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“You were somewhere far away you obviously needed to go. Don’t apologize. We’re at a shop where I bet you can get what you want for Dawn.”
Spike got out of the car and waited patiently as Xander pulled himself together before joining him. The side door of the shop was completely under shelter and no stray sunbeam crept in. “Jen knows how to carter to unique clients,” Spike explained. “I’m not the only one with sun allergies.”
Xander followed Spike into the dim interior of the shop. At once the mixture of exotic scents recalled the Magic Box and the many long hours he’d spent there. But this shop was different. The chemical odors of leather dye and paint mixed with the sandalwood and patchouli.
Spike strode into the dim shop with an air of familiarity. “Hey, Jen! I bring you a customer.”
“I’ll be right out! I have to rinse this brush,” came a voice from beyond a beaded doorway.
Xander was drawn to one of many bright paintings which hung among the merchandise. A bright green, leering man reached a long, lulling, blue tongue toward the legs of a woman. In another, a big-eyed dachshund smiled out at the viewer while dreaming of his dinner dish.
“She’s got quite a vision, doesn’t she?”
Xander frowned at a painting of two sperm shaped worm creatures in conversation. “I… I like the colors.”
Spike snorted. “You’re just uneducated.”
“Spike! I knew you couldn’t stay away for long.” Xander turned to see a petite woman with bright red hair, a striped black and white shirt, and jeans turned up in a wide cuff. Xander had to smile at her battered combat boots that were so much like Spike’s.
“Ah, Pet, you know I can’t. I love the new color,” he said, pointing at her hair. “Let me introduce you to my friend Xander.”
“Hey! Great to meet you.” Spike saw her appraising look and didn’t miss the ‘not bad’ face she flashed him. She came over, took hold of Xander’s wrist and looked at his leather bands. “They fit well, I’m glad to see.” She held his hand and looked up at him. “They were what you needed?”
Xander tried not to squirm under her frank scrutiny. “m. Yeah. You made them? They’re… very comfortable.”
“You know you got them right, Pet. You always do.” Spike poked through a bowl of amulets. “I still think your name should be spelled with a ‘dj.’”
Jen smiled at Xander’s blank look. “D. J. I. N. N,” she spelled. “as in a genie.” She dropped Xander’s hand. “You’re friend is quite the flirt.”
Xander grinned. “I know.”
“So, what can I do you for?”
“I want something for my friend Dawn, for her birthday.”
“Paint? Ink? Gems? Leather?” Jen went around behind the counter and leaned on it.
“I, uh, have an idea but I don’t know if there is time to find it.”
“Lay it on me!”
Soon, Xander and Jen were both leaning on the counter and detailing a sketch that Jen was drawing. Spike picked up one of the books and settled in the one comfortable chair. Finally, the two signed off on the design with Jen promising to do her best to meet the tight deadline.
“Thank you,” Xander said. “Wait, we haven’t talked price.”
“It’ll be so fair you’ll have to tip her heavily,” Spike said as if from long experience.
Jen shook her head. “I wish I didn’t have to do the business part. I just want to make things.” She wrote a figure on the paper that Xander knew was too reasonable.
“Looks like you’re right, Spike. See you in a couple of days, Jen. It was nice to meet you.”
“Where to now?” Spike asked, giving Jen a nod and a grin.
“Wait,” Jen called. “I need to add something to your bracelet.” Before Xander could say anything, she unsnapped the left leather cuff and took it into the back room.
Spike and Xander exchanged puzzled looks as the thump of a mallet sounded. She came back out quickly and snapped the band back around his wrist before Xander could look at what she’d done. “You two look after each other, okay?”
“That’s our plan, pet.” Spike watched Xander closely as they left the shop. Xander was looking down at the altered band as he stepped outside. He took one, two, three steps from the door before dropping his wrist instead of checking the changes.
“What other shops are nearby?” Xander asked.
Spike had seen this minor forgetting take place before. Jen’s magic, whatever flavor it was, stayed secret to any humans who came into her shop. She did a lot of small good things as far as Spike could tell, so who was he to reveal her? “A little of everything. No where else I can go, though.”
Xander squinted out into the bright sunshine and pointed to a pharmacy across the street. “I want to get some sunglasses before we get on the road, okay?”
Spike shrugged. “Take your time. It’s a pretty day and there’s a nice bench here.”
Xander nodded, took four steps up the sidewalk, then turned and came back. “I, uh. I can’t go shopping. I don’t have any money.” He laughed. “How’s that for irony?”
“No problem.” Spike pulled a slim wallet from inside his coat and pulled out two hundreds. “Will that do you?”
“I just want some sunglasses.”
“Something else might catch your eye. Besides, it’s your money.” Spike sprawled on the wooden bench deep in the shade my the building. He shooed Xander away. “Go. Shop.”
Xander put the money deep in his pocket like a kid being trusted with errand money. “Okay. Be right back.”
Spike watched Xander cross the street. He counted twelve before Jen opened the side door, came out, and sat beside him. “He’s a powerful one, isn’t he?”
Spike nodded. “Stronger than he knows.”
She looked off toward the ocean, not seeing it. “And yet there’s a flaw through him like a fracture in a gem stone. It’s much like yours.” Spike looked sharply at the slim woman he would not have considered a full meal back in the day. She didn’t acknowledge the warning in his look. “Of course, if two things break, you often find they can be best mended by putting them together.”
Spike studied her silently. “Are you sure you’re not Midra’s sister? She likes to speak in riddles, too.”
Jen beamed a smile at Spike. “She sees things, too.” She patted his leg, stood, and left him to puzzle her meaning.
Xander had intended to find some sunglasses and maybe a
drink, then get back to Spike. His friend was being so patient, but it didn’t
feel right to just leave him sitting alone. The Walgreen’s turned out to be
filled with new brands and flavors he’d never seen and it wasn’t long before
he went back to the stand beside the door and picked up a plastic basket to
carry all his finds.
He picked out some sunglasses first, then worked his way down the candy row. He knew Spike’s warnings about sweets were true, but there were things he’d dreamed of and new things he’d never seen. His attention was caught by a electronic toy in the middle of the rows. He played with it for a few minutes, then looked up. He was right in front of the condom display.
Xander swallowed, suddenly feeling like a kid sneaking looks at the dirty magazines. He glanced around the building, but the check out girl was ringing someone out, an older man in the card aisle was squinting at a card, and the pharmacist in his cage was doing something out of Xander’s sight.
Xander went over to the display, praying they hadn’t changed things too much. It didn’t take him long to locate the KY jelly. He tumbled a tube into his basket, then froze. Some things had changed.
A rectangular box some seven inches tall bore the familiar logo of the nemesis of his bachelor apartment days. Doc Johnson. In a drugstore? Xander had been planning to buy a toy on line once he had a credit card and learned how. Several nights he’d found himself feeling empty and wanting to feel something within himself again. Xander glanced around and picked up the box. The picture was clearly of a dildo that had a series of increasingly larger bumps. The label contents declared it to be “100% medical grade silicone.”
He tucked it in his basket under the York Peppermint Patties. Then he looked some more. A more traditionally shaped toy stood in the slot beside the first. Xander shrugged. He wanted what he wanted. So what if Spike saw and teased him? Spike! Xander had no idea how long he’d shopped. Tucking the second toy under his chips, he made for the check out.
Feeling guilty, Xander clutched his bags and hurried back across the street. He found Spike still sitting on the bench. “I’m sorry. Maybe I should buy a watch.”
“No worries. I was just about to call an Amber alert is all.” Spike stood up, leading with his crotch as he somehow always managed.
“Sorry,” Xander said again, hoping his purchases wouldn’t be visible through the thin plastic of the bags.
“I figured you’d be a kid in a candy store. Fish out your glasses and let’s be on our way, yeah? Want to put your bags in the boot? There’s not much room in the front.”
“Trunk. Compartment in the back of a car that holds things?”
Xander made a face at Spike. “I know what a trunk is.”
Spike unlocked it and climbed in the front seat. He didn’t know exactly what all the man had bought in there, but he sure was feeling guilty about it. Spike shook his head.
Once Xander was belted in with sunglasses in place and soda in hand, Spike looked him over. “Where now?”
“How long until dinner?”
Spike looked at the dashboard clock. “Three hours till sundown and another hour to dinner. You hungry now?”
“No. I’m good. How about just showing me where everything is? I, uh, wasn’t paying attention on the way here.”
Spike smoothly pulled the sleek car out onto the road and back to the highway. He played tour guide, pointing out places he knew Xander would like. He stopped at a traffic light and pointed out the window. “This is the biggest comic book shop around.” Xander’s hand twitched toward the door handle. “BUT. If I don’t let Gunn and Oz do the introduction to their favorite place, I will never hear the end of it.”
Xander looked longingly at Spiderman painted on the window as they drove away. “But I’ve still got some money left,” he pouted.
Spike chuckled. “I’ve sat and waited for you once today. It’ll be open again.”
“Okay.” They drove on along a road paralleling the bright beach. Xander sighed some ten minutes later.
“Still pouting about the comic store?” Spike teased.
“About Anthony?” Spike ventured.
“Yeah. He had infinite patience. With me. I must have babbled for hours about superheroes, plot lines, and how they could or could not have been real.”
“I wish I could have met him,” Spike said softly. “Anyone who can take that much from you… he must have cared.”
Xander swallowed. “He did. I did.”
On to Chapter 25
The character of Jen is my most sweet and creative co-worker. Treat her nice.
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