Buffy glanced at the clock as she rolled the small, squishy ball back to her nephew Nate. Okay, Faith had said she was just running to the store to grab something for dinner and she’d be right back. That was over an hour ago. The grocery store was only fifteen minutes away; surely it hadn’t taken her this long. Then again, one never knew with Faith. The girl probably ran into someone she knew. She seemed to know everyone. Especially if they were male.
“Come on Nate, Auntie Buffy is going to call Mama,” Buffy said gently as she picked up Nate.
He pointed at the ball rolling across the floor. “Ball,” he said in his tiny one-year-old voice.
Buffy smiled broadly, “yes, that’s right, ball. Let’s call Mama. Can you say Mama?”
Buffy giggled, “good boy!” She pressed a kiss to her nephew’s forehead. Loving Nate was probably the only thing she and her sister had in common. How to take care of him.well, that was a different matter entirely.
Faith still wanted to live her life, and believed there was no reason why she couldn’t. Which, Buffy was all on board for Faith having her own life. She was not, however, on board for the revolving door of boyfriends her sister had going on. Nate did not need to grow up like that. He needed stability, not the instability of waking up every morning seeing a different man with his mama. And so, Buffy often took it upon herself to take Nate as much as she could in between her waitressing job and night classes.
However, Buffy had learned early on not to lecture her sister on the matter. It only angered Faith and the woman tended to use Nate as her pawn to keep Buffy quiet. If Buffy spoke up, she would threaten to keep Nate from her. Buffy couldn’t have that. Not at all. Nate and Faith were the only family she had. They needed each other. Faith claimed not to need anyone, but Buffy figured that was just an act.
Quickly dialing Faith’s cell, Buffy rolled her eyes when the answering machine picked up. Figures. If it had been one of her boyfriends, Faith was sure to have answered.
“Faith, it’s your sister. Where are you? It’s been over an hour now and I’m wondering what’s taking so long. I have a class in an hour and I need to go home to grab my books. Hurry up.”
Buffy hung up on a sigh and looked at Nate who was pointing back at the ball across the room. Buffy grinned and set him down and Nate toddled to it. He picked it up and threw it at Buffy, hard as he could. Buffy winced as it made contact with her calf.
“You’re going to be a major leaguer with that arm, buddy,” Buffy told him as she lightly tossed the ball back. Her cell ringing caught her attention and she picked it up as she ducked from Nate’s throw.
“Buffy, where the hell are you?”
“Hi, Spike, how are you? I’m good thanks,” Buffy smiled into the phone and watched Nate become preoccupied with another toy.
“You’re supposed to be here right now. You know, doing your job.”
“Negative. Cordelia asked if she could work instead. She needs the extra money this month for her headshots or something. I told her she could have my hours for today. Is she there?”
“For crying out loud, Spike. Then what’s the issue? You have your waitressing staff all in line, what’s the big?”
“I hate working with her. She whines too much.”
“You’ll deal. You hired her, remember?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Only because I took pity on her. She seemed so innocent then. Not sure what happened since then.”
“She got the job, that’s what happened. Is it busy?”
Spike sighed, “no.”
“Maybe I’ll stop by after class.”
“Do that. Where are you?”
“Oh? And how is the man-eater?”
Buffy sighed, “not here. She said she was going to get something for dinner and isn’t back yet.”
“Watching Nate then, aren’t you?”
“You make it sound bad,” Buffy said indignantly.
“Not bad, Buffy,” Spike sighed. “Don’t like how she takes advantage of you. You’re too nice.”
“What am I supposed to do? Say no? He’s my nephew and I love him.”
“I know you do. You’re a sight better for him than she is.”
“Spike, that is his mother you’re talking about and my sister,” Buffy admonished him sternly.
“I’m sorry Buffy, I just don’t like seeing your kindness being abused. She knows how much you dote on that kid-”
“‘Kid’ has a name.”
“Just a figure of speech, Buffy.”
“Well, listen, I have to go. Nate just wandered into the next room.”
“Okay, pet. Come see me later, all right?”
“I’ll try, bye.”
“Nate.come back here,” Buffy ran into the kitchen and picked Nate up from behind, tossing him lightly in the air and making him giggle just as a two police cars pulled into the driveway. “Uh-oh,” Buffy murmured, clutching Nate close to her. “What has your mother done now?”
Buffy opened the door to see a male and female police officer looking very grim, coming up the walkway. She opened the door, balancing Nate on her hip. “Hi, can I help you?”
The two looked at each other and then back to Buffy and Nate. “Are you Buffy?”
“Yes, I am. What is this in reference to?”
“There’s been an accident, Miss Summers. Your sister is dead.”
“Excuse me? What? My sister is not dead. She went to the store. She’s going to be right back. She’s just late is all-”
“Miss Summers, your sister was in a car accident. She wasn’t.she wasn’t at the store. Do you know Warren Meers?”
Buffy was in a daze. Car accident? Faith was dead? What were they asking her now? “What? Who?”
“I think you need to sit, Miss Summers, you’re wobbling a bit,” the policeman told her and held out his arm to steady her.
“Take the child,” the woman told him quietly.
When he started to reach for Nate, Buffy screamed “don’t fucking touch my nephew!”
Both officers stopped and stared at the shocked, grief-stricken woman before them. She was turning deadly pale and she had a wild look in her eye as she clutched her now crying nephew to her.
“What happened? Where is she? What did she do?” Buffy demanded.
“She was with who we believe was her boyfriend, Warren Meers. They were seen leaving his apartment together. No one knew where they were headed, but she was driving. They blew through a stop sign and were hit by a mack truck. She’s gone Miss Summers.”
Buffy was shaking her head, “no, no, no. She’s not gone. She’s at the store. At the store. Getting food for Nate. For Nate. Her son. She’s not.she’s.” Buffy stopped and pushed Nate, who was screaming into the officer’s arms and bounded into the house, heading straight for the bathroom. Standing over the toilet, Buffy heaved. The tears started to drop them, buckets of them blinding her sight, causing everything to blur. She was dreaming. She had to be dreaming. Once the tears stopped, once they cleared, she’d be able to see again. She’d awaken and see that it was all a dream. Wake up, Buffy. She sank to the floor and wrapped her arms around herself, shutting her eyes tightly, digging her nails into her skin. She started to rock slightly back and forth. Wake up, wake up, wake up. She drew in an unsteady breath and cracked her eyes open. She could see. So, she had to be awake now, right? She’d go back out and see Faith outside playing with Nate, she’d tell her to watch him so she could put the groceries away. Yes, that’s what she’d see. On now confident legs, Buffy stood and flushed the toilet. She smoothed her clothes and went to the sink. She splashed some cold water on her face, ran a brush through her hair and put some toothpaste on her finger, brushing her teeth with it. Once she was done, she walked back outside. She froze.
She wasn’t awake yet.