Disclaimer: I own nothing and seek no profit from this story. No copyright infringement intended.
A/N: Written for both 20 Minutes With Joyce and Fic For All. (FFA challenge # 815).
He didn't know why he'd told her his name was Brian. The piece of art he'd been hoping she'd have in her gallery had ended up not being there. He had no reason to lie. But still, he did. He told her his name was Brian Sardello and that he was visiting from LA. He'd even gone so far as to tell her that he was thinking about moving to the small town of Sunnydale, and he had no idea why he felt the need to lie.
The dinner invitation, extended on the spur of the moment, had just slipped out of his mouth. He was positive his eyes had gone as wide as hers, but the smile on her face made the offer worth the money he'd end up spending. She was, after all, a beautiful woman. Even if she looked a bit ragged around the edges. Tired, he decided, not ragged. Just tired. He wondered all day what could have caused her such stress ... her business didn't seem to be hurting any. She'd had four customers while he'd been there. Perhaps, he decided, it was just the stress of being overworked. But whatever it was, he was determined to see her relax before the night was over.
Danny Ocean knew how to treat a woman, and before their date was over, Joyce Summers would know that. He made reservations at a local restaurant, one of the nicer ones down by the beach, and picked up a daisy from a street vendor on the way to her house.
She looked ravishing, to say the least. She'd dressed up, done her hair and put on makeup. And he discovered two of the reasons she looked so tired, as two teenage girls peered at him from the living room. The youngest had quickly stolen the daisy, telling him she'd put it in some water. She'd grinned at him and he had to admit, she was a cutie. Big blue eyes and freckles ... Joyce would have her hands full keeping the boys away in a few years. But, looking at the older girl, she already had experience in that department.
The oldest sized him up slowly, and he thought, for a brief second, he saw a threat in her eye, but it vanished quickly and she smiled at him when her mother introduced them. Danny made sure to help Joyce with her coat and hold the door open for her -- things he would have done anyway -- in hopes of easing Buffy's concerned mind. He had no intention of hurting Joyce. He'd not let things progress that far. He simply didn't have time for a relationship right now. And besides, he loved Tess. It wouldn't be fair to drag another woman into the mess of his life. He did have to wonder though. What the hell kind of name was Buffy?
He walked to his car with Joyce on his arm and told her once again that she looked beautiful, enjoying the light blush that spread across her cheeks. He opened her door for her and smiled as he shut it, and reminded himself as he walked around the car that he was Brian Sardello from L.A. The rest of his life could remain the same ... he could tell her the same things he told everyone else. He just had to remember his "new" name.
Conversation flowed freely, easily, as they drove to the restaurant, and Danny found himself having a terrific time. He even discovered it was easy to answer to the name Brian ... the lie coming natural, as lies always did for him. They ate seafood for dinner and drank wine, laughing at each other's jokes and sharing little pieces of their lives. He told her where he grew up, what he studied in college when he attended off and on throughout the years, and what kind of books he liked to read. And Joyce told him about her girls. He could tell she was proud of them. She told him about the life she'd made for herself in Sunnydale, how she loved to watch old movies, and how listening to opera never failed to make her cry, even if she didn't understand a word they were singing.
They went for a walk on the beach after dinner, and she took off her shoes, carrying them in one hand, as he wrapped an arm around her. He noticed she seemed a bit nervous, kept glancing around as if she was looking for something in the shadows, but he wrote it off as a woman's natural paranoia. Never once, in the entire evening, did the conversation dull or fade, and Danny wished, just for a moment, that things could be different, that he could start a serious relationship with her.
'Maybe,' he thought, 'in the future. When I'm over Tess. I'll come back here and look Joyce up. Somehow I think she'll understand about the name thing. And maybe then we'd have a shot.'
She did eventually relax while they walked along the beach, leaning into his body as they walked. Their conversation drifted then, becoming softer, about more personal things, and Joyce confessed that her date with him was the first one she'd been on in years. Danny had chuckled at that and said that he'd not been on a date in years, either, that he'd only been separated from his wife for a little over six months. They understood each other then, understood that neither of them expected anything of the other, and when he kissed her, she wrapped his arms around him and kissed him back without hesitation.
And when he took her home and walked her to the door, he leaned in and kissed her gently once more, his tongue slipping in to taste her slowly. She returned the kiss, her arms going around him, and Danny once again wished things could be different. They pulled away and he hugged her, unable to bring himself to tell her that he was leaving town the next morning.
"Goodnight, Joyce," he said softly.
"Goodnight, Brian," she answered. "Thank you for a wonderful evening."
He smiled. "No, Joyce. Thank you."
He stayed on the porch until she was safely inside and then turned, walking slowly back to his car. He had to get back to the hotel and make some calls. He had some artwork to track down. But, he decided, before he left Sunnydale for good, he'd send Joyce some flowers.
That was the least he could do.
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