Chapter 6 - My Embarrassment
Buffy is unbelievably nervous as she waits in the living room for Faith to arrive. Dinner starts at six and the blonde has been waiting nervously since five forty-five. At first she was so nervous she actually helped her mother with the cooking, and when that was done she set the table, and used the good china because she wanted everything to be special. She wasn’t just inviting Willow or Xander over. This is Faith, it changes everything.
Buffy’s going to have to be on alert tonight and keep her mother from telling any embarrassing stories about her or something. A favorite among Buffy’s friends at Hemery was hearing about the time Buffy got her head stuck in the banister at her house, and her mother had to cover her neck and head in butter to get her free. That story would not be told tonight. She’ll also have to be very careful about leaving Faith and her mother alone for too long. An interrogation could break out at any second and Buffy wants to be there to run interference.
The blonde jumps a little when there’s a knock at the door. ‘Why didn’t she just use the doorbell?’ she asks herself and gets up to answer the door. The closer she gets to the door the more anxious she becomes. Horrible images of this night going bad keep playing in her mind and she’s scared about what’s going to happen once she opens that door and invites Faith into her home. But she calms down and reminds herself that this thing with Faith is really new and if it doesn’t work out then it doesn’t work out. It’s not like they’re in love or anything. She opens the door and smiles when she sees Faith standing there with half a dozen red roses in one hand and half a dozen calla lilies in the other.
“I hope I’m not late. I had to sweet talk the guy at the flower shop to stay open for a few more minutes so I could pick these out,” she says and hands the roses to Buffy. The blonde says a polite thank you and takes the flowers from Faith and smells them a little and she has to bite back a little moan because the fragrance is perfect.
“No you’re not late. And who are the lilies for? Do you have a hot you have to get to after dinner or something?” she says in a joking manner and raises an eyebrow at the brunette. Faith smiles and shakes her head a little bit and decides to play along with the other girl.
“Oh yeah, really hot. About yay tall,” she raises her hand to about Buffy’s height and smiles a little more. “Gorgeous hazel eyes, a nice smile and a wicked perfect body.” Buffy blushes a little bit and moves out of the way so Faith can walk into the house. Then Faith goes from a teasing mood to one that’s a little more serious.
“You’re the only date I got, B, so don’t worry about it. And these are for your mom. I wanted to make a good impression. I hear you’re suppose to do that or something.” She gives Buffy a little smile and the blonde perks up quite a bit. ‘She wants to make a good impression with my mother. That has to mean that this whole thing is about more then just getting into my pants. It has to, I really don’t want Willow to be right about this.’
“My mom will be very impressed. And you look very nice tonight.” She lets her eyes quickly roam over the taller girl’s body and she likes what she sees. Faith is wearing a black short sleeved t-shirt that is tight in all the right places, some dark hip hugging jeans that look brand new, and some new looking sneakers. Buffy is a little surprised because the only shoes she’s ever seen Faith wear are those ridiculous boots. ‘I mean honestly, she’s not a biker so what does she need those boots for?’
“Thanks. You look great. Did you get highlights in your hair?” Faith asks and Buffy nods a little bit and blushes at the compliment. She did put highlights in her a couple of days ago, but she hasn’t seen Faith since then and she’s very happy that Faith noticed. It means that Faith is paying attention, that her mind is on more then one thing. And it’s a little obvious that Buffy is trying to impress Faith with the way she’s dressed. The skirt is a little shorter then she’d normally wear around the house, the shoes are brand new, and the shirt is cut low enough to give Faith a good view, but not low enough to look trashy.
The girls walk into the kitchen and Faith greets Joyce in a very friendly voice and hands the lilies to the older woman. She compliments her on what she’s wearing and says that dinner smells great. She is really is trying to be on her best behavior tonight because she doesn’t want to screw anything up. She isn’t too sure why. She’s done the ‘meet the parents’ thing before and it was no big deal. But those girls didn’t really mean anything to her. They were just some play things for her to use and discard. This is Buffy and for some reason she does mean something to the younger girl.
“I’m going to put my roses in my room. Faith, wanna come?” She says yes and as the two make their way out of the kitchen Buffy blushes when her mother tells her to keep the bedroom door open. ‘Jeez, it’s not like we’re going to be doing anything bad. Hopefully some kissage but not much. I don’t want to seem too eager. And I really hope I remembered to clean up my room this afternoon. I might have things hanging and that would be totally embarrassing. I guess it doesn’t matter now since we’re both in here.’
“So, this is your room huh?” Faith asks and takes a look around. It’s just as girly as she thought it was going to be, but she likes it. It’s clean and smells nice and she can totally see herself in here more often. Like at two in the morning when she sneaks in for a late night make-out session. As Buffy starts telling her a little bit about the place Faith starts walking around the room, touching some things on the dresser and finally ending up at the bed. She sits down on the edge of it and picks up the little stuffed pig and smiles at the blonde. “Nice pig.” The blonde looks a little embarrassed and gently takes the toy from the brunette.
“That’s Mr. Gordo, had him since I was little, can’t seem to part ways with him.” She puts him back by her pillow and sits down about a foot away from Faith. “The bear you won me is downstairs. Some juice spilled on her and my mom is going to wash it off.” ‘Could you babble more like an idiot?’ “So, what do you think? Was it everything you thought it was going to be? Not that you were thinking what it was going to be like. I mean, I’m sure you don’t put much thought into what other people’s bedrooms look like.” ‘Shut up, shut up, shut up!’ Faith laughs a little and moves a little closer to Buffy and the blonde tries not to tense up.
“It’s nice. Way cleaner then mine.” She moves even closer to the blonde so she’s almost in her personal space, but not quite. “So, how much longer do you think we have until your mom calls us down for dinner?” Buffy gulps and tries to think but her mind just won’t work. Not with Faith sitting so close, her perfume invading Buffy’s senses and those dark eyes looking at her with some mischief in them.
“I-I don’t know. Um, maybe in ten minutes.” ‘Why can’t I just get a sentence out? Why am I getting so nervous? I said on the way up here that there might be some kissage. So just calm down and let it happen.’ She nervously licks her lips in case they’ve dried in the last fifteen seconds. She watches as Faith gets a little grin on her face and leans in a little closer. Buffy subconsciously holds her breath and prays that she remembered to rinse her mouth out with mouthwash this afternoon when she got home from school.
“Well,” Faith whispers and Buffy feels the room getting a little warmer then she remembers it being five seconds ago. “I hope you don’t mind if I do this.” She closes her eyes when Faith’s lips touch hers. The kiss isn’t much, there is no tongue, just the gentle movement of their lips, and Buffy thinks she’s died and gone to heaven. She wants to feel more of Faith’s lips, more of Faith in general, and that thought scares her a little bit. They pull apart from the kiss with big grins on their faces.
“No, I definitely don’t mind,” she whispers and leans in for another kiss. But right before their lips are about to touch they hear someone cough behind them. They jump away from each other and turn towards the door and see Joyce standing there with one eyebrow raised. Buffy’s cheeks flush with embarrassment. Kissing Faith is fun, but getting caught is not something she wanted to happen. But it has and now she has to deal with it.
“As much fun as that looks, dinner is ready. So wash up and come downstairs.” ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe she just said that! Is she trying to embarrass me in front of Faith? Is that her plan, to do as much embarrassing stuff as she can so Faith won’t want to see me anymore? Because I really think it could work if she plans it just right.’ Faith chuckles a little bit and the two go into their bathroom to wash their hands and then make their way downstairs.
They sit down at the table where Joyce has it all set and ready to go. She passes around the vegetables, and the rolls, and then the platter of baked chicken that she took the liberty of slicing up while she was still in the kitchen. Not much as been said so far, but Buffy is still fearing the worst. She just wants to get this night done and over with so her mother will be happy and she can get some more alone time with Faith. She knows almost nothing about the other girl, and she really wants the chance to learn more about her. And she can’t really do that with her mother giving them an amused glance every once in a while.
“Ok, Faith I think it’s time I cut to the chase.” Faith and Buffy exchange a glance and Buffy just shrugs her shoulders since she has no idea what her mother is talking about. “Now, I know this is going to seem a bit much, but I think I need to be honest with you. You deserve that much.” Again with another glance and another shrug. ‘She is going to say something totally embarrassing, isn’t she?’ Buffy silently asks whoever will listen, and she swears she just heard a little ‘yeah’ in response.
“Raising Buffy and keeping her safe has been my main priority since the day she was born.” ‘Oh God, not a threatening speech, please no.’ “When her father and I divorced I lost everything except for her. She is my life, and I’m not going to let you use or hurt her. This is a very small town Faith, and people talk. They talk a lot in fact, and I’ve heard a lot about you from a lot of people.” ‘So adults like to gossip too. You learn something new everyday.’ “And if the only reason you’re dating my daughter is to take her virginity then you can just leave my house right now.”
“Mom!” Buffy screams and jumps up from the table. Her glass of Coke is knocked down in the process and spills all over the brand new table cloth. But the blonde doesn’t care about that right now. She’s too angry and embarrassed by what her mother just said. “You don’t have the right to talk to Faith like that. You don’t even know her!” She’s about to go on when she’s interrupted by the girl in question.
“It’s ok Buffy, I got it.” Her and Buffy lock eyes and the blonde calms down and returns to her seat. She’s still so pissed about what her mother said, and she’s embarrassed enough that she thinks she’s going to start crying. She didn’t want Faith to know that she’s a virgin. She thinks it will affect the way the brunette girl sees her, and she really didn’t want that to happen. But the cat’s outta the bag now, and there’s no putting him back in. “Look, Mrs. Summers.” Faith turns towards the older woman and is calm, but also very serious.
“A lot of what you heard about me is probably true. I do have a pretty shady past, but it’s all in the past. I’m not going to lie to you I have slept around a lot.” Buffy looks over at the brunette with some shock. She was hoping that those rumors were false, and she also can’t believe Faith just said that to her mother. “But I’ve never dated before, I’ve never wanted to date anyone. There’s just something different about Buffy. I don’t want to use her, and I don’t want to hurt her. I’d like to get to know her, become close with her, if you’ll let me.” Buffy can’t hide the huge megawatt smile she has on her face right now. But it goes away when she hears her mother sigh.
“I don’t know, Faith. You seem very sincere but I don’t know if I can trust you or not. And correct me if I’m wrong, but this wouldn’t be the first time you’ve taken a young woman’s virginity.” ‘Ok, I so need to get out of here. I don’t want to hear anymore of this.’ Buffy stands up, completely embarrassed by her mother’s behavior and a little freaked out at some of the things her mother has heard from the town’s people.
“If you’ll excuse me I just need to go hang myself,” Buffy says in a whisper and leaves the room. She goes through the kitchen and out the backdoor and she takes in a deep breath. Faith isn’t going to want anything to do with her now. She probably thinks her mother is a total psycho and the apple usually doesn’t fall too far from the tree. So Buffy could be psychotic by association and she’s convinced that Faith won’t want anything to do with her. She sits down on the top step of the porch and lets a couple of tears fall. She’s about to let herself sob, when she hears the back door open. She sits up a little straighter and sniffles loudly but doesn’t turn around.
“Your mom said I could come and get you,” she hears Faith say in a concerned voice. She hears the girl walk forward and she gets a little more anxious with every step the younger girl takes. “Are you ok?” She sits down next to Buffy and the blonde looks away from her. She doesn’t want Faith to see the tears that are starting to dry on her cheeks. She hears the brunette sigh and she’s tempted to look over at her. “Look, Buffy.” ‘She’s going to tell me she doesn’t want to see me anymore. That’s what this speech is.’ “There are a lot of things about my past that I know you’re not gonna like. I’ve lied and manipulated a lot of people, and most of them did get hurt. But what I said in there about wanting to get to know you, all of that was true.” Buffy looks over at the younger girl, no longer caring that her mascara has run.
“There’s just something different about you. I don’t know what it is, but I really want to find out.” Buffy smiles at her and Faith slowly reaches over and holds onto her hand. “I’ve never been in a real relationship before, and I might screw up a lot or say the wrong things, but if you want,” the brunette is getting nervous and the blonde is loving it. Buffy gets a small smile on her face because of the other girl’s discomfort. “I mean, I’d like you to, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to, but I like you a lot and I really want you to...” she just can’t get the words out and Buffy decides to give her some slack.
“Are you asking me to be your girlfriend, as in we’re both girls in a romantic relationship and not just girls who are friends?” she asks and Faith nods her head yes and smiles a small relieved smile. But the nervousness comes back as she waits for the blonde’s answer. Buffy thinks about it for a minute or two and comes to a decision that she thinks Faith will agree with, and if she doesn’t then it’s the brunette’s loss. “Well, we don’t even know each other, so I’d feel a little weird being exclusive. So how about we go on a few more dates, and hang out after school, or during school, whichever, and if we find that we still like each other then we can be in a committed relationship. How does that sound?” The brunette smiles and moves a little closer to the blonde.
“I think it sounds great.” And she leans in really close, but stops when their lips are only an inch away from each other. “So this whole not being exclusive thing, does that involve more kissing? ‘Cause I do like doing that with you.” Buffy closes the distance between their lips and almost gasps at the feeling. Faith’s lips are just so soft, and gentle, and they’re the greatest things she’s ever felt in her entire life. The kiss isn’t much at first, much like the bedroom it’s just the gentle movement of their lips, but then Faith opens her mouth a little and let’s her tongue tease the blonde’s bottom lip.
Buffy is a little surprised at first, but she quickly recovers and opens her mouth and invites the brunette in. She moans as soon as their tongues meet. It’s all very slow, and gentle and Buffy’s never had a kiss like it. All of the boys she kissed in Hemery wanted to go fast so they could see how far the blonde would go with them, but Faith is obviously taking her time, and not going any faster then the blonde is comfortable with. When the kiss ends they smile at each other and Buffy gives Faith’s hand a little squeeze.
“That was nice,” the blonde says when the silence starts to get to her. The brunette nods her head and the two kiss again. This one is a lot shorter and just as relaxed as the first. But then the blonde pulls back and looks a little worried. “Faith, kissing you is great, and I can’t seem to get enough of it.” The brunette gets a very cocky look on her face. “But I don’t want all of our time together to be spent kissing. I want us to talk, to get to know each other. That’s the only way we’re going to know if we’ll get along in a real relationship.” The brunette gets a serious look on her face and nods her head a little.
“You’re right. Well, I gotta get going. This weekend I’m going to L.A. but how about next Friday we’ll go out on another date, and we can get to know each other.” The blonde agrees and then leans in for another kiss. After a few seconds the brunette pulls back with a playful smile on her face. “I thought you said you wanted more then kissing?” Buffy blushes a little and scoots about an inch away from Faith.
“I did, but we already established a time for talking. I thought maybe we could spend the little time we have left kissing. I know it’s Friday, but my mom wants me in bed early tonight because we’re going to have another mother-daughter bonding session tomorrow.” The brunette can’t help but laugh a little, and she leans over and gives Buffy a little kiss.
“Well then I better take off. I’m pretty sure your mom hates me now so I better go. Wouldn’t want her to see me corrupting her daughter.” Buffy rolls her eyes and kisses Faith one last time before she stands up and walks out of the yard. Leaving through the side gate and not the house is kind of rude, and her mother isn’t going to be pleased but at this point she doesn’t care. Her mother embarrassed her horribly tonight and she plans on being the world’s biggest bitch until she gets an apology. To Buffy it only seems fair. And she determined now more then ever to ignore what everyone has to say about the younger girl, and just go with her gut instinct. And her gut instinct is really wanting Faith right now.
Chapter 7 - My Late Night Visitor
Not all is well for our favorite bottled blonde at the moment. As soon as Faith left she went back into the house and had a little talk with her mother. Joyce tried to explain her side of the story, that she is only trying to protect her daughter, but Buffy would hear none of it. She got angry and started yelling at her mother out of frustration, and embarrassment. Joyce started yelling back and the two fought for a good hour or so. Then Buffy was sent to her room and is grounded until further notice.
She’s been in her room ever since, crying for who knows how long (two hours, fourteen minutes and thirty-seven seconds). She’s mad at herself for losing her temper with her mother because she won’t be able to go anywhere with Faith because of it. She also won’t be able to hang out with her friends after school, but she’s yet to make up with them after telling them off and storming out of the room. ‘They probably won’t want to be my friend anymore after the way I talked to them. They’re just worried about me and I had to get pissed at them for it. What is wrong with me? Please don’t answer that.’
She sniffles loudly and tries to ignore the pain in her head. ‘How come crying gives a person such a bad headache?’ she wonders as she rolls over onto her back and stares up at the ceiling. Now that she’s gotten all of her crying out of her system all she can really think about is the kiss she shared with Faith on the back porch. The soft feel of Faith’s lips pressing delicately against hers. The sensations she got when she felt Faith’s warm tongue slowly slip out of her mouth to graze her bottom lip. Then the feeling of their tongues lightly massaging against one another. The way the whole world seemed to fade away and it was just them and that perfect moment. ‘God, listen to that. You’d think I’m stuck in a romance novel or something,’ she thinks and rolls over onto her side.
She can mock this all she wants, but she knows deep down that she thinks Faith’s tongue is the most wonderful thing in the whole wide world. She doesn’t even try to stop her mind from wondering as she starts to think about that warm, soft, pink muscle that had been in her mouth earlier that night. She stops herself from thinking about all the others places that tongue would feel good rubbing against. ‘Can’t go there yet. We haven’t been dating long enough,’ she thinks to herself and gets up. She goes into the bathroom and washes off her red, blotchy, tear stained face. ‘Jeez, you don’t have to sound so mean about it,’ she thinks and gently dabs at her face with a dry towel.
She goes back into her bedroom and throws herself down on the bed in a stereotypical ‘I’m a teen and my life is going to hell’ way. She stares up at her ceiling while she contemplates the following Monday. She knows she needs to make peace with the babbling redhead, and the goofy brunette boy, but how to go about that is lost on her. She’s never had a fight with the two before, and she doesn’t know what the proper procedure would be. Should she beg, and grovel or would a simple apology work? She doesn’t know, and it’s confusing so she doesn’t want to think about it anymore.
As she’s staring up at her ceiling trying to find a new topic to think about she hears a rapping, a rapping on her bedroom window. Ok, so that doesn’t rhyme, but I’m not trying to narrate a Poe poem, so back off. Anyway, as I was saying, she hears a light tapping on her window and she looks over with a little bit of fright. She had closed the curtains to shield herself from the rest of the world, and now she can’t see who’s on the other side, lightly tapping on her bedroom window. She turns on the lamp on the nightstand by her bed and blinks from the sudden pain in her eyes. She stands up and slowly walks over to the window and grabs onto the curtain. She’s a little nervous because anyone or anything could be on the other side of the glass.
When she pulls the curtain back she can’t help but smile a little bit. The person on the other side who had been lightly rapping on the bedroom window, is Faith. The dark headed girl is squatting by the window, and smiling a small smile at the blonde. The sight of the brunette has cheered the blonde up quite a bit, but she’s cautious at the same time. ‘Why is she here? I thought she said she was going to L.A.? Oh my God, she probably had time to rethink everything and she’s here to break up with me. Well, we’re not exactly dating, I did say that I don’t want to be exclusive. So she’s here to tell me that she doesn’t want to try anymore. I’m never going to forgive Mom if that’s true.’
“What are you doing here?” she asks after she opens her window. A light breeze gently makes its way into her room, ruffling her hair a little and teasing her skin. She takes a step back and Faith sits down on the sill. “I thought you said you were going to L.A.?” ‘I hope she doesn’t think I’m not happy to see her because I am. She’s totally making this night better. How am I going to break it to her that we can’t go out on Friday? Mom never said how long I’m going to be grounded, and she never wants me to have any fun when I really need it.’
“I am, I was on my way actually. I just wanted to see you one more time before I go.” ‘Oh God, she’s so sweet. Willow and Xander are totally wrong about her. Maybe I shouldn’t apologize to them like I was going to.’ “That’s ok, right? I’m not wearing out my welcome or anything?” The brunette seems a little unsure of her decision and Buffy takes a step closer to her and gives her a soft smile.
“It’s totally ok with me. My mom on the other hand will probably skin us both alive if she sees you. After you left we kinda got into it, and I’m grounded until further notice. No friends, no going anywhere, no nothing.” She smiles and tries not to shiver when Faith reaches out and gently takes her by the hand.
“Well then we’ll just have to be quiet.” ‘Wait, what’s that supposed to mean? Did she come here thinking she could get into my panties? ‘Cause I am so not giving it up to her. We’ve only been on one date, we barely know each other. She’s crazy if she thinks that.’ “Are you ok? You look like you’re about to faint.” ‘Great, now she probably thinks I’m a freak.’ The bottled blonde lets out a little sigh and tries to think of a nice way to word this. She musters up all the courage she has and forces herself to ask the question.
“What did you have in mind?” She didn’t sound nervous like she thought she was going to. She sounded like they were having a normal conversation in a normal setting, instead of a slightly odd one, at her bedroom window. She tries not to get too caught up in the feeling of Faith’s fingers lacing through hers. Just the soft touch of the brunette’s hand is driving her a little crazy, she honestly doesn’t want to imagine what it would feel like to have their bodies withering together as they cry out in ecstasy from hours of love making. ‘Great, now I need a cold shower,’ the blonde thinks and waits for her answer.
“I thought we could talk for a few minutes. I needed to hear your voice before I go.” To the blonde’s surprise Faith actually blushes a little after that confession. ‘She’s being so sweet. I kinda do wanna have sex with her now. No, don’t think that. You don’t even know her. This could be part of her plan, if she has one.’ Then the raven haired girl raises a mischievous eyebrow, and gives off her trademark smirk. “Did you have something else in mind?” Her voice is light and playful and Buffy just blushes a little at the suggestiveness of it all.
“Not really, I just wasn’t sure what you wanted.” She looks away from the brunette because she knows how bad that sounds. She’s ashamed she even thought Faith would try to do something other then just talk, maybe some kissage. But the words of everyone around her are having an affect on her perception of the brunette girl. She looks up when she feels Faith let go of her hand. ‘Oh God, she’s mad at me, isn’t she? I threw that fit at dinner about my mom not judging her and here I am doing the same thing. She probably thinks I’m a horrible person. She hates me now.’
“It’s a little too soon for that, doncha think?” Faith asks and there’s no anger in her voice whatsoever. Buffy slightly nods her head and she’s about to apologize when Faith starts to gently caress her cheek. The blonde sucks in a lung full of air at the soft touch. They’re both silent as Faith gently rubs her thumb over Buffy’s soft cheek. Her other fingers move to the nape of the blonde’s neck. “If you wanna do something a little more we can always-” She doesn’t get to finish her sentence because Buffy practically throws herself at Faith and kisses her square on the mouth. The kiss isn’t much, just the pressing of lips together. The blonde panics, thinking maybe she wasn’t supposed to do that or she’s coming across as too strong, so she pulls away, and takes half a step back. “…do that.” Flushed, the blonde has to think hard to come up with something to say.
“Yeah, we can always do that.” ‘Oh yeah, you’re just so smooth. No one would ever accuse you of being a dork.’ She wants to say something more, but abandons the idea when she feels Faith hold onto her hand and gently pulls her forward. They look deeply into each other’s eyes, and Buffy is half expecting soft background music to start playing, and a wind to pick up and blow their hair in a very romantic novel sort of way.
The kiss this time is much more then the last. It’s a slow, gentle massage of lips that feels like it could go on forever. Then Faith slightly opens her mouth and runs it along Buffy’s bottom lip. The blonde girl shivers and opens her mouth to allow the brunette access to the hot cavern. ‘I still think her tongue is the best thing in the whole, wide world. Oh God, that little swirly thing she does is going to drive me crazy. I wonder where else she knows how to do that?’ The heat is definitely rising, and the bottled blonde is starting to feel like she can forget her inhibitions and give Faith a way better goodbye, but then reality comes crashing back in one of the worst possible ways.
“Buffy lights out, it’s almost eleven o’ clock.” They rip away from each other, and Buffy whirls around at the sound of her mother’s voice on the other side of her bedroom door. She’s expecting her mom to open it to make sure that she’s complying and actually getting ready for bed. She’s tense, and waiting for her fate and silently saying goodbye to all of her friends and saying she’s sorry for every bad thing she’s ever done. But the other Summers doesn’t open the door. She simply walks into her own bedroom and shuts the door.
“Thank God,” Buffy whispers and turns back to Faith, who also looks scared and a little pale. “She would have killed us. You better go before she comes back.” The brunette nods her head and they kiss one last before she slips away into the dark cover of night. ‘Please, where did you get that, a novel from the 1920s? Nobody talks like that anymore,’ the blonde thinks and slowly closes her window. She shuts off the lamp, and lays down on her bed, and stares up at the dark ceiling, while she allows herself to fall into a peaceful slumber where dreams of Faith’s soft lips will be galore. ‘Quoth the raven, ‘nevermore’.’
Chapter 8 - My Sincerest Apologies
The following Monday the leading lady of this story makes her way up the front steps of Sunnydale High. She definitely isn’t looking forward to today. She knows she needs to make up with the redhead and the brunette best friend, and she planned a speech out last night, but she’s nervous. She doesn’t know what they’re going to say, or if they’re going to let her back into their inner circle. She’s definitely caused a bit of a riff between, even a blind person can see that.
She knows that Xander is going to be more forgiving, because he isn’t as passionate about Faith as Willow is. Or at least he isn’t as verbally judgmental. Most of the words of caution have come from the ginger girl and Buffy isn’t sure if she’s going to be able to get Willow to forgive her, and be friends with her again. ‘It’s not like I killed her dog. I got mad at what they were saying about my potential girlfriend and yelled at them. And I didn’t even say that bad of stuff. They said really mean stuff about Faith. I didn’t call them names or anything. At least I don’t think I did. Crap, I can’t remember!’
Even more freaked out and nervous then before she makes her way towards her locker. She subtly scans the hallways looking for any sign of Willow or Xander. She doesn’t see them and she lets out a small sigh of relief. She’s hoping not to run into them until lunch so she’ll have more time to apologize. She opens her locker and pulls out the book she’ll need for her first class. She keeps the metal door open, and stares at the inside. ‘I wonder if I can get a picture of Faith. No, I think it’s too soon. I said I didn’t want to be exclusive yet, and putting up a picture in my locker would definitely shout exclusive,’ she babbles to herself and shuts the door. She’s startled when she sees Percy West leaning against the locker next to her, staring at her with an almost blank look on his face, and chewing a piece of gum.
“Can I help you?” she asks when the boy says nothing. She holds her book up to her chest like she had done with Faith. She doesn’t know why she gets a little nervous when people she doesn’t know try to talk to her, she just does. And the book acts like a shield between her and the other person. Percy stands up a little straighter but not too much. ‘God, is he tired or just really lazy?’ She gives up on trying to decide and focuses on what the star basketball player has to say.
“Semiformal is coming up and I was wondering if you wanted to go with me.” ‘I forgot all about that stupid dance. I totally thought no one was going to ask me since I’m new.’ She shifts from one foot to the other as she thinks about her answer. She doesn’t want to completely turn him down because she does want to go to the dance, but she wants to give Faith the opportunity to ask her first. ‘We agreed not to be exclusive so it wouldn’t be cheating. And I’m not going to lie to her about it so I’m not sneaking around. If she doesn’t want to go with me then she has no right to get mad if I go with someone else.’ With her reasoning set she gives her answer to the boy awaiting her answer.
“I’m not sure if I can go or not. I’m sort of grounded at the moment, and my mom never said when she’s going to un-ground me so I’ll have to check with her. And if she does I might be going with someone else, but they haven’t asked me yet. How about I get back to you on Wednesday?” she asks and she sounds a little nervous. He nods his head a little bit and scratches the back of his neck. He stands up a little straighter, slouched but no longer leaning on the locker.
“Ok, if that’s best for you. I usually hang out in the cafeteria on Wednesdays,” he tells her and walks off before she can answer. ‘Oh man he’s a prince, the guy of my dreams,’ she thinks sarcastically. ‘Yeah right. I wouldn’t date that guy if he was the last guy on earth.’ The bell rings announcing that it’s time for all the students to scurry off to class, and Buffy has to rush if she doesn’t want to be late for her first class, which she doesn’t. She takes her seat at the front of the room and zones out while the teacher babbles on about exponents.
‘Percy West isn’t that bad looking. He’s kind of cute, I guess. A little lacking on the personality, but I’ve only talked to him the once. Maybe he was nervous, or he’s shy? I can’t believe I’m considering this. But I do want to go to the dance, and Faith doesn’t seem like the type of participate in school activities. But I don’t want her to get jealous. Or maybe I do? I mean, if I go out with someone else and she gets jealous then that means she has feelings for me and she doesn’t just want to get in my pants. But I have to wait until I find out if she wants to take me or not or else I’d be the most horrible person on earth.’
When the class is dismissed, and the homework assignment is given, the students get up and leave to enjoy their break. Buffy stops by her locker to drop off that book and pick up the next one she’ll need. She looks at the inside of the locker door and contemplates some more about wanting a picture of Faith in her locker. ‘So does this mean that subconscious I want to commit, but conscious I don’t because I haven’t known her for very long? Does that even make sense?’ She rolls her eyes at her own mind babble, and closes the locker door. She’s startled for a second time that day when she sees someone leaning against the locker next to hers.
“I really wish people would stop doing that,” she says and holds her hand up to her heart and feels it slowly start to slow down. “One of these days I’m going to have a heart attack.” She looks into the dark, smiling eyes of the brunette standing before her. “Do you need something?” She asks and puts a loose strand of hair behind her ear. The girl in question is giving off a very cocky attitude about her, and Buffy can’t help but find it…enticing.
“Yeah, I do need something. I need to ask you out to the semiformal,” the brunette says and gives Buffy her best smiling. The blonde has to admit that it is a nice smile. But that can’t make up for the fact that she’s completely blown away by what the brunette just told her. She gets a stunned look on her face, which she can’t force away, and the taller brunette is finding it very amusing, which does nothing but irritate Buffy.
“What is it ‘Ask Buffy to the Dance Day’?” she says without really thinking. And she definitely isn’t expecting an answer, but she gets one.
“No, actually that’s next Thursday. Today is ‘Ask A Hot Blonde to the Dance Day’. And seeing as I don’t have a date, and you’re a very hot blonde, I was wondering if you wanted to go with me.” She stares at the attractive brunette for a few seconds, and thinks about what she said. Then they both start laughing, and it seems to go on forever, when really it’s only two and a half minutes. When they stop things get a little awkward, but luckily the brunette jumps in and saves Buffy from making an ass out of herself by babbling. ‘I so wasn’t going to make an ass out of myself, you’re just being mean.’
“I’m sorry, I seem to have forgotten my manners,” the dark haired girl says and holds out her hand for the blonde to shake. “I’m Kennedy.” The baffled blonde reaches out and shakes the offered hand and introduces herself to the brunette. But Kennedy already knows who Buffy is. She’s the major gossip of the school. Everyone is just waiting to see who she’ll go with to the semiformal. There’s even a bet going on with some of the students. Most have their money on Percy, the ones who knew Buffy went out with Faith have their money on Kennedy, and the ones who couldn’t choose have their money on Buffy going alone.
“So, not to be a bug, but will you go to the dance with me?” the brunettes asks again, sounding a little less upfront about it. She looks into Buffy’s hazel eyes with her own deep browns, and gives off a vulnerable look. Normally she wouldn’t be doing this. She only goes after the girls who are out and proud because there’s a lot less resistance, but she has a hundred bucks on Buffy going with her to that dance, and Kennedy is anything but a loser.
“I don’t know. Thanks for the offer, but I’m sort of grounded at the moment, and if I can go I was hoping to go with someone else.” ‘Will you just leave so I can head towards my next class? It’s on the second floor and I’ll be late if I don’t leave now.’ But Kennedy doesn’t leave, and Buffy doesn’t want to seem rude by just walking off. ‘Well, it’s only English, who cares? I think being able to speak it is good enough.’
“You want Faith to ask you, don’t you?” Kennedy asks and raises an eyebrow at Buffy. The blonde just tries not to look confused at the way Kennedy is acting. She’s never seen someone act like this before when asking her out. “Not to be rude, but I don’t think that’s going to be happening anytime soon. Faith doesn’t go to dances, never has, never will. You’re better off going with someone else. The only other person who’s asked you is Percy. If you wanna get felt up all night and then slobbered on when he tries to kiss you then go with him. I’m offering a relaxed, casual evening with dancing, some bad punch, and no strings attached. Here’s my number, and if you decide to go with me then give me a call.” She hands Buffy a small folded piece of paper and leaves before she can say anything.
‘Ok, the people in this school are just fricking weird. No doubt about that. I’m sure Kennedy can get a date no problem, so why is she asking me when she knows I want to go with Faith? Maybe Willow will know something about it.’ She puts the paper in the front pocket on her sweater and makes her way towards her next class. ‘Two invites in one day and they’re totally not from the person I want to take me. But she’s still in L.A., she won’t be back until tomorrow night.’ It’s true, the raven haired maiden called Buffy last night from a payphone and told her she wouldn’t be back until Monday night, possibly Tuesday morning.
Buffy zones out through her English glass and almost misses the assignment that the teacher tells them to do. ‘Write a two thousand word report on the impact Shakespeare had on writing plays. What kind of crap is that? Who cares about some dead guy who wrote a few plays. They’re all boring anyway.’ But even the blonde will admit that she would like to play Juliet to Faith’s Romeo. ‘Except for the double suicide part, that would totally suck. And weren’t they cousins? ‘Cause that’s gross, and illegal depending on what state you live in.’
With the lunch hour now here the blonde makes her way to the library so she can talk to her somewhat geeky friends. ‘What am I supposed to say to them? I had a speech but I don’t think it’s going to be good enough, and I can’t remember half of it anyway. Ok so this will be completely improvised. I should do ok. I don’t have a lot of apologize for. Just the fact that I yelled at them when they were nothing but concerned and then I ignored them for a week. Oh yeah, I’m sure they’re going to welcome me back with hugs and flowers.’ She nervously walks into the library and stops to watch the laughter going on between the two students. ‘Here goes nothing’. She slowly makes her way over to them, and as soon as they notice her they go quiet.
“Ok, I know this is awkward, so I’m going to just jump to the chase,” she says and nervously shifts from one foot to the other. “I know you guys are worried about me, and everything you’ve told me about Faith is because you’re concerned. And I’m sorry I lost my temper and yelled at you. I should have stayed calm, and maybe we could have talked it out. But it’s too late to go back now, so I’d just like to apologize for the way I’ve treated you.” She holds her breath while she waits for the jury to deliberate.
“Pay up,” Xander says and holds his hand out to Willow. The redhead rolls her eyes and hands over a ten dollar bill. “I told you she couldn’t resist us.” He puts the money in his front shirt pocket, and smiles at the blonde who is looking a little confused and slightly irritated. ‘They bet that I’d come crawling back to them, and Willow bet against it?’ “All is forgiven. After you blew up on us like that we decided to back off on the Faith bashing. You’re going to have to see for yourself what she’s really like since it’s obvious no one is going to be changing your mind anytime soon. Even though she has hurt a lot of girls.” Buffy rolls her eyes as the boy takes a large bite of his sandwich. She sits down next to Willow and she isn’t stupid to the fact that Willow hasn’t said a word to her yet.
“You keep saying that, you keep telling me that Faith has hurt all these girls, but you’ve never given me any names. I’m just supposed to take your word for it that she’s some kind of heartbreaking monster? Where’s your proof? Because I haven’t seen any so far.” Willow goes to speak but then shuts her mouth, and gives a pleading look to Xander. “Ok, why won’t you talk to me? Are you still pissed at me for throwing that tantrum because I apologized and I meant it, I really am sorry.” But the redhead remains silent, so Xander jumps in.
“We went to a Dingoes concert on Saturday and she still hasn’t gotten her voice back.” Buffy gives her a sheepish look and Willow nods her head a little, silently acknowledging that the blonde is sorry for yet again losing her temper. “And you never asked for names, but we can give you plenty. The girl you should really talk to doesn’t go to this school. Her parents put her in private school because she refused to come here anymore. This is after Faith ripped out her heart and put it in a blender.” ‘Gross, does he have to be so visual?’ “Her name’s Anna Mills. Here’s her address.” Xander takes one of Buffy’s notebooks and write down an address. “She usually gets home around four. Tell her you know us and she’ll talk to you.” ‘What are they secret agents?’
“I’ll do that,” the stunned blonde says and picks up her notebook. ‘She lives like three blocks away from me. Shouldn’t be too hard to find.’ The blonde is about to get up and go to a vending machine to get something to eat when she remembers she was going to ask the two about the strange events that took place this morning. “Do either of you know why Percy West and some girl named Kennedy asked me to the dance today? My ego is loving it, but they were both acting kind of…weird. Any idea what’s up?” Both teens play dumb because they also have some money in on the bet and don’t want to alert the blonde to what’s really going on.
‘Well, I guess I’ll think about that later. My mind is going to be too busy thinking about this Anna Mills girl. So, Faith broke her heart, huh? I wonder what she looks like. Oh God, don’t tell me you’re getting jealous over a girl you don’t even know, because the girl you’re not even dating obviously fooled around with her, maybe even had sex with her? You are, you’re getting jealous. Well you better stop or soon you’re gonna be labeled a jealous freak who talks to herself in the third person.’
So, with thoughts of this mystery girl on her mind Buffy makes her way to her next class wondering if it would be good idea to question her, or if the better idea would be staying in the dark. But curiosity wins and she decides to go see Anna today, even if she is risking getting into even more trouble with her mother. This is just more important, and if her mother doesn’t realize that then too bad. This is her love life we’re talking about. She needs to know what Faith is really about so she can decide if she wants to pursue this relationship or not. ‘So, I guess I’ve got a blind date with a girl named Anna.’
Chapter 9 - My Talk With Her Ex
With the school day over the once bubbly blonde is now a ball of nerves. She’s on her way over to the mysterious Anna Mills, and she’s second guessing herself. She doesn’t if she it would be right going over there before she talks to Faith. But she isn’t sure if Faith will be honest with her or not. ‘It’s best to have both sides of the story before you pass judgment. And Faith is still out of town so getting Anna’s first is just convenient,’ she thinks as she walks down the sidewalk.
She’s going in the direction she would normally go everyday, but instead of going straight and walking towards her house she turns to the right until she sees a sign that says ‘Red Bluff Street’. She glances at all of the houses on either side of the street looking for 3458. ‘Come on, it’s a dead end road, how hard can it be to find?’ Sighing in frustration she keeps going. Then she gets to the very end of the street. She look at the house to her right, but that’s on the one. Then she looks at the house to her left and reads the numbers twice just to be sure. ‘Bingo,’ she thinks and makes her way across the street.
She stands on the sidewalk and just looks at the house for a few minutes, much like a stalker would do. She studies the red paint, the dark green trim, and the very inviting feel the house has. Making up her mind that this isn’t wrong, she makes her way up to the door and rings the doorbell. She looks down at her watch when she remembers what Xander said about Anna not being home until around four, but it’s not three fifty-seven, so hopefully the other teenager will be home. Blonde looks up quickly, startled, when she hears the door open.
“Can I help you?” ‘Is that Anna? Please, don’t let that be Anna,’ the blonde thinks and becomes very self-conscious about her looks. The girl standing before her is stunning. Tall, and leggy. Curves in all the right places. Dark, gorgeous eyes that seem to pierce your very soul when she looks into your eyes. Her dark hair is cut short, stopping at her shoulders but all the short hair does is compliment the girls very pretty face. She could easily be a model if she wanted, but this hot bombshell is one in a million, and would rather use her brain then her boobs to get a career.
“Hi, I’m Buffy. I’m looking for an Anna Mills. Xander and Willow told me I could find her here,” she says and notices that the girl tenses up at the mention of the teenagers’ names. ‘This is her, there’s no doubt about it. According to everyone at school Faith only goes after the very beautiful girls because to everyone else they’re unattainable. And here I was hoping it wouldn’t be true.’
“Well you found her. How are Xander and Willow doing?” she asks and steps aside, making room for Buffy to enter the house. “Come on in. I have a feeling this talk might take a while.” Buffy enters the house and feels a little nervous. That scene in the Lion King when Simba is almost killed by the Hyenas comes to mind. She remembers the moral of that little outing being ‘don’t go looking for trouble’ and that is definitely what Buffy has done.
“They’re doing great. Xander is falling behind in some of his classes, but Willow is helping him catch up.” The nervous small talk continues as the two walk up the stairs to the second story of the very nice home. Buffy can’t fight the very warm, homey feeling this house has. Buffy is lead to Anna’s bedroom and as soon as she steps into it she never wants to leave. It’s just so nice. The vibe is warm, and the room is so…vibrant.
Three of the four walls are a bright yellow color, while the fourth wall is a mural. It’s a large painting of a country farmhouse. There’s a barn, and the lovely home, with fields in the background and on either side. There’s horses in one pasture, cows in the other, and three children running and playing while the parents sit on the porch and watch. ‘Ok, so did she steal that picture from a real painting or did she come up with it herself? Either way it’s really nice.’
“So, what did you want to talk about?” Anna asks and sits down on the large bed. The comforter is red, along with the pillowcase. Buffy really wishes her mom would give her this kind of creative control over her room so she could turn it into something like this. “Obviously it wasn’t to tell me that Xander still hasn’t changed.” The speechless blonde takes a seat at the desk. She turns the chair around so she can face the very pretty girl across from her.
“Faith,” Buffy says and pauses for a second. “The person not the belief in higher powers.” Anna smiles a little but it goes away after a second or two. ‘Ok, so what’s with that look? Did Faith really rip out her heart and put it in a blender?’ Anna looks away from Buffy, and it irritates the blonde a lot. She wants to be able to look into those soulful eyes and see what the dark headed girl is feeling.
“I don’t know what you’ve heard about her, or why you’re asking me, but some of it might be true.” Buffy tenses up and prepares herself for the worst. “We were together, like in a relationship, as in more then just friends.” Anna looks up at the bottled blonde to gauge her reaction and she’s glad that the skinny girl isn’t freaking out. “What do you wanna know about her?” Now that Anna’s actually looking into Buffy’s hazel eyes the blonde takes back her earlier notion of wanting the brunette to look at her. The pain in those dark, almost black eyes, is so great Buffy knows she’ll probably have nightmares about them.
“Well, I already knew that you two were together. Xander and Willow told me. The other kids at school have been telling me things about Faith ever sine I moved here. I guess she’s known for breaking hearts, and using people, and Xander told me yours was the worst.” Anna’s eyebrows knit together in anger and irritation immediately after Buffy gets done talking. ‘Ok, what’s with the sudden mood swing. That happened so fast I thought I was going to get whiplash.’
“That’s not what happened at all!” Anna yells and stands up in a very threatening way. Buffy cowards back, knowing that in a physically confrontation she’d be murdered almost instantly. Her tiny structure is definitely not intended to endure physically violence. But the other girl calms down, takes in a deep breath, and returns to her spot on the bed. “I’m sorry, but that’s not what happened.” The girl takes in another deep breath and begins a tale of friendship, love, and eventually heartbreak.
“We dated back in our freshman year. She had just moved here from L.A. and she was pissed off at…the world, I guess. Cordelia kept giving her a hard time because that’s just what Cordelia does, but it didn’t help. We met when we were forced to work on a science project together. She was cold, and distant at first, but I treated her better then everyone else and she stopped being so mean after a while. One day after school she came over to work on the project and she heard me and my dad fighting. I said something way out of line, and he slapped me. She heard it, completely freaked out and dragged me out of here.” A couple of tears slowly snake their way down the girl’s pretty face. She doesn’t wipe them away, and they fall onto her jeans, making dark spots on the material.
“She took me into the woods, behind the park. There was an old travel trailer back there. She told me it used to be her uncle’s and she put it back there so she would have a place to go, but I wasn’t really paying attention at the time. We went inside and sat in silence for a while. I didn’t have anything to say, and she didn’t ask me about what happened. After a couple of hours she walked me home and make me promise to tell her if he ever hit me again. We became friends after that.” She wipes away at the drying tears on her face, and her expression changes to a lighter one as she looks back on the happy memories.
“We never hung out at school. I guess she didn’t want my reputation as the good girl ruined. But we hung out in here everyday.” She looks over to the mural on her wall and smiles a little. “She helped me paint that. Well, I helped her. She’s way better then I thought she was, and way better at it then me. Anyway, she was always there for me, and she listened to everything I had to say. She never really opened up to me, she said it hurt too much to talk about her past.” Anna blushes a little and Buffy knows that she’s about to talk about the more R rated side of her and Faith’s relationship.
“When I realized I was falling for her I didn’t hesitate to tell her. I felt like I could tell her anything and she wouldn’t push me away. I was so nervous, and babbling like an idiot. But as soon as I said I wanted to be more then friends she leaned over and kissed me.” Anna’s fingers slowly reach up and touch her lips. The girl does this without even realizing. Buffy gets a flair of jealousy within her that she controls. But hearing someone else talk about kissing Faith is a lot harder then she thought it was going to be.
“After that our friendship changed, but it was still the same. We’d still only hang out here, and we’d talk for hours, but we’d lay together on the bed and she’d hold my hand. It was very…innocent, and I was so naïve at the time. I wanted to come out to my parents and my friends, but she told me not to. I trusted her so I listened to her.” Buffy looks at her a little more intently when she pauses. She watches Anna look up at her with some hesitation. After a few seconds that feel like hours she finally continues.
“She was my first everything. My first relationship, my first kiss, the first person I ever fell in love with, the first person I ever made love with.” She turns a little so she can look behind her at the big bed with the dark red sheets. “It happened right here on this bed. Different sheet, of course, but same mattress, same room, same ceiling.” ‘Ok, I will not kill this girl, I will not kill this girl. She’s nice enough to share all of this with me, and I will not kill her.’ “It was, absolutely perfect. She was so gentle, and loving. She always took really good care of me.” Buffy watches Anna’s expression change to a darker one as looks back on the memory floating in her mind.
“We fell asleep afterwards. My parents were out of town on business and weren’t supposed to be back for another three days. But the people my dad was trying to get to sign on with his business refused, and canceled all the other meetings they had with him, so he came home early. He walked in on us when we were sleeping, naked and holding each other. He completely freaked. He started screaming at us, and he grabbed all of Faith’s clothes and threw them out the window. Then he grabbed her by the hair and dragged her downstairs and threw her outside. He told me I wasn’t allowed to see her anymore, that he wasn’t going to have a ‘fag’ for a daughter.” Buffy’s heart feels like it’s being constricted with sympathy for this girl.
“I wasn’t going to break up with her, I was in love with her, but I thought we could be sneaky about it. But she couldn’t come over here anymore, and she didn’t want to take me to her place, but we had to be together, it was getting too hard to be in the same building and act like we didn’t know each other. One day after cheerleading practice she came into the locker room after all the other girls left and we…worked off some tension. Cordelia came back because she forgot her pompoms and saw us.” Buffy’s stomach drops when Anna tells her that. ‘So Cordelia has always been a huge bitch? I’m so glad I’m not friends with her.’
“The next day everyone at school knew about it, but they all blamed Faith. I was the good girl who never did anything bad, so if I’m caught having sex with a girl then it’s obviously her fault, not mine. I tried to tell them that they were wrong, but they wouldn’t listen. They were to busy crucifying Faith.” Buffy takes in a deep breath when Anna looks into her eyes again. All of that pain, and sadness is on display and it’s almost too overwhelming to look at, but Buffy can’t look away.
“She did break up with me, she did break my heart, but she was trying to protect me. She let everyone think that she was some horrible monster because she thought it would make things easier for me. Then the principal found out what happened on his campus and he called my dad. He pulled me out of Sunnydale High and put me in private school because I told him no matter what he did I wouldn’t stop seeing Faith. I was wrong, because he threatened to send me away to some boarding school in Vermont, and I stopped seeing her. I loved her so much, but this is my home. I already lost most of my friends when I switched schools, I didn’t want to be shipped off to some other state too.” Buffy watches as Anna wipes the tears from her red, puffy eyes. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone look so small and wounded.’
“We see each other sometimes around town because Sunnydale is very small, but we don’t talk. Every once in a while she’ll tape a letter to my window, but that’s only like twice maybe three times a month. I can’t write back because I don’t know where she lives, and I don’t know when she’s going to show up so I can’t take one to my window without someone seeing it in the morning if she doesn’t come.” Buffy watches in stunned silence as Anna sniffles loudly, and wipes at her eyes some more. The taller girl glances over at a clock on her nightstand and then back at Buffy.
“You should go, my dad will be home any minute and I’m not supposed to have people over while he’s gone.” The blonde gets up to leave, she doesn’t say anything because she doesn’t know what to say. But a now raspy voice stopped her when she reached the bedroom door. “Buffy.” The blonde slowly turns around and doesn’t know what to expect. “You hurt her in any way, shape or form, and I’ll break your neck. You got it?” ‘Wow, she went from heartbroken teenager to scary bitch in three seconds. I should definitely take her seriously.’
“I won’t, and not just because you’re threatening me. Thank you for telling me all of that. I can’t even imagine how hard it must’ve been. I’ll tell Willow and Xander you said hi.” Before Anna could say another word Buffy rushes out of the house. Watching the girl go through so many raw emotions, and cry like that took its toll on our favorite bottled blonde, and she needs to get away from this place before she has a break down of her own. She runs into her house and thanks every god in the universe that she beat her mother home. ‘I’m never talking with any of Faith’s ex’s again. That was way too much. I can’t wait to see Faith now that I know she isn’t a sleazebag. Is it crazy that I just want her to hold me?’