Chapter Five: Approaching Normal
Mac watched as the girl unmercifully pummeled the punching bag; she’d been at it for a couple hours. She had been coming in every night for the past three years. She never talked to any of the guys, although they had all tried their luck at one time or another. She didn’t even tell them to screw off like most women would; it was as if, to her, they didn’t even exist. She just came in and headed straight for the bag, and she didn’t leave until closing time. He shook his head and called out to her,
“Closing time, Dawn.”
“Thanks, Mac. I’ll be out of your hair as soon as I change.”
It was the same thing every night, the mindless oblivion of the gym where her fists and the bag were all that existed, home to shower and change and then on to the club. She liked the club, it was the only place she felt truly alive anymore. Well, that and what she did after the club, but she had only started doing that a few weeks ago. During the day she went to school, a good school, far from Sunnydale. The kind of school he had wanted her to go to. Well, he had gotten his wish, but what would he think about her after-hours activities?
She supposed it was fitting that along with loving a being of darkness she had grown to love the dark. At first it was because that was when they could be together freely, but since he had left, it had become a haven. A haven from the painful reality of her life. The darkness wrapped her in its cool embrace whereas the light was harsh and unforgiving, exposing every flaw and magnifying it a thousand times. Usually after she finished her evening routine she found herself drawn irresistibly to the street, where she would roam aimlessly for hours. The thought brought a bitter smile to her mouth. Oh, no, he wouldn’t like that one bit, she thought. But then he’d have to be around before he could complain, and the odds of that ever happening were slim to none. Dawn’s lip trembled slightly, but she steeled herself before any tears formed. He had made his choice a long time ago; she just had to live with it.
“I guess I’d have to say she’s doing alright. She doesn’t really confide in any of us.”
“But she’s not in danger or anything?”
“I guess not.”
“Look, we’ve been doing this since I left and the deal was; I call you every month, you give me an update and let me know if she needs me. Have you changed your mind or something?”
“No, it’s just- she always needs you, man, that’s the problem. I don’t think she’ll ever stop needing you.” There was only silence on the other end. “Why don’t you let me tell you where she is; you can see for yourself.”
“No! I told you; I can’t see her. And I can’t know where she is; I don’t think I’m strong enough to resist the temptation.”
“I don’t know why you feel the need to do this,” Xander said into the phone. “All it’s doing is causing everyone pain.”
“I told you before, she needs me gone. She needs to know that she can make it on her own without me.” He could hear the sorrow in Spike’s voice.
“What about you?” Xander asked softly. “Can you make it without her?”
“I don’t matter,” was all Spike said, and then he hung up. Xander slowly replaced the receiver. He stared at it unseeingly for a long time before finally getting wearily to his feet. I’m not as sure of that as I used to be, he thought ruefully.
At home, Dawn checked her messages as she laid out what she would wear that night. The first message was Willow,
“Hey, Dawn, it’s just me. Again. I’ve called four times; are you getting the messages? Please call me. I haven’t heard from you in a while.” Silence. “We miss you.” Xander was up next,
“Dammit, Dawn! Will and Tara are worried about you; have you been avoiding their calls again? They just want to hear your voice, and when you don’t call them, they call me, and I really need to get some sleep. So do a guy a favor and call them already. Set their minds at ease. Love you, kiddo.”
Dawn sank down onto the bed. She didn’t mean to worry them, but she wanted to forget about Sunnydale and all the pain and loss she had experienced there. She couldn’t do that when she talked to them; it all came rushing back whenever she heard their voices. She reached over to delete the messages, but then she pulled her hand back and sighed. That wasn’t fair to them; she should call. She looked at the clock. It was too late now, she needed to get ready, but she’d call them in the morning. Maybe she’d be lucky and get the machine. Yeah, right, she thought bitterly.
At the club she talked to the bartender as people filtered in before the eight o’clock set. She loved this time of night. The buzz of excitement she felt right before she went on stage; it was exhilarating. It was odd to think that in the wake of her heartbreaking split with Spike the only thing that made her happy was something she would never have tried if it weren’t for him.
It had been about a year and a half after she’d left Sunnydale when she’d discovered the club. She had worked there as a waitress for close to a year before she started singing there. When she started working there they already had a regular guy, but he had left eventually, and the club began auditioning other acts. She almost hadn’t tried out, but then she thought of all those open mic nights and gave it a shot. They had been highly impressed and hired her on the spot. In the six months that she’d been singing, business had tripled, and the owners had happily doubled her salary because she was such a huge draw.
She had asked them to introduce her as Summer instead of Dawn because it felt good to imagine that she wasn’t herself here. Instead of the heartbroken wreck she had become in the real world, in this place she could pretend she was just a fun loving college student without a care in the world. Mostly she did cover songs, but she had written and performed a few of her own and they had gone over really well with the crowd. Her performances attracted a wide range of people because she never sang one ‘type’ of music. As Spike had once told her, she had very eclectic tastes and it really showed in the songs that she chose to sing. She had an eight o’clock set and then one at ten; they each lasted an hour. People would often stay for both because she performed different songs in each set. God, I love this job, she thought as she took the stage to the wild applause of the crowd.
Dawn changed into street clothes after her second set. It was an hour walk to where she always went afterwards, and, while she was in peak physical condition, stilettos were nobody’s friend. When she got to his place she felt a little nervous, just like she always did when she came here. He opened the door almost before she knocked, and smiled when he saw that she had decided to come again after all. He opened the door wide for her to enter and then she followed him to the special room he had all set up for this kind of thing.
“I’m glad you came. You’re a natural at this, you know.” He was very enthusiastic.
“Really?” she asked in disbelief. She thought she had been somewhat awkward the few times they had done this.
“Oh yes. I cannot wait to get started; you’ll be a pro in no time. Then you can take full advantage of your gift.” Dawn removed her coat and then peeled off her top to reveal her black tank bra.
“Well, let’s get started then.”
Dawn felt both exhausted and exhilarated after her session. Who knew learning how to fight could be so much fun? A couple months ago a girl from the club had been attacked outside her apartment; her jaw had been broken and she had been raped. Dawn had gone to see her in the hospital, and as she stood there staring at her friend’s bruised and battered form she realized that with Spike gone and her living so far from home she was really the only one who could protect herself if something like that were to happen to her.
So she had looked into several different forms of self-defense and that’s when she had discovered Muay Thai kickboxing and Chaz. She didn’t know if many women got involved in Thai boxing, but it wasn’t as if she wanted to compete professionally. She just wanted to use it to defend herself, and Chaz had been more than willing to teach her. So far, she loved it. Besides singing, it was the only thing that made her feel truly free. As she was about to climb into bed she noticed she had another message on her machine. She walked over and hit the play button expecting another message from Willow or Tara; instead, there was a moment of silence before she heard Anya whispering as though she didn’t want to be overheard,
“Dawn? Willow and Tara aren’t the only ones who worry. Please call.”
Dawn’s eyes grew misty. There was something about Anya’s voice, a slight tremor that could have been sadness or pain, that touched her more in that one simple phone call than all of Willow’s insistent calling and Xander’s joking pleas ever had. I’m hurting them, she thought. By keeping them at a distance, she was hurting them the way Spike had hurt her by leaving. She started to cry. It was time to put an end to her avoidance; they didn’t deserve it. Tomorrow she’d call them all, and on her next break she would go home for a visit. It was time to put the past behind her and finally move on with her life.
Her reunion with the remaining Scoobies was tearful. Giles, who had returned to England the year before, timed his vacation so that he could be there during Dawn’s visit. After they got home, Dawn found herself alone with Anya for a moment while the others went to get the luggage. Dawn studied her; she looked the same and yet she seemed so different for some reason.
“It was your call that convinced me to come home, you know,” Dawn stated quietly. Anya looked at her, surprised.
“Mine? Why mine?”
“I don’t know. I think maybe- the others, they’re always so emotional, and you’ve always seemed, I don’t know, detached.” Anya looked a little hurt so Dawn hurried to finish, “But, I could hear it. In your voice. The pain and sadness. And I realized that what I was doing was wrong and hurtful. I wanted to thank you.”
“For showing me that you cared.” Anya smiled tearfully, and then everyone came back in and the moment ended.
Dawn spent a lot of time with Anya while she was there, and they became fairly close. When it was time for her to go back to school Anya gave her a big hug and said with a sunny smile,
“Keep in touch!” But Dawn knew her well enough now to read below the surface and see that Anya was quite sad to see her leave. She and Anya called each other often once she was back at her own place. They would talk about how things were going on both ends and joke around. When Dawn had a problem, Anya had a way of cutting through all the bullshit and getting right to the heart of the matter. Dawn found she really appreciated Anya’s forthright manner, and looked forward to talking to her.
Dawn kept singing at the club and was able to put aside quite a bit of money. She increased the frequency of her sessions with Chaz, and he was impressed with how quickly she was picking everything up; he said she was becoming one of the best fighters he’d seen in a long time. She still went to the gym and worked the bag everyday; it was a great stress reliever, and a good work out. About a year after her first visit back to Sunnydale she was on her way to being whole again. She felt good about herself, happier too. She had finally been able to let go of her anger over Spike’s departure, and remember the love they had shared without feeling bitter.
She still missed him; probably she always would, but she realized now that he had been right. She had needed to learn how to take care of herself instead of depending on him for everything; she felt a sense of pride and accomplishment now that she hadn’t had before. But he had been very wrong about her feelings for him. She had loved him with a white hot intensity that had both excited and scared her. Even after four and a half years she still felt that familiar combination of heat and tenderness at the mere thought of him. She had tried to move on and find someone new. She’d gone on more first dates and blind dates than she cared to count, but no man had ever been able to compare to Spike. No matter how handsome or charming they were she inevitably found herself bored and uninterested in a matter of minutes.
She often wondered where he was, what he was doing, if he’d found someone new. Sometimes when she was out walking at night she would search for his face among the people she passed, but she never found it. Once she had fearfully wondered if he might be dead, but then she decided that if he had died, she would have felt it. Somehow, she would know.
It was about three o’clock in the morning when the phone rang, waking Dawn from a sound sleep. She reached a hand out from underneath the covers and felt around the nightstand for the phone. She dragged the receiver to her ear and, half asleep, she mumbled,
“Dawn?” the person on the phone whispered, and she sat straight up in bed.
“Anya?” she said quizzically. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” she whispered again. “I’m sorry to wake you up, but I didn’t want Xander to hear me so I had to wait till he fell asleep. I had to work hard to wear him out, his stamina-.” Dawn interrupted her sharply,
“Anya! Focus. I’m not interested in Xander’s stamina! Why did you call?”
“Oh, right! Sorry. Xander has been keeping secrets from me.”
“I’m sorry, Anya. But couldn’t this have waited until the morning?”
“No, this involves you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Xander got a phone call today. I was napping after we had sex and he thought I was asleep, but the phone woke me up. I must have picked up the extension in the bedroom at the same time he answered in the kitchen and I heard who it was.”
“Again with the unnecessary sex info; so? Who was it? Or am I supposed to guess?” Dawn joked as she sank back onto the pillows, wishing Anya would get to the point.
“What?” Dawn demanded, sitting back up again.
“It was Spike. He was calling to see how you were doing. I got a strong impression that it’s not the first time they’ve had this type of discussion.” Dawn was reeling.
“Does he know where I am?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. I do know that he still loves you. That was painfully obvious.”
“Oh, my god!” Dawn was floored.
“Well, anyway, I just thought that you should know.”
“Wait. Where is he?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you should call tomorrow and talk to Xander. Maybe he knows. I better let you go. I’m pretty tired.”
“Okay. I have to think anyway. And Anya?”
“No problem, sweetie.” Then the line went dead.
The conversation with Xander did not go well. He refused to admit that he’d been in contact with Spike until Dawn heard Anya say in the background,
“Xander, I heard you on the phone with him. Tell the poor girl the truth; she knows you’re lying.” After a muffled argument Anya got on the phone, and she was very angry. “He wants me to tell you that he promised Spike he wouldn’t tell you about the calls, and he’s not breaking his promise.”
“What? You tell him if he doesn’t get his ass on the phone right now, I’ll be out there so fast it’ll make his head spin. Then I will camp out in your living room until the next time Spike calls and get the information from him!” Dawn was livid. How dare he refuse to tell her? This was her life! Anya was passing the message on to Xander. Then he was on the phone again.
“Look, I don’t know where he is. He always calls me, and he won’t let me tell him where you are. He just asks how you are, and if you need him. Then he’s off the phone.”
“He ‘always’ calls you? How the hell long has this been going on?” she demanded. Xander sighed and said quietly,
“Every month since he left.”
“God, Xander! You didn’t think I might want to know about that?” she asked, her voice heavy with sarcasm.
“Dawn, I promised him.”
“And when he asked if I needed him? What did you tell him?”
“I told him you always needed him, but what he meant was, were you in danger, and you aren’t.” Dawn’s anger deflated.
“How is he?”
“I don’t really know for sure. Whenever I ask he just says he doesn’t matter. Dawn, I’m sorry. I wish I had more to tell you.”
“That’s okay. It’s more than I had before. I gotta go.”
“Alright. Are you gonna be okay?”
“Aren’t I always?” After Dawn hung up the phone she lay down on the bed. She felt like sobbing, but no tears would come and she stared silently at the ceiling.