"I can't believe you'd rather do this than go to Disneyland."
Buffy took a tighter
grip on her six year old daughter's hand
as the crowd milled around them waiting for the doors to open.
It was a
hot and smoggy Los Angeles day, and the last thing
she personally wanted to do was be where she was. But, it was
choice and since it was her birthday celebration, Buffy
had given in as graciously as she could manage.
girl was waiting patiently, far more patiently than she
was herself. The child's quiet and shy demeanor kept her from
around the grounds of the convention center as other
children were. She kept her hand tightly in her mother's, watching
kids with downcast eyes.
Impulsively, Buffy scooped her up and carried her over into the
small amount of shade provided
by the building's overhang. Her
baby's golden brown curls were damp with sweat at the hairline,
but she didn't complain
about being too hot. Her round blue eyes
were fixed on the wall behind her mother, and Buffy turned around
the poster herself.
Even though the entire cast of the program was featured on the
colorful poster, it wasn't hard
to see who the star of this particular
show was. He stood up front, smack in the middle, his costars fanned
out on either
side and slightly behind him.
William St. James sported a wicked grin in the picture, his head
tilted slightly to
one side. His short hair was platinum blonde, and
his eyes sparkled a bright blue. He was dressed in what she assumed
some sort of 'space cowboy' outfit, consisting of snug black
pants, a black t-shirt, a short leather jacket, and scuffed
was a futuristic looking weapon of some kind in a holster slung low
on his hip.
Buffy rolled her
eyes. Handsome and charming, and he probably knew
Although she herself didn't watch the program, Melanie
devoted to it...and to it's star. She had his picture pinned up in
several places on her bedroom walls, pictures
she had carefully
clipped from one of the dozen fan magazines centered around the
A school mate of hers
had alerted her to the upcoming convention,
and the child had immediately begun a campaign to win over her
approval for her attendance. Her sixth birthday gave her
the perfect opportunity. She had declined all of Buffy's offers
a party, turned down a trip to Disneyland, and had even rejected
the idea of taking several friends along to have
their hair and nails
done, then to attend a fancy tea party at the Ritz-Carlton.
The only thing she wanted, the
child had sworn, was to attend
this convention and see her hero.
Buffy, who had initially nixed the idea for several
she refused to divulge, had finally given in four days ago...the
same evening she'd had a bitter argument
on the phone with her
philandering ex-husband over him canceling yet another weekend
with their daughter.
had taken the news as calmly as she always did, well
used to this sort of treatment from her father. Angel had never
much in her life, and she wasn't expecting him to be. She had
simply sat in the middle of her bedroom floor, arranging
in their beds and kissing them goodnight before silently padding
out into the living room for a glass of milk
and a couple of graham
Buffy had turned on the television, and when the theme music had
'Outpost: Space', she had sat down with her daughter to watch,
something she'd never done before. When the first commercial
came along, she had suggested that maybe going to that convention
was a good idea after all.
little face had lit up like a sunbeam, and she had
bubbled over in a most uncharacteristic manner, flinging her arms
Buffy's neck and hugging her tightly.
After putting the child to bed, Buffy had switched on her computer
looking for information about the upcoming event. It wasn't
difficult to find. She lost count of how many web sites were
to both the show in general, and the star in particular. Printing out
the necessary facts and figures, she'd
scanned a few of the 'fan-fiction'
archives and read some of the stories posted there by amateur writers.
three of them suitable to read to a child, then came
across one with a warning on it, a warning stating that the contents
absolutely not to be perused by anyone under the age of seventeen.
Wondering how in the world they could enforce such
a rule, Buffy
began reading the story. It wasn't long before she realized that the
author hadn't been kidding around.
This was definitely not for a child's
The sexual content was intense. Some of it was a little unbelievable,
she kept reading it anyway...all the way to the end. By the time
she was finished, she felt flushed and a little antsy.
Definitely in need
of a cooling shower, she took one that lasted almost twenty minutes.
But after climbing into
bed, she couldn't erase the images the
story had provoked out of her mind. And, since she had a face to
Sleep hadn't come easily that night.
Still carrying her daughter,
Buffy stepped inside a cavernous room
that was blessedly cool. Someone, thank God, had cranked up the
AC full blast.
looked around in amazement. There was table, after table,
after table, of merchandise pertaining to 'Outpost: Space'. There
literally no empty places on any of the displays.
T-shirts by the dozen, posters, 8X10 glossies, books, magazines,
and dvds, original artwork, knock-offs of the costumes,
cheap copies of the jewelry and weapons worn by the actors,
blankets, stemware, commemorative plates, cell
phone covers, framed autographed pictures, toys, and other
covered the tables...everything a fan of the
show could possibly want.
Buffy mentally calculated the balance in
her checkbook. No
way would she be walking out of here without spending a small
fortune on her birthday girl.
stopped cold when she found herself face to face with
a life-sized cardboard cut out of William St. James. Something
her she'd definitely be going home with this is the back
seat of her car.
Melanie was enraptured. Although she was
only six, she was
very advanced in her reading, far more than the other first
graders in her class, and she had no
trouble figuring out the
gist of the message at the bottom of the cut out.
Mr. St. James, it said, was available
for a personal photo
and an autograph...for a price. A fairly hefty one.
Buffy was ready to shrug it off....she
knew Melanie would be
far too shy to participate in this ritual....when she caught
her little girl's eye.
I do this?" the child piped.
Truly surprised, Buffy stammered, "This? You mean...have
your picture taken with him?"
nodded solemnly. "Yes, please, Mommy."
Buffy glanced down at the price list. Geez louise! This guy
sure had a high
opinion of his monetary value. "Honey...I
don't know. This is a real person you know...not like Micky
know, Mommy. Pleeeese," the child begged.
Sighing, Buffy gave in, hoping she had her credit card in her
in the largest auditorium the convention center had, Buffy
glanced around at the people occupying the seats. They were
very different...men, women, teenagers and the elderly, all
different nationalities and ethnicities. However, they all
thing very much in common...a deep and abiding love for 'Outpost:
Space' and for it's star.
It was standing
room only, and she was grateful she'd had the
foresight to arrive early.
When the lights dimmed, the chattering
crowd became mute.
"Hello, everyone, and welcome to the second annual 'Outpost:
Space; fan convention!" a voice
announced over the PA system.
"The cast and creators of the show are pleased that you could
recited a list of rules regarding convention etiquette.
Apparently, taking an unauthorized photograph was an offense
by hanging and if they even thought they saw a video
camera being used, heads would be rolling in the aisles.
show's creator appeared on the stage, and the crowd applauded
mightily. He was followed shortly after by three of the writers,
they went through a prepared presentation that nearly put Buffy to
sleep, followed by a question and answer session
from people lined
up on either side of the stage.
When Melanie suddenly sat up and became interested, Buffy
her head to fight off the drowsiness trying to overtake her.
"Okay," the canned voice chirped, "we know who you're
to see, so we won't torture you anymore. Worldwide Entertainment
is very pleased to present to you...the
star of 'Outpost: Space'...William
The applause was thunderous this time, with most of the people
the auditorium leaping eagerly to their feet.
Buffy remained seated as the man walked out on the stage, smiling
a very friendly manner and waving at the adoring crowd.
The minute she saw him, the naughty story she'd read all came
back and her cheeks turned bright red.
Melanie was in heaven, though. Her little hands clapped just as
as everyone else's, and she bounced up and down
in her chair.
Her mother, however, was having a difficult time concentrating
anything being said on stage. Against her will, her brain was
channeling the words he'd been given to say in the
Things like...."You see those stars out there? I'm about to make
them explode behind your closed eyes." and
"There's a bed in the
back of the shuttle craft...it's big enough for two. Why don't we
go climb in and I'll cover your
body with kisses."
Seeing the face in person, somehow the words didn't seem as
corny as they had when she'd read
When the question and answer session was announced, Melanie
shocked Buffy again
by begging to participate.
Resigned by now to her daughter's unusual behavior, Buffy gamely
took her by the hand
and walked her up to the line.
She stood back, letting Melanie "do it by herself", proud of her
little girl's courage.
when it was her turn at the microphone, she spun around
and stared at her mother. Her eyes were wide and her lips
moving. Buffy recognized the signs of an impending
attack of bashfulness, and her heart broke for her baby.
crouched next to her. "What's wrong, honey?"
"I...I don't know what to ask. You tell me something, Mommy.
Buffy said, trying to keep her voice to a whisper. "I
don't know anything about the show...or about him. I..I can't
you what to ask. I..."
Her voice trailed off when tears began to pool in Melanie's
blue eyes, and her lower lip
began to tremble.
"Oh...don't cry, baby," Buffy pleaded, pushing her
daughter's soft brown curls out of her eyes.
"Did you want to ask me something, luv?" a soft voice asked.
Buffy looked up and saw that William
St. James had come
over to the edge of the stage and was bending over to speak
to Melanie. His voice was kind and encouraging,
and his smile
was open and friendly.
Melanie tugged on Buffy's sleeve, redrawing her attention. "What
I do, Mommy?" she whispered, hiding her face against her
"Um...well.." Buffy racked her brain to
come up with a suggestion,
then leaned over and whispered it in Melanie's ear.
The child's eyes brightened instantly,
as she considered it to be
a wonderful question.
Turning to face her idol, she grinned up at him. His return smile
considerably as she asked her question:
"Do you have any pets?"
William laughed at the bright innocence of the
little girl's question. "Well, as
a matter of fact, I do,"
he replied. "I have two dogs named Belle and Sam.
One's a black lab and the other's a poodle."
had never been so instantly enchanted by some-
one at any time in his life as he was now by this
tiny angel with the
soft ringlets and pixie face.
She had approached the stage with such confident
aplomb that her obvious panic attack
had surprised him.
Watching as she turned to look for her mother, his heart
had begun aching for her, and only the thought
that it might
frighten her had kept him from jumping down off the
stage to speak with her privately.
when he'd gotten a good look at her mother,
he'd been doubly eager to join them. Small and slender,
the woman had a
fantastic figure and a face that could
stop traffic, and he'd felt a jolt of envy for whoever had been
to marry her.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted one of the staff
members getting ready to shoo the little
girl away from
the microphone. Holding up one hand to stop him, he
sat down on the very edge of the stage. "Did you
ask me anything else?"
The little girl turned again to her mother. "Do I, Mommy?"
To William's immense
delight, the woman looked down
at her daughter with wide eyes and shrugged, apparently
out of ideas.
looked back up at him. "No, thank you," she said
Her mother stood up and was preparing to lead her back
their seats. William wasn't ready to see them go just
yet. Before they got more than a few feet away, he spoke
YOU have any pets?"
They both stopped and turned around. The child was
smiling, and her mother looked surprised.
had a fish," the little one said, "but he died."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"We had a funeral for him and buried
him in the back
yard," she continued, as though there weren't 500 other
people in the room listening. "Mommy was going
him down the potty but that was icky, so she didn't."
The crowd tittered with amusement.
William prompted her, thoroughly enjoying
the conversation. "Was it a big funeral?"
"No. Just me and Mommy."
noted the lack of 'Daddy' being mentioned. Of course,
that didn't really mean anything. Daddy might just have
work during the funeral services.
"Mommy says maybe I can have a kitty next year...when
I'm bigger. What?" she added,
looking up at her mother,
who was tugging lightly at her hand to try and urge her to
surrender the floor to someone
Glancing over at the staff member he'd stifled a moment
ago, William could see that he was getting irritated
the delay, something the child's mother must have noticed
Reluctantly, he got to his feet. "Well,
I hope you get your
'Mommy' leaned over and said something in the girl's ear.
"Okay," she whispered,
then looked back at him and
filled in the blank in his comment. "Melanie."
"Melanie," he repeated, smiling as she
was pulled along
by her mother, still looking back over her shoulder at him.
He waved one hand at her, then turned
to the other side of
the stage and smiled at the person waiting to use the
sat next to her daughter, still amazed by what had
just occurred. She tried to follow what was happening on
she was reduced to simply staring up at the
man who had so easily untied Melanie's tongue.
The child had never in
her life...not once...been so free
and openly chatty with anyone other than Buffy herself.
But she and this actor
had somehow...the only word Buffy
could come up with for it was 'bonded'. He had been patient
and low key, avoiding
the mistake that so many adults made
with shy children; trying to cajole them into joining the fun
by being overly loud
and cheery, or by hinting broadly about
all the good things they were going to "miss out on" if they
didn't try a little
Another round of ear ringing applause startled her out of
her silent reverie. William St. James was leaving
and was about to be replaced by another cast member of
Melanie turned and tugged on Buffy's
sleeve. "Mommy. I need
to go potty," she whispered, squirming in her chair.
Wondering just how long THAT situation
had been building up,
Buffy quickly grabbed her hand and led her out of the main hall
and towards the ladies room.
was holding Melanie up to the sink to wash her hands
when she heard a suspicious growl. Meeting her daughter's
in the mirror, she asked, "Was that your tummy?"
Melanie giggled and nodded. "I think it's hungry."
you're right," Buffy replied, tearing off a piece of
paper toweling to dry two little hands before they could use
skirt for the same purpose. "Why don't we see what we
can do about it."
dealer's tables only had a few people milling around
them, and the buffet area was completely deserted.
of laughter emanated sporadically from the
large meeting room. Melanie had no interest in attending
the other cast
member's portion of the show, so Buffy
steered her towards a table by the large picture windows,
in view of the snack
bars and buffets.
Keeping one eye on her child, Buffy ordered a late lunch
for them both. She paid for the food
and received her
change, then turned to go back to the table.
She nearly dropped the tray she was holding when she
who was standing next to the table talking with
with not much to do after his appearance
on stage, William had quickly gotten bored. It would be a
while before his
presence was required at the photo op or
the autograph signing, so he managed to slip away from
the people he jokingly
referred to as his "handlers".
There was no one in the food service area to be concerned
with, and he stopped at
a vending machine and fed change into
it. Collecting the candy bar he'd selected from the bottom
bin, he tore the wrapper
off and took a bite, savoring the
He glanced around the room, then did a double take back
of the tables.
Sitting quietly, her little legs swinging freely back and
forth, was the cute charmer he'd met at
the question and
answer session. Melanie.
He smiled, delighted for some reason to see her again. Un-
stop himself, he tossed the remainder of the candy
bar in the trash and headed towards the table where she
was looking out the window, and he could see her
lips moving. When he got closer, he heard her counting
under her breath
and realized that the window was over-
looking the freeway and she was counting cars.
Not wanting to startle her
or attract any other kind of
attention to himself, he kept his voice low. "Hi, Melanie."
The little girl turned
and smiled. "Hi."
Strangely, she didn't seem all that surprised to see him.
Ordinarily, Buffy would have been instantly suspicious
and on high alert at the sight of a relative
approaching her child and engaging her in conversation.
Both she and the public school system had spent
great deal of time and energy hammering home the lesson
'Don't talk to people that you don't know and do NOT...under
circumstances...go anywhere with them!'
Secretly, she had always harbored a deep fear that
shyness would derail whatever lessons
she had assimilated, preventing her from causing a scene
should anyone try anything.
It was one of the many worries
that went hand-in-hand with raising a child in an increasingly
dangerous world, a world
that seemed to prey on them in
a brutal fashion.
These troublesome thoughts, along with the other day
fears, were the monsters in her closet that sometimes
prevented her from sleeping.
She worried about everything;
whether Melanie was
getting proper nutrition...or if she was getting enough
rest. Was she being teased in school?
And what about
her teeth? Were they going to come in straight, or might
she need braces someday?
Was she too
warm? Too cold? Sleeping too much? Not
sleeping enough? Whenever she caught a cold, Buffy
fretted that it might turn
into something worse.
Childhood disease was very high on her anxiety scale,
even though she knew that the odds
of Melanie developing
one were in her favor. Logically, she knew it...but in the
middle of the night, the time when
all her worst fears began
to run through her agitated mind on an endless loop...she
still feared it.
about leukemia, juvenile diabetes, multiple
sclerosis, encephalitis, meningitis, undetected heart disease,
system deficiencies, influenza, hepatitis, fatal allergic
reactions, tetanus, epilepsy, and every virus known to man.
the lesser evils...such as chicken pox...scared her.
Since she couldn't bear the thought of anything happening
her baby, she was afraid that she sometimes overcompen-
sated for it with her extreme protectiveness, leaving her with
guilt trip a mile wide over the notion that it had perhaps
contributed to Melanie's compulsive shyness.
worried about fires and earthquakes, about
killer bees and tainted food, about car crashes and stray
dogs. She felt
perfectly justified in that last one because
Melanie...who was sometimes shy to the point of tears with
no qualms whatsoever about animals. She
would fearlessly approach any that she came across, confident
that every four
legged creature in the world was as gentle as
And, ironically, she worried about whether she worried too
course, she HAD to do all the worrying...since Angel
did none of it.
are you all by yourself here?" William asked.
"I'm not. Mommy's getting lunch. See?" She pointed
over his shoulder.
turned around to look, and sure enough, Melanie's
mother was standing at the cash register paying for
No father around at all, it looked like.
Sticking his hands in his front pockets, he leaned
against the table. "So...did
your Daddy come along with
you today?" he asked casually.
Melanie shook her head solemnly. "No."
frustratingly brief in her reply. If he wanted
more information, he'd have to dig for it.
He definitely did.
stayed home, then?"
"I guess so," the little girl shrugged. "I'm not sure.
Not helpful at all.
was trying to come up with another way of finding
out her mother's marital status when Melanie solved the
him by herself.
"My daddy lives somewheres else," she informed him.
"Oh. I get it." Although he was happy to
Melanie's mommy might be available, he felt a pang of
guilt for being pleased that this beautiful child's
broken. But he comforted himself with the thought that
anyone stupid enough to leave this little girl and
really didn't deserve them in the first place, and surely they
were better off without him.
to change the subject. "Are you having fun
"Oh, yes," she said, giving him a smile that melted his
"I liked talking to you."
William returned her smile. "Well, I like talking to you, too,"
he said sincerely. "Are
you going to be staying for the
She nibbled her lower lip for a moment. "What time is it at?"
think it starts at 9:30."
Melanie shook her head, making her curls bounce. "I have
to go to bed at 8:00," she informed
"Even on Saturday?" he asked.
"Uh-huh. I can only stay up late on Wednesday."
He felt another tug
at his heart. "Mommy lets you stay up for
"Does she like it, too?"
her arms in front of her on the table, and
laid her cheek against them. "She's only ever watched it
once," she said,
yawning. "She says mostly TV isn't very
William chuckled. "Well, she's right about that," he said.
she watches movies with me."
"Oh, yeah? What's your favorite movie?"
She thought about it for a moment. "The
she said. "What's yours?"
He imitated her thoughtful look. "Promise you won't laugh?"
"The Wizard of Oz," he stage whispered.
"Oh, I like that, too!"
took a tighter grip on the tray in her hands, heading
for the table where her daughter sat.
As she got closer, she
saw that Melanie seemed to be
completely at ease with William St. James. She wasn't
displaying any of the telltale
signs of shyness. There was
no ducking of her head, or turning her face in the other
direction. She wasn't fidgeting
or twisting her little fingers
together, and her voice was fairly audible, even from a
what kind of magic tricks this guy was
capable of, she sailed up to the table and set the lunch
He straightened up and smiled right at her.
"Hello," she murmured, trying not to conjure up any memories
X-rated fairy tales she'd read the other night.
"I hope you don't mind...I saw Melanie sitting here and..."
she said quickly. "I don't mind...if Melanie doesn't"
Melanie sat up. "I don't mind, either," she said, examining
food on the tray.
There was a moment of silence, then William said, "Well,
what are you having for lunch?"
pulled the top slice of bread from the sandwich
and studied the ingredients. "Tuna fish," she said, wrinkling
nose up. "Yuck."
Buffy stared at her daughter. "What do you mean, yuck?" she
asked. "You love tuna fish."
child regarded her with a steady look. "Fish are
friends," she intoned, "not food."
"Oh, for..." Buffy rolled her
eyes. "Melanie...stop quoting
'Finding Nemo' and eat your lunch," she said firmly. Opening
a carton of chocolate milk,
she poured it into a paper cup and
placed it in front of her daughter. "Come on, now. Take a big
but resigned to her fate, Melanie sighed. "It's got
things in it, Mommy," she complained.
Buffy sat down wearily.
"Things? What things?"
William was having a difficult time keeping his mirth under
control as he listened to the
conversation, and was already
sure in his mind who would prevail.
"What's this?" Melanie held out her little palm,
her mother a piece of something covered in mayonnaise.
Buffy looked. "It's a little piece of celery."
don't like celery," the girl said promptly.
"But, I don't!"
Deciding it was time to wade
into the troubled waters before
the little one talked herself into trouble, William finally spoke
be none of my business," he said to Buffy, "and feel
free to tell me to butt out...but I'd be happy to get her something
to eat. If you wouldn't mind, that is."
By this point, Buffy was too tired to protest. "You're sure it's
for me, it isn't," he said, letting his eyes linger a bit
on her pretty face. He pulled a cell phone out of his jacket
pocket and punched a number.
Buffy was the first to drop her eyes.
"Jen..it's me," William said to whoever
had answered his
call. "Can you have...wait a minute..." He looked at Melanie
and smiled. "What do you want, pixie?
You name it and it's
Melanie didn't hesitate. "Peanut butter and jelly?"
He nodded. "Jen, I want
a peanut butter and jelly sand-
wich...yeah...uh, grape?...okay...have them bring it to the
buffet area...no, I'm not
kidding...good...thanks." He stuck
the phone back in his pocket. "Just a couple of minutes,"
sat back, watching as he continued to engage Melanie
in conversation, asking her about school and answering her
Ten minutes after a member of the kitchen staff arrived
with Melanie's sandwich, William
glanced at his watch and
"I hate to say it, but I have to go. Got to attend the photo
op and sign some
It was officially the last thing he felt like doing at the moment.
Normally, he didn't mind in the
slightest, figuring it was the
least he could do for all the people who were nice enough
to support the show, but today
he had other things on his
mind....a sweetheart of a little girl, and her beautiful mother.
"I'm going to do that!"
Melanie said cheerily.
All of a sudden, things were looking up! "Great!" he
said, staring at Buffy. "I'll be looking
"Buffy" Melanie supplied.
Unable to stop himself, he smiled at Melanie and brushed
back from her face. "See you later, pixie," he
said, forcing his feet to start moving.
I have some more chocolate milk?"
Buffy dragged her eyes off of William's retreating back and
onto her daughter's
face. "Sure, baby...here you go."
"Thank you." She took a swallow, leaving a chocolate
mustache on her upper lip.
"He's really nice," she said,
wiping her mouth on the back of her hand.
Her mother took over the job with a napkin.
"Yes, he is." She
sat back and looked into Melanie's eyes. "You like him
very much...don't you?"
Buffy smiled and nodded. "Uh-huh."
An hour into the photo op, William's face was getting tired of
smiling. He had counted seventy-five people so far, and Lord
only knew how many more were on the other side of the curtain.
Still, he had an obligation to fulfill and it didn't really matter
how tired he was. These people were good to him, and he was
damn well going to return the favor to the best of his ability.
So he greeted and he smiled for the camera, and he listened
to their words of praise and thanked every last one of them.
He had been a working actor for almost eleven years, most of
it spent in obscurity. After watching a well known actress he'd
once worked with pull her prima donna bit once too often with her
fans, he had made himself a silent vow never to behave in that
way, should he become recognizable. So far, it was a promise
that he'd managed to keep.
The photographer called for a break to reload his camera, and
William took advantage of the opportunity to use the restroom and
the soda machine.
Five minutes later, as he stood talking with the photographer's
assistant, he felt a light tug on the sleeve of his jacket and
"Hi," Melanie piped, smiling.
His tiredness suddenly vanished. "Hi to you, too," he replied,
kneeling to her eye level. "Here for a picture?"
"Mm-hmm. I got juice on my dress," she said, pointing to a
small stain, "but Mommy said no one will notice it. Can you
William peered at the area in question. "I think Mommy's right.
It's barely there."
He stood up and turned to face the camera. "Look right there,
pixie," he said, then stopped. "Hold it." He looked down at the
tiny girl standing there so quietly. Leaning over, he whispered
to her, "Would you mind very much if I picked you up for the
"Okay." Melanie held out her arms.
Standing off to one side, Buffy was amazed all over again
at Melanie's demeanor. Walking up so boldly and making
herself known by pulling on William's sleeve the way she
had...answering his questions without a trace of hesitation
or uncertainty...and then allowing herself to be lifted into his
arms for the photograph.
Would miracles never cease?
Despite her initial friendly reaction to him, Buffy had been
quite certain that when it came down to the critical moment,
Melanie would back out.
She didn't normally care much for having her picture taken
anyway, and certainly not by a stranger. Camera shy with
anyone except her mother, Melanie would usually announce a
sudden need to use the bathroom and would stay there until
whoever was attempting to take the picture just gave up and
But her daughter had once again thrown her for a loop. Her
little fingers had pulled away from Buffy's and she'd approached
William before even being told to.
Fortunately, the child's actions seemed to be charming him
and the routine smile she had watched him use up until then
became a genuinely delighted one.
It seemed, their admiration was mutual.
William scooped the little girl up into his arms and settled
her on his hip. "Look straight ahead," he instructed her. "Do
you see the little red light?"
"Uh-huh," Melanie whispered.
"Look at that...and smile. Come on, pixie...show those pretty
little teeth of yours. That-a-girl." He glanced at the photographer.
"Got it? I want a copy of this one."
Reluctantly setting Melanie back on her feet, he spotted
Buffy standing to one side and grinned. Crooking his forefinger in
a "come on over here" gesture, he beckoned her closer.
Assuming that her job was merely to shepherd her child out
of the photo area, she moved closer...and was more than just a
little shocked when his hand darted out and caught hers.
"Your turn," he said softly.
Buffy tried to dig in her heels. "Oh...no. I...you've made a mistake.
This was just for Melanie. I didn't...you know...sign up for it."
But William didn't seem to care. "That's all right," he assured
her, not letting go of her hand.
Melanie stood next to them, her little arms wound around each
other like a peppermint stick, and her fingers interlaced. She
said nothing, but her smile shone more brightly than ever.
"Listen...I really can't," Buffy demurred, trying again to loosen
Embarrassing as it was to admit, she had no choice. "Because,"
she said flatly, "you charge an awful lot for a picture with you..and
I can't..." Her voice trailed off when she saw a slight flush on
"You know," he said quietly. "I don't set the prices for those
things. My agent takes care of all that. How much is it?"
When Buffy told him, he whistled low. "I see what you mean."
She highly doubted it. Money was surely the last thing this
man had to concern himself with. Although not an expert in
the area, she was pretty certain that he was collecting a heavy
paycheck once a week.
"Still," he shrugged. "Do it for me. I'll pay for it."
Buffy looked down and saw Melanie gazing up at her with
her "What are you waiting for?" face. Resigned, she nodded
and turned to face the camera...and nearly jumped out of her
shoes when she felt William St. James slide his arm around
her waist and close the small distance between them.
"Relax," he whispered in her ear. "I don't bite...hard."
Relax? How very funny. There wasn't chance in the world
that she was going to be able to relax. Between the hard
strength of the arm encircling her waist, and the warmth of his
breath stirring tendrils of her hair, Buffy was about as far from
relaxed as she could be possibly be.
Somehow, she managed to smile until the shutter clicked.
"Now...one of all three of us," he announced, picking Melanie
up once more and holding her between the two of them.
Buffy's eyes met and held his gaze...
And the photographer snapped the picture.
After making sure that he would be seeing them again at
the autograph signing, William placed Melanie on her feet,
leaning over to say goodbye.
As they left the photo area, he signaled for his assistant
to come over before the shoot continued.
"See that her money is refunded, and make sure I get
copies of all three pictures."
"What's her last name?"
William stared at her for a moment, then chuckled. "I'll
have to get back to you on that one."
Buffy was signing her own autograph on a credit
card receipt, glad that she hadn't maxed out her limit.
She received the thin paper bag that contained the 8X10
photos Melanie had chosen. Several of them were still
shots from the series, while others were publicity shots.
At $15.00 a shot, it was an expensive little sack she
handed to the little girl looking up at her with shining eyes.
Oh, well...what was money, anyway?
"For goodness sake, Melanie. How many t-shirts do you
"How many are there?"
"You don't need that, honey. You don't have any
"We can buy some for me."
"Put that book down!"
"Never mind why. Just put it back where you got it and
"What is it?"
"It's Captain Amara's space ship thingy."
"Well, I...wait a second...you have to put this together your-
self. It's a model."
"Don't you know how?"
"No. Do you?"
"Moving along, then."
"Is it a glass for dollies?"
"No, sweetie. It's a glass for grown ups."
"How come it's so small?"
"I...I guess we're not a very thirsty bunch. Let's get
this nice mug instead, okay?"
"No. No toy weapons."
"But, I didn't ask you for one."
"Well...I'm just heading you off."
"What did she say, Mommy?"
"It'll be more valuable someday if you keep it in
the box and don't play with it."
"Oh. That's not a very good toy."
Sitting in the auditorium again, Melanie lay stretched
out across two folding chairs, her head pillowed in her
A pop from the P.A. system startled them both. "In a
moment, we'll begin calling for one row at a time to line up
against the far right wall. You'll need your green voucher
and whatever you want signed ready. Mr. St. James has
an early call for tomorrow morning, so we need to expedite
things in order for him to satisfy everyone. When your
turn comes, please step up to the table and hand him
what you would like him to sign. Please don't attempt to
engage him in conversation or ask for personal contact,
such as a hug. He will write nothing but his name. When
your item is signed, please leave the area immediately so
the person in line can approach. Thank you all for your
"Who was that, Mommy?"
"I don't know, baby. The person in charge, I suppose."
Buffy helped Melanie sit up. The little girl yawned and
rubbed her eyes with her fists.
Catching her mother's glance, she quickly said, "I'm not
"Yes, I can see that," Buffy replied, amused.
Five minutes later, the rules were repeated.
"She doesn't sound very nice," Melanie said softly,
displaying the first tell-tale sign of nervousness that
Buffy had seen in hours by staring down at her sandals
and folding her hands together, lacing her fingers in a
"Now I lay me down to sleep" way.
"She's just doing her job, baby," Buffy said, sliding one
arm across the girl's shoulder and pulling her closer. "Don't
fret about it."
Melanie peeked around the side of the curtain that
divided William St. James from the rest of the crowd,
and Buffy gave her daughter a gentle nudge to get her
William looked up and saw her. "Come here, pixie,"
he grinned, patting the table.
One teeny baby step at a time, Melanie walked
forward, clutching a 8X10 photograph in her little
He was a little perplexed at her manner. For some
reason it looked as though all her natural ease with him
had disappeared, leaving him back at square one.
"Melanie? Is something wrong?"
She shook her head, laying her picture down on the
"You sure, luv?" he persisted.
This time, she nodded, pushing the picture across the
Not liking this one bit, he looked at Buffy. "Did something
She could have told him what was wrong, if his "people"
hadn't been sitting there on either side of him.
"Melanie...why won't you talk to me?" he asked.
Her eyes darted briefly to the woman sitting on William's
right...an attractive lady with dark hair, large brown eyes,
and a forbidding expression...then back to William.
"She said I can't," she whispered.
"Who said you can't?"
"The rules lady."
"The rules...the WHAT lady?"
Melanie dropped her eyes and stared at the table. "The
rules lady. She said don't talk to you or hug you, or any-
Comprehension dawned. "Oh, THOSE rules," he nod-
ded. "Don't you worry about that, pixie." He leaned forward
and whispered, "The rules lady works for me."
"She does?," Melanie whispered back. "She talks really
"Really? I'll have to look into that."
"William," the dark haired woman interrupted. "It's getting
late. You need to wrap this up."
Melanie's eyes rounded with surprise, and she turned to
look at her mother. "That's the rules lady, Mommy. I
don't think she's sick."
"Sick?" William cut in. "Why would you think she's sick?"
"I asked Mommy why she sounds so cranky, and Mommy
said she probably has PMS."
He bit down on the inside of his cheek to control his
laughter, then looked at the woman sitting beside him."
"Well, Dru?" he asked. "Why DID you sound so cranky?"
A sour look was his only answer.
Looking back at Melanie, William made an "Uh-oh" face
and winked at her, making the little girl giggle. He slipped
the photograph of himself out from under her fingertips and
uncapped a shiny gold marker. When he began to write,
Melanie watched the glittery letters appear and her eyes
rounded in amazement.
"Ooh...that's pretty," she said, smiling. "My markers don't
Signing his name with a flourish, he held out the pen to
her along with the picture. "You take this one. I have lots more."
With an irritable huff of air, the woman beside him opened
a zipped up portfolio full of 8X 10 color photographs and located
another gold marker. She placed it in front of William and gave
Melanie a look that clearly said "Your time is up!"
Melanie handed both the photo and and the pen to her mother
for safe keeping. Placing both her small hands on either side
of her mouth so no one else could see, she whispered, "Thank
you very much."
William copied her gesture. "You're very welcome."
"Melanie?" Buffy said quietly from the sidelines. "It's time to say
Slipping her hand into her mothers, Melanie gave William one
last smile. "Bye."
He sat watching them for a moment, then jumped to his feet.
"What are you doing?" Dru hissed, grabbing at his sleeve.
He ignored her and turned to the person waiting for his signature. "Can
you wait just one moment?" he asked, as politely as he could considering
his urgency to leave. "I forgot something...uh, it's...personal. Promise I'll
be right back."
Permission was granted by a starry eyed smile, and William shook
off Dru's hand and went after Buffy and Melanie.
She had gotten about fifteen feet away, pulling along her reluctant
little girl who was definitely dragging her heels, when she felt a light
touch on her shoulder.
Buffy was so surprised that she nearly gasped out loud. He had
people waiting for his attention. Why was he chasing after them?
"Is something wrong?" she asked. Maybe he needed his pen back.
"No. Well, yes." William said, then knelt beside Melanie. "Hey...you
know that business about no hugging?" When the child nodded, he
shrugged. "Well...I'd really like one anyway. D'ya think maybe I could
have one of yours?"
Melanie looked up at her mother, who imitated William's shrug and
released her hand.
Buffy watched carefully to see how Melanie was going to deal with
this. She wasn't a 'throw herself into someone's arms and hang on
tightly' type of child, except with her mother and her grandmother. She'd
tried that with her father when she'd been younger, and had been put
off too many times in consideration of a new suit or a freshly pressed
dress shirt, to continue the practice. Now, if an embrace was appropriate,
she would place her arms gently around the person's neck and wait
until THEY pulled HER close.
Melanie did it just that way, then surprised her mother all over again
by tightening her little arms and pressing her cheek against William's.
A few seconds later, he pulled back and dropped a kiss on that same
soft cheek. "I'm very glad you came today," he said.
"Me, too," Melanie replied in the same quiet tone.
Buffy chose that moment to glance back over at the autograph
table. The fan waiting there looked content enough, but the dark
haired woman William had referred to as 'Dru' seemed anything
but pleased. If looks were capable of doing harm, she and Melanie
would be in a pickle right about now.
Funny, how she didn't much care.
Forcing down a childish impulse to set a thoroughly bad example
for her daughter by sticking out her tongue, Buffy just smiled. This
seemed to piss the woman off even more, making Buffy wonder
just who she was...a possessive business manager keeping an
eye on her client, or a jealous girlfriend?
The woman's eyes narrowed as William stood up and took
hold of Buffy's arm. "Can I talk to you?" he asked, leading her
a few feet away from Melanie, who was surprisingly content to
let it happen.
"Uh...I...yeah, okay," she said uncertainly, stumbling along
behind him. "What?"
He stood silently for a moment, seemingly gathering his
thoughts. "I don't want to sound like I'm feeding you a line," he
began hesitantly, "but...I'd really like to see you again. Both of
It was literally the last thing she'd expected to hear. A little
bemused by his words, she looked up at him with a slight smile
tugging at her lips. "You would?"
"Yeah." He stepped in front of her, cutting her off from Dru's
increasingly nasty glare. "I don't suppose you'd consider staying
for the party tonight?"
She automatically shook her head. "I didn't..."
"I know," he cut her off. "You didn't sign up for it. I don't care.
Won't you just stay as my...guest?"
It was a tempting offer. She hadn't attended an evening function
of any kind since she couldn't remember when. Nowadays, her
party life was pretty much confined to the sort of galas that were
thrown at Chuck E. Cheese. Even those were few and far between
due to Melanie's shyness and hesitance in making friends.
But taking a look at her daughter changed her mind. Melanie was
sitting in a chair next to the door, and her eyes were getting sleepier
and sleepier. She'd been up at the break of dawn, after a restless
night spent in anticipation of the days festivities. There was no way
she would make it through any kind of after hours party, a party that
probably wasn't really suitable for her anyway.
"We really can't" she demurred. "Melanie's exhausted and I'm kind
of wiped out, too. But thank you for the offer."
Expecting it, he didn't try to persuade her. "Can I call you?"
Wondering if she was doing the right thing, Buffy nodded. "Sure."
She groped around in her bag until she found a small card case.
Flipping it open, she handed him a business card. "That's my work
and home phone," she explained.
William examined the card. It was pale pink with scalloped edges,
and in dark pink lettering were the words, "Melanie's
He read the words out loud, then gave her a curious look. "What's
"I own a children's boutique in the mall. Melanie and I painted the
front windows with a little picket fence and flowers," Buffy explained,
then shrugged. "Melanie's Garden."
William smiled, delighted. "It's perfect," he said softly. "It suits both of
you. I can't wait to see it."
Dru cleared her throat noisily, making him frown. "I have to...." He
glanced back at the table.
"I know," Buffy said. "I have to..." She nodded at Melanie, who smiled
when she saw William and Buffy looking at her. Her small hands were
folded in her lap, and she was trying hard to keep her eyes open.
"So, I'll call you?" he murmured.
"Okay." She nearly leapt out of her skin when his hand ran
down her arm and found hers, then gave it a firm squeeze.
He hesitated one more time. "Buffy?"
Leaning close, he whispered in her ear, "I'm not gonna try it, but I
want you to know that I've never wanted to kiss a woman as badly
as I want to kiss you right now."
Then, with that statement clearly designed to upset her equilibrium,
he squeezed her hand once more and went to say goodbye to
Buffy slowly opened her hand and looked at the small piece of
paper he'd pressed into it. Written in a messy scrawl was his name
and....a telephone number.
Buffy's heels clacked on the concrete floor of the parking
garage. She was weighed down with all the bags and a small
bundle who couldn't walk another step.
When she set the child down next to the car to search for her
keys, Melanie stared down at the autographed picture she'd
refused to hand over. "Mommy," she asked. "What does it say?"
Buffy twisted the key in the lock, hoping it wouldn't stick and
refuse to turn. "His name, baby," she replied absently, turning
the key again with a harder motion.
"No....this part." Melanie held out the picture as Buffy finally
got the door to unlock. Buffy took it and examined it,
surprised to see that he'd indeed written more than just his name
on it: To Melanie....a bright, particular star. With love, William
"What does it mean?" her daughter asked after hearing the
"It's from a play by William Shakespeare." Buffy scooped the child
up and deposited her in the booster restraint, then secured the buckles.
"And it means he likes you...and he thinks you're a very special little
Melanie was silent for a moment, then said, "He likes you, too."
Buffy smiled. "Oh, really? And just how do you know that?"
Her daughter shrugged and yawned. "Because you're nicer than
the rules lady."
She was in the kitchen boiling spaghetti when the phone
Melanie was sitting at the kitchen table, coloring in the
correct responses on the homework her teacher had
All day Sunday and Monday, Buffy's heart had thumped
wildly in her chest when the telephone rang. William St.
James hadn't called, and she wasn't sure whether she was
disappointed or relieved.
She grabbed the phone, holding it between her shoulder
and her ear as she stirred spaghetti sauce. "Hello?"
"Mrs. Conner? This is Jean Ashton...Melanie's teacher."
"Oh, hi," Buffy stepped around the partition that separated the
dining area from the kitchen. "It's Summers," she said softly. "I'm
The teacher apologized, then explained the purpose of the
call. "I wanted to let you know that something unusual happened
in class today."
"Melanie participated in share time. In fact, she volunteered."
Buffy was almost speechless. Neither Melanie's kindergarden
teacher or Miss Ashton had ever been able to get the child to
participate in 'Share Time', a modern equivalent of what Buffy had
known as 'Show and Tell'. In fact, when her kindergarden teacher
had all but insisted on it, the child had burst into tears and Buffy
had been called to come and get her.
A brief conversation with the equally upset teacher had resulted
in Melanie's never being made to have 'Share Time' again. The
message had been passed along to her first grade teacher as well,
and so far there'd been no problems.
"Are you sure you're calling the right house?" Buffy asked.
Although she'd been quite serious, Miss Ashton laughed. "I was
shocked, too," she said. "Melanie stood up in front of the class
and told them that she had been to some sort of fan convention for
'Outpost: Space' over the weekend?"
"That's right," Buffy affirmed, mentally blessing William St. James
all over again. Even if the man never called, she'd always be grateful
to him for his kind attention to her daughter, which was still obviously
"And she said she'd met the show's star? And had her picture
taken with him?"
Buffy confirmed all this happily.
Then the other shoe dropped.
"I didn't become concerned about what she was saying until the
end when she told us...."
Buffy's nerves tightened. "Told you what?"
"Well...to be truthful, Ms. Summers...Melanie told the entire class
that William St. James was going to be her new...daddy."