on.
“I, ah, I’m sure that things get better once the novelty wears off,” she suggested.
Buffy snorted. “Between you and Miss Calendar? I doubt it will. May I be ‘scused? You said I could go to the Bronze…”
Joyce sighed. “Very well. We’ll talk more later. Be careful and don’t-”
“Talk to any strange men, yeah Mom, I know the spiel by heart,” Buffy rolled her eyes, put her dishes in the sink and hurried upstairs to get dressed for dancing.
“Why can’t I go out?” Dawn whined.
“Because they don’t allow anyone under fifteen into the Bronze and you’re ten. Now eat up and I’ll take you over to Janice’s,” Joyce pointed at her daughter’s barely touched vegetables.
“Don’t wanna. I wanna go dancing too!” Dawn ate a single green bean with great reluctance.
Joyce smiled. “This afternoon you wanted to go to Janice, who was having a few others over and you were going to play some games. So that is exactly what you’re going to do. I called her mother, and she agreed. Now, unless those greens are gone in the next few minutes, you can come with me to the High School instead and do some homework?”
The beans disappeared so fast that Joyce was sure Dawn had barely chewed.
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Joyce made her way to her office through the darkened hallways of the school. She carried a flashlight since she felt lighting up the corridors would not be energy efficient and she didn’t know where to find the switches anyway. She reached her office and used her key to open the door.
Sighing she sat down at her desk and took the first of a number of files that Bob Flutie had told her she ought to know. A few were to do with running the school, but most were student's personal files, with Bob's notes on his worries and what he had tried,
She looked up, disturbed as the door opened and a girl, lank dark hair hanging around her face, a far too thin face, with intense brown eyes, tried to edge out through as narrow a gap as possible.
“What? Who are you? What are you doing here? How did you get in here?” Joyce asked sharply.
The girl whirled and gasped. “y-you can see me?”
Joyce frowned. “Yes, I can. And I'm not liking what I'm seeing. When was the last time you ate, what are you doing here now that the school is closed and...” she sniffed rather indelicately. “When did you last wash?”
The girl started to tremble. “Y-you can see me...”
Joyce was getting rather worried about that girl and got up from behind her desk, moving towards where the girl was twisting her hands together, her eyes wide and almost hyper ventilating.
“Who are you dear?” she asked kindly. *Not that I don’t have a pretty good idea, even as run down as you are.*
“Ma- Matilda. Matilda W-Wormwood,” the girl answered, straightening up.
Joyce frowned. Before Buffy went of the rails she prided herself on having one of the best teen bullshit detectors in LA, if not the country. Her daughter’s vehement statements that vampires existed and she had been chosen to defeat them. And Joyce knew it was false, because everybody knew that Vampires didn’t exist. It was common sense. So as her detector told her that Buffy truly believed what she was saying, that had been part of the reason Buffy had spent time in an institution.
This girl believed she was Matilda Wormwood. But Joyce had seen that face, only marginally more happy, if slightly healthier looking, in her file this afternoon.
“Really? Your file says your name is Marcie Ross. Can you explain that?” she asked mildly.
The girl started to laugh, hysterically. The cabinets started to rock, then the drawers flew open and the files started to spew out. *Like the library index cards in Ghostbusters,*
Joyce thought even as she closed the distance between her and the girl and gave her two firm slaps in the face, one on each cheek.
“Hysterics won’t help. Now, sit down, and talk to me.”
The girl sobbed, going from one extreme to the other and Joyce took her in her arms.
The girl finally got a hold of herself and took a deep breath and began to speak. “I’m Matilda, I really am. M-my dad is thief and a fraud and fence and we had to run to the US,” her accent had grown ever more British as she spoke.
“I see. And why are you here, in the school, in my office?” Joyce asked, *Okay I need to get in contact with the FBI or the British police or Interpol or something like that. I’m sure she believes she’s telling the truth. But this should be easy to check at any rate.*
“Hiding? Plotting? I used to be good at plotting! I’m gonna get Cordelia and all her little bitches!” Matilda hissed. “Hurt them for what they did to me!” Matilda hissed.
“I think not, young lady. Any actions taken against those little bullies will be taken by me. Is that understood?” Joyce told her sternly.
The Cabinets shook again and the files on Joyce’s desk flew open.
“No! They’re mine!” Matilda wailed. “I-I need to-”
“Take a nice, hot shower, have a good, warm dinner and sleep in a real bed,” Joyce interrupted. “So I’m taking you to my house and you’re going to do just that. And tomorrow I’m calling child services.”
“B-but… My stuff?” Matilda protested.
Joyce smiled. “We’ll go get your things right now. Where are they?”
Matilda swallowed. “I-I hid them above the ceiling in the band practice room.”
Joyce nodded encouragingly. “Well, we’ll go get them then.”
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When Joyce arrived at her home with Matilda the lights were off, as she expected. She would go and get Dawn as soon as Matilda had showered and eaten. She flicked the lights on and took the girl’s hand. Matilda clutched her bag with her meager belongings in her other hand as if it was her lifeline. She was frightened and uncertain and Joyce was going to have words with whoever had made her that way.
Probably her parents. Leading Matilda up the stairs she almost had to push the girl into her bathroom. “I’m going to get some clothes for you. Put everything you’re wearing into the hamper, and what’s in your bag and we’ll wash it and sort it out later.”
Matilda gave her a look. “And then?”
“Food and We go get my youngest daughter, because I’m not leaving you here alone,” Joyce replied, then saw the look of pain crossing the girl’s face.
“I’m not risking you running away. You need some mothering and I intend to provide it,” she clarified.
Matilda swallowed. “Won’t your daughters mind?”
“Not after they hear what you’ve been through,” Joyce assured her. “Now shower. You stink.”
Matilda nodded and soon Joyce heard the shower. She went into her bedroom and turned on the computer she kept on a side table there. She had an internet dial up connection did a quick search to find out who she should contact. And then it hit her. Matilda had shaken those filing cabinets, flipped out those files. Just like in Ghostbusters. And suddenly she wondered if common sense had been wrong, and her bullshit detector had been right. End note: I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Matilda. Absinthe is a spirit that supposedly is both poisonous, addictive and hallucogenic. It is made using wormwood, which contains the so-called psychotropic thujone. Hence the name of the story.