Cordelia scrutinized herself carefully once more in the mirror, patting the sparkly fabric of her dress and smoothing it over her curves. Her long hair was bound up on top of her head, feeling unbelievably heavy. She’d forgotten how it gave her a headache so easily to have it pinned up like this. But still, every time she ran her fingers through it, she smiled. She never should’ve cut it in the first place.
Behind her, Harmony was talking a mile a minute, totally freaking out about some guy she’d sunk her hooks into recently who was unfortunate enough to be her Prom date. Cordelia had remembered after work that she’d been staying with Harmony around this time, having said that her parents were on vacation and she just couldn’t bear to stay at home by herself. In truth, she just needed some time to find a hotel or an apartment. She knew she hadn’t found anything yet, but at least she had Harmony’s place for now. It was its own form of hell, but still, it was a roof over her head.
“Ready to go, Cor?” Harmony said, pushing Cordelia aside to take one last check at her full-length reflection. Her eyes caught Cordy’s in the mirror. “I can’t believe you’re going without a date.” Her tone was unmistakably condescending.
“I told you already, Harmony,” Cordelia shot back, her voice icy. “Wesley can’t go as my date, or he’ll be fired. We have to be low profile.”
“Uh-huh.” It was obvious that her friend was less than convinced.
Frankly, Cordelia didn’t care, but she couldn’t resist goading the girl. “You’re date’s not even picking you up, Harm, so what are you dogging me for?”
Glaring at Cordelia, Harmony snatched up her purse and headed for the door. In a haughty voice, she flung her answer back to Cordelia with her head held high. “Jeremy has a very full calendar. He’s busy at his firm this afternoon, billing $200 an hour. I wouldn’t want to take him away from something so important any earlier than necessary.”
Following her friend out to the limo, Cordelia once again became preoccupied with recent events. After the hellhound had attacked that kid at work, she’d gone back to the library with Xander to show Giles and Wesley the tape. It had been hard not to just blurt it all out, what with her knowing exactly what was going on, but she managed to keep her mouth shut. What had really worried her, though, was seeing Buffy again. She’d actually been afraid that Buffy would see through her, that her slayerness would pick up vibes about Cordelia that would give her away.
She needn’t have worried about it.
Buffy was obviously in serious depression mode. Like being hit by a Mack truck, the entire story from this week all came back. This was the time when Angel finally broke up with Buffy and announced his intention to leave Sunnydale. She felt as guilty as sin, but Cordelia couldn’t help a broad grin at the “sad” news. Oh, she knew she’d have to see their angst-filled dances at the Prom, and the tension-laced week of Graduation, but at least they weren’t officially together anymore. Cordelia wasn’t sure she could stand by idly and watch Buffy fawn all over Angel. There was a very real possibility that Cordelia might just have to claw Buffy’s throat out if she put so much as a hand on her Angel.
This afternoon while researching the hellhound fiasco, Buffy had sat in the library the entire time, curled up on the stairs, her nose buried in a book. She’d speak when spoken to, but only in monosyllables and not much more. Everyone tiptoed past her, wary of starting a conversation that might turn volatile.
The guilt in Cordelia’s heart increased when she realized she was taking some joy out of Buffy’s misery. It was true that she’d always been jealous of Angel’s love for the Slayer, but she thought she’d put most of this cattiness behind her. Apparently not.
Well, it was just something she was going to have to deal with. Unless she came in contact with another blue jelly-filled demon soon, she wasn’t planning to go anywhere. She still had no idea how or why she was reliving her past, but she wasn’t going to look her gift horse in the mouth.
It must be an unwritten law that low-rent apartments have to stink like week-old Thai food, leak like a relic submarine, and have lascivious, pot-bellied landlords. Cordelia grimaced in distaste at the fifth one she’d seen this week, the ironically named Paradise Garden Apartments. The ad in the supermarket circular had boasted a pool, weight room, and a fireplace in every apartment. The pool had been drained of all but three feet, the remaining water murky and covered with an inch-thick layer of algae that looked suspiciously like Astroturf. The weight room was nothing more than a very rickety treadmill and an incomplete set of weights, and the much-touted fireplaces were little more than sooty holes in the wall. On top of all that, the carpet in the show unit was badly stained, the ceilings were low, and the motif was mid-seventies modern. Somehow she didn’t think what little furniture she had would go with avocado green and tangerine orange.
Hurrying back out to her borrowed car, Cordy buckled herself in and groaned, resting her head on the steering wheel. This place had been her last hope. It was better than the rest she’d seen, certainly, but the next choice was three hundred more a month, and it would have been stretching it to even pay for this one. It didn’t help that she knew she’d be leaving Sunnydale in a matter of weeks, but she couldn’t stay with Harmony for that long. Her parents’ “vacation” was supposed to be over on Monday, and Harmony would demand an explanation if Cordelia wanted to stay for longer. Not to mention that Harmony was the worst roommate anyone could ever imagine.
Her first time around, Cordelia had stayed in a run-down motel off the old highway, one of those places that rents by the month, or, if you want, by the hour. It had given her such the creepy crawlies that she swore up and down that she’d never live in a place like that again. Her first apartment in L.A., even as bad as it was, had been at least two stars above the Golden Crown Inn of Sunnydale. Cordelia absolutely refused to go back to that hovel. There had to be another answer.
Suddenly she gasped, then hit her forehead with the heel of her hand. Here she was, trying to do things just like she had the first time, and she didn’thave to do it that way. She could just go to L.A. on Monday, and it probably wouldn’t make any difference. Who says she had to wait a few weeks?
Turning on the engine, Cordelia pulled away and began driving slowly toward the school, knowing that somebody would be there working on preparations for Graduation tomorrow. She’d only been here for a week, but it seemed like time had really flown.
The Prom had been surreal. She’d danced with a very nervous Wesley, thanked Xander for buying her Prom dress, and watched Buffy get the “Class Protector” award. She’d also seen Angel come in and stare with broody dark eyes at Buffy, gathering her into his arms as they drowned together in their own pool of despair. She’d watched them with tears in her eyes, not for what they were losing, but for how much time she had to wait before she could expect to be in his arms like that. It was way, way too far away for her. The closest event, if she didn’t change history, was the kiss she’d given him after Doyle died. And that was at least eight months away.
Even now, her stomach fluttered with a million butterflies as she thought about talking to him again. Keeping her distance from him at the Prom had been hard enough. All she’d wanted to do was run up to him and throw her arms around him, kiss him until she gasped for air and beg him to make love to her for the rest of her life. But of course, she hadn’t. Not with Buffy there.
Suddenly, the weight of spending the next two years waiting to approach him romantically had her stomach tied up in anxious knots.
Shaking off the sad memories that had cloaked her since the prom, Cordelia turned her mind to her destination. She pulled into the school parking lot and walked purposefully toward the library, certain that she was about to do some good this time. After all, she knew exactly what was going to happen. Maybe she could drop a few subtle hints and speed the process along.
For all her sudden confidence, nothing prepared her for the sight that was waiting for her in the library. She pushed through the swinging doors, coming in on the middle of a conversation between Buffy, Giles, and Wesley. Angel was sitting in a chair next to Buffy, grimacing. Cordelia scrunched her brow in confusion, trying to remember what the hell was going on.
Damn, she was going to make sure she took some of that ginko biloba stuff now. Her memory sucked.
She melted into the shadows and listened in.
“A demon?” Angel was asking, his expression worried. Buffy knelt in front of him on the floor, looking back at Giles and Wesley as they thought about Angel’s question.
“Well, yes,” Giles said, removing his handkerchief from his pocket in preparation for cleaning his glasses. “That would definitely be something the mayor would want to keep a secret. If it’s the same kind of demon that he’s turning into and it’s dead, well, it means he’s only impervious to harm until the ascension.” The glasses came off and he began scrubbing the lenses absentmindedly.
Cordelia wondered vaguely if it helped him think. He was always doing that.
“In his demon form, he can be killed,” Giles continued, looking excited that they’d finally found some useful information.
“Great!” Buffy said, rising from the floor and reaching for Angel. “So all I need is a hundred tons of burning lava. We’re saved.” Her sarcasm was thick.
“Well, it’s a start,” Angel added.
Buffy grasped Angel’s elbow and helped pull him to his feet. Again, Cordelia was puzzled. Why would Angel ever need help from Buffy like that? He usually heals so quickly. And when did he get injured now?
It hit her like a ton of bricks.
The poison. Faith shot him with a poisoned arrow.
Cordelia’s eyes widened and she choked back a gasp as she watched Angel wobble as he stood.
“Okay, you have been a real klutz today,” Buffy said, holding him steady. “You need to—”
She cut off mid-sentence as Angel grimaced, then swayed as an astonished look came over his face.
“Damn,” he said breathlessly, then looking down at his shirt-covered wound. A moment later, he toppled to the floor.
It was all Cordelia could do to keep from rushing frantically to his side.