Disclaimer: Joss, FOX...Buffy and Dawn are yours. Tim, Bryan, Tood, all "Wonderfalls" characters are yours. Oh, and FOX's too.
Note: Somebody stop me. Another story I've had sitting on my computer forever, and just finished part of. Like with every other fic, I'll try to get to this as much as I can. Also, I wouldn't say no to a co-author....
On the New York side of Niagara Falls, it was a slow tourism day in the Quad. By extension, that meant it was also a slow day at the "Wonderfalls Gift Emporium." Not that Jaye Tyler noticed, of course; consistently refraining from any quantifiable amount of work regardless of customer volume, she just didn't care. Standing behind the register, she rationalized that everyone was simply better off if she didn't do much.
However, there were those who disagreed.
And they probably disagreed because of her life choices. At 24, she was two years graduated from Brown with a Philosophy degree, and the most she'd accomplished was getting her name stitched onto a yellow, "Wonderfalls" vest. Ever sadder, she was the oldest employee here aside from Peggy, the manager, who denied her a promotion several weeks ago. Alec, a 16-year-old mouth breather, got assistant manager instead.
Meaning he was her boss. The rut she once proudly stuck herself in, was now suddenly not hers to control. Horrible, just horrible.
At least that all made sense. Point A led to Point B, which led to Point C, however mind-numbing that might be. Except she found herself inexplicably at Point Q these days, and the disagreeable types that dropped her there were the cause. What were they? Various tchotchkes, stuffed things, and other inanimate images, with animal faces. That talked only to her. Well, gave vague, sarcastic commands to, was more like it.
So far, a lion, a bear, a chameleon, a fish, and flamingos...each had conspired against her. The best she could figure was, her actions set in motion a sequence of events that eventually benefited someone. Someone not her. It was the universe's punishment, had to be. She didn't want to help anyone, but obviously what she wanted didn't factor in. What was so wrong about living passively and avoiding most human interaction?
Wasn't free will a standard "gimmie" at birth? Cheated and used, that's how she felt.
Through the fog that had settled around her mind, it managed to register that she was being spoken to. Her automatic response began, "Did you find everything you were--?"
Then the fog cleared completely, and she actually saw whom she was speaking to. A pair of females, one petite and blonde, the other, taller by a few inches, younger, and brunette, stood in front of the counter--without a single item ready for purchase.
"Uh, Dawn, if you wanna buy something, first you hafta *have* something to buy. It's the basis of that whole 'ism.'" The blonde informed her companion, though she was stumped in her search for the name. "I forget which one."
The younger girl rolled her eyes, but Jaye decided to be somewhat helpful. She wasn't sure why; maybe she wanted to exercise her free will. "Didn't one of the Sheens make it his bitch in Wall Street
? Or was that the other guy?"
"You mean the 'ism'? Yeah, somebody did. I think it was the other guy." It didn't solve either "name" problem, yet the support was appreciated.
Confused, both elder females were about to give up when they exclaimed in victorious unison, "Michael Douglas!"
Small grins of mutual respect were exchanged, until the other female coughed. "Anyway...she's right. My hands are tied." Jaye's polite exterior was all but non-existent. "Just come back when you've got whatever junk--"
"I don't wanna buy anything." The brunette interrupted.
"Did I say 'junk'? Cause what I meant to say wa..." The retail clerk started to backpedal, and then switched on a dime. "What the hell am I doing?" The attack of store loyalty had come out of nowhere. "We do sell junk--crappy junk, as a matter of fact. So not buying it? Smart choice." She sighed with relief that she was able to catch herself in time. "Damn...scary."
Waiting a beat, Dawn then replied, cautiously wary. "Um, listen, we were walking, and I saw the 'Help Wanted' sign in the window, and I was wondering if I could...get an application? Or, yunno, interview or something?"
"There's a sign?" Jaye leaned forward, over the counter, and did indeed spot a "Help Wanted" sign in the window. Nodding on her way back to the balls of her feet, she made a surprised hum past closed lips before re-focusing on the employment-seeker. "See, I have very little power, so I'm not actually in charge of anything. Try asking the mouthbre...uh, whatshisname. The assistant," Cringe, "manager. That's him over there." She pointed. "By the snow globes."
The potential, future employee zeroed in on the teenage male, who was just a year younger than she. "Great. Thanks."
Jaye caught the smile of hope--not solely job-related--as the girl started to walk to him, and made a face like she was about to vomit. Switching her attention to the blonde, she suppressed the urge. "I realize we're basically, well, total strangers, but I just hafta say? She can do better."
"How much better?"
"Oh, we're talking by exponents. C'mon, look at his face--dweebly weasel." Jaye grumbled. "Don't you just wanna shove his head in a toilet and start a rumor that he wets the bed still?"
The listener smirked. "You're kinda regressing...you know that, right?" Seeing only a pissed frown in response, she let it go. "I'm Buffy, by the way. Probably oughta know who I am in case my sister starts working here. Whose name is Dawn, which you sorta heard already."
Shrugging like it didn't really matter, the apathetic brunette nevertheless gestured at the name on her vest. "Jaye."
Buffy looked thoughtfully at her sibling talking to the, yes, very dweeb-y, Alec. "She's a little desperate for any 'guy attention' right now; it'll pass. I'm hoping. Hasn't helped that we were on the move for a while...finally got tired of it."
"So of all the places you coulda stopped, you picked Niagara?" Jaye was baffled--no one chose this town voluntarily. "Why? I mean, it's like Twin Peaks. Only the coffee here sucks and our midgets talk forwards." She looked to Dawn for a moment, then back to Buffy, and squinted. "Did anybody ever tell you there's zero family resemblance?"
Behind the manager's office door at that moment, a voice called out. "HEY!"
Jaye's eyes bulged, and then quick checked to see that Buffy (who was in the middle of saying something she could no longer concentrate on), hadn't heard a thing.
"HEY! HEY, COME IN HERE! QUICK!"
She was doing her best to ignore it. However, on the counter, the wax lion figurine with the smooshed face turned its head towards her. "Don't be rude."
Glaring at the lion, she snatched it into her hand and abruptly cut the other person off, overdoing the false smiling. "Excuse me."
Leaving Buffy perplexed, she headed towards the office, bringing the animal closer to her face. "What's the point of a field trip *inside* where I work? You could've totally been cryptic at any time back there." She squeezed harder. "But you like leading me around like some blind, pathetic, hunchbacked person who can't afford one of those seeing-eye dogs...don't you? You tiny son of a--"
She opened the door. "Oh yeah?" Too busy to talk to her? Placing it on her palm, she flicked it into the office, and it hit the far wall. She was pleased with its utterance of, "Ow." "Now lets get this over with, or everything in here that has a face...well, just ask the lion what happens if you piss me off."
"Psst. Come here." The voice said again, whispering.
Turning to the left, she saw that it came from the wall opposite Peggy's desk. It was a poster of a cat hanging by his paws on a tree branch, with the words, "Hang in there, baby!" beneath. Reluctantly, she went right up next to it.
"Bring her out." The cat instructed, which served to frustrate her.
"Bring her out? Out where? Outside? Out to pasture? Oh god! Are you gonna make me cap her?" Jaye accused, horrified. "Would it kill you to be more specific? And need I remind you what went down the *last time* I was forced to take a strange girl, who by all outward appearances seemed nice and sane-looking, under my wing? Turned out she was a big, scheming fake with a less-than-convincing speech impediment who tried to steal my life! *Because* of how sad and lame it is! Which means if you think I'm--"
There was a stuffed donkey perched on the desk. "But she didn't. So go ahead; bring her out."
"Was I talking to you? Nuh-uh. I was talking to the cat." She told it. "No fair butting in--smart ass."
When Jaye exited the office, she was stuffing the lion in her pants pocket with one hand, holding the rolled up poster in the other, and carrying her jacket underneath her arm while Dawn and Alec were trying to enter.
"I'm taking my lunch break." She announced, shrugging off her vest and handing it to Dawn once the lion was secure.
"It's 10 AM." Alec argued, distrustfully.
"Oops?" Was all she said, pretending to have been clueless. "Well, too late now--it's already on my time card. The hole's clearly punched; go ahead and check. Re-punching later would just look sloppy. Not to mention like I'm abusing a time-honored system...I don't abuse things." She appeared unsure. "At least not often. And when I do, it's rarely premeditated."
She continued her trek around the counter, leaving her boss to object. "Who's gonna work the register?"
"I can!" Dawn volunteered, readily. Then she toned it down. "Um, if you...hire me."
"But you haven't even interviewed, and you have to." Alec said to the teen, and then to Jaye, "She has to interview. It's store policy." He noticed the rolled poster, then. "Hey, isn't that from Peggy's--?"
Before he was able to complete the question, Jaye stopped to address Dawn, and gestured to the register. "Know how to use that thing?"
"Yeah, I-I have before. A couple times." The young brunette said. "Well, not *that* one exactly..."
"A friend of ours ran this small shop with...it was unique." Buffy interjected on her sister's behalf. "She taught Dawn what to do. Under Nazi-like supervision."
That was good enough for Jaye. "There. Problem solved." Alec's mouth opened, but again, she didn't allow words to escape. "If you squeal, all it does is reflect badly on you. Don't wanna get demoted, right?"
He stayed silent.
"Yo, Whiny! Just give the girl the job so we can get some friggin' service, okay?" A female patron demanded, in the front of a steadily increasing line. "And didn't your mother teach you how to breathe through your damn nose? Christ, kid."
"Welcome to the 'Wonderfalls' family." He exhaled, speaking to the new employee...followed by disappearing to the storage room.
Much like a shamed, scolded five-year-old.
With giggly enthusiasm, Dawn put on Jaye's vest for the time being, and went to wait on the customers.
After shaking her head at the sight, Jaye turned to Buffy. "I'm going to my car. *Out* to my car." She seemed to be talking to the rolled-up poster as she emphasized, but then returned to the other female. "Wanna come?" She had to think of a reason, fast. "I, uh, could use the company?"
Despite feeling like there was something off about this person, and considering she didn't really know anyone in town yet, the blonde tagged along.
Buffy and Jaye made their way out of the Quad, away from the shops and roaring Falls, to where Jaye's 1965, light-blue Studebaker Daytona was parked on the street. Silence blanketed the walk, with the brunette glancing every few seconds at the poster in her hand, as if waiting for something to happen. That left the blonde to deduce several, negative things about her companion's mental state and social skills, while searching for a topic of conversation. If only to feel her out.
"I like your coat. Looks...warm." She broached, referring to the mid-length, sand-suede-colored, sheepskin coat, edge-lined with wool and around the cuffs the clerk wore. "I need to get a new one, actually. Didn't take long being here to figure out that this isn't heavy enough." Hers was a very un-insulated black leather jacket.
"How bout that." Jaye was not only distracted, but also completely not listening.
"Where'd you buy yours?" Buffy tried again. And again, angry, poster-looking at. "Jaye?" O…kay. "How bout a job? Is there anyplace besides 'Wonderfalls' that's hiring?"
Sardonically, "Conversing isn't a strong suit, is it?" Fine, she had planned to ask this later and more delicately, but she had to snap Jaye out of her new fog. "There aren't...I mean, do you have a lot of...mysterious deaths around here?"
Jaye froze, and looked at her like she was a sideshow attraction. 'I knew it!'
The clerk thought. "Uh, no?" She finally answered. "Believe me, stuff like that usually tends to stick. Cause if I had a hobby, scrap-booking the odd would definitely be it. Strictly for personal use--unless cash somehow got involved." Pause. "But they're all pretty standard. Yeah, the occasional tourist leans too far over to look at the Falls...but it's so normal around here, I could kill myself. If only so I could brag that I was a stat once."
"How can you brag if you're dead?"
"Hmm. Good point. This is why I should really plan more...except I have this problem with effort. Mainly giving any."
"Wait--is that like a regular thing? People falling into...uh, the Falls?"
"Well, it's not like you can set your watch by...do you even...?" Buffy showed her wrist, which was bare. "Should look into that. Where was I? Oh yeah. More than you'd think. Kind of increases tourism, too. Everybody wants to find out where the latest dumbass took his doomed plunge, then they stand there snapping pictures all damn day. During the off-season, for at least an hour, I swear the city tells 'Security' to look the other way. You know, discreetly. It's a daily practice."
"Sick bastards, huh?"
They'd reached the car, and the cat called out, "Let go!" Jaye looked down at the rolled up poster in her hand, more perplexed than usual. "Let go! Let go, let go, LET GO!"
"All right already!" She said aloud in response, giving Buffy a chance to look at her like a sideshow attraction. She mutteringly bitched, "Annoying pussy."
When she released her hold on the poster, the wind grabbed it, blowing it upwards and out into the street. Unfurled, it landed smack dab on the windshield of an oncoming pickup truck. As it blocked the driver's view, he started swerving erratically, a bad reaction to the unexpected. Instinctively, Buffy pulled Jaye down.
The pickup stopped when it smashed into a meter and the car parked beside, two spaces down from where they were. Change was getting spit out onto the street.
Both girls looked up at the aftermath, and spoke in unison. "Holy shi...!"BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!
The horn from the wrecked, parked car went off then, drowning out their mutual expletive.