Angel awoke to the dopplered sound of Fred’s tinny screams and Gunn’s lecherous groans in the hall outside his door. As he drifted into the reality of shaded late-morning light and the damp smell of the coming rain, he pondered the dichotomy of the noises disturbing his first restful sleep in weeks.
For a girl that weighed next to nothing, Fred sure could clomp like a Clydesdale when being pursued. Gunn, on the other hand, had perfected a feather-like jog after years of chasing down vampires who could seemingly move on the wind.
The chase was consummated with Fred’s high-pitched yelp which was immediately snuffed out by what Angel could only assume was Gunn’s mouth over hers.
On that depressing note, Angel stretched the cramped arm he’d been lying on most of the night and wiggled his fingers willing the cold blood to once again fill the crushed veins. Another burst of giggles from the hall and he was on his feet and shower bound.
Slipping the soap between his palms to work up a lather, he admitted to himself that he resented the fact that a girl who’d been out of circulation and out of her mind for the last five years had a boyfriend in less than six months of her return. It really flashed a big, honkin’ spotlight on his century-long-in-the-making pathetic relationship skills, and they didn’t stand up to close scrutiny. What did she know that he didn’t?
Fred! His bubble covered hands stilled on his chest when the crazy idea hit that maybe Fred had the answer. Not the answer to his social retard-idity, although he wasn’t dismissing that as a possibility, but the more important question about the quilt! Cordy was a girl; Fred was a girl. Cordy knew about that quilt, therefore, Fred might know about it, too.
Quickly running more soap over parts of his body he couldn’t play with today, he rinsed hurriedly and practically air dried rushing to his closet. Today he had a mission that he was eager to start. It was probably the toughest test he’d ever been handed, but he was excited by the challenge. Because at the end of the road was a happy Cordy, and that was a goal worth pursuing for a lifetime.
He could hear the strangled strains of Cordy’s version of “We Three Kings” coming from the lobby as he opened his door and stepped into the hallway. He couldn’t help wincing; it was reflex by now. I could always buy her singing lessons if the quilt doesn’t work out, he thought, but immediately dismissed that idea since she’d stake him if he even suggested it, and it would absolutely not lead to any warm mouth-on-mouth exploits.
Walking away from the lobby stairs, he turned the corner and saw Fred pinned to the wall by Gunn’s frame, her cheeks blossoming pink from whatever Gunn was whispering in her ear.
Angel cleared his throat and tried not to listen to the nasty things he was saying to her.
“Angel! Hi, how ya doin’? We didn’t wake ya did we?” Fred tried to squirm out of Gunn’s cradle but succeeded only in turning around with her back to his chest, his arms still a possessive lasso around her waist.
“Actually, you did, but that’s not important. Well, it might be if you guys do it every day. You won’t be, will you?”
“Sorry ‘bout that,” Gunn said, but his grin didn’t support that sentiment. “Guess we got carried away with the holiday spirit.”
Fred gave another bird-like titter and then shoved an elbow in Gunn’s stomach when he tried to take a bite of her lobe.
“Yeah, well, I guess that’s bound to happen.” Angel was feeling decidedly uncomfortable witnessing their affectionate play. Hands in his pockets and eyes bobbing back and forth from the couple to the rug, he hoped he could rend Fred from Gunn soon and start his quest. “So, Fred, I wanted to ask for your help with something. Do you think you can spare a minute?”
“My help? Sure! I’d love to help ya with something. Is it about a demon, because I’ve been studying a lot and if I don’t know it I think I can probably figure out where to find it. Not that you or Wesley couldn’t because you’re both like the gods of demon knowledge so that’s probably not what you want. Oh! Do you need help with a new weapon? I’ve been designing a little gadget using a car’s distributor and a washing machine blade that…”
“Fred! It’s about a quilt!” Angel bit his lip trying too late to stop the words her babbling had forced him to yell to shut her up. He hadn’t wanted to say anything in front of Gunn, but it was out there now and Angel was bracing himself for the onslaught of barbs from the street fighter.
Fred’s head tilted to the side, her eyes wide and confused.
“What do you want to know about quilts?”
Angel had been looking at her mouth, but her lips never moved. He wondered when she’d learned ventriloquism until he realized the voice’s timbre was decidedly Gunn-like.
“I said what do you want to know about quilts? Do you need to know how to make one or just where to get one, because I’m the man for both. I’ve got connections in the black market if you’re looking for something that should still be in a museum, if you catch my drift, or if you’re looking for something just a little on the rare side, like an 1863 Ohio Star in mint condition.” Gunn said it all with a straight face and not a hint of sarcasm.
Angel forced his mouth shut and shot his gaze from Fred to Gunn and back again certain they were under some weird spell which had put Fred’s brain in Gunn’s body.
“I understand you’re a little confused right now. I recognize the look,” Fred said sympathetically. “I know a little something about quilts having slept under one my entire life, but Gunn’s right, he’s the real expert.”
“Gunn? You know about quilts? Isn’t that…”
“If the words girly or sissified are about to come out of your mouth, I suggest you rethink it. Ain’t nothing wrong with knowing how to survive. And when the day comes that the world has shot its power wad and that big glacier is inching closer and closer to Encino, I’ll be the macho Mad Max with the warm blanket and padded underwear, and you’ll be freezing your manly testicles off.”
Angel couldn’t help but grin at that image. “Point taken. But how…who…”
“My grandma taught all us kids. Seems if you’re a girl in a house with nine sisters, knowing how to sew and embroider your name in your clothes is as important as being quick on the draw when the biscuits are passed. Didn’t matter to her that I’m a boy, and all it took was my trying to get out of a lesson once to know how I felt on the subject was the least of my problems.” Gunn subconsciously rubbed his behind as the ghost welts started itching.
Fred reached back and ran her palm sweetly on Gunn’s cheek to ease the sting. Unable to resist any longer, she finally asked, “So, Angel, why the sudden interest in quilts? Oooo! Did Cordy have a vision of an evil, life-sucking one or maybe one with threads that reach out and trap its victim in a web?”
The pride that he took in his girlfriend’s brain beamed in Gunn’s smile. “Girl, you are somethin’ else.”
“Uh, no. No vision. But it does involve Cordy. I want to get her a certain quilt for Christmas. It’s one her grandmother used to have called an Angels’ Songs quilt. Ever hear of it?”
“Wow! That’s so sweet of you and romantic, too. You do know it’s romantic, don’t you? I mean you can’t give a girl something so obviously important to her and not expect her to just fall head over heels in love with you, right?”
“The woman’s got a point. That will definitely say more than ‘Merry Christmas and pass the eggnog’. You’ll be making a big statement with that kind of present. Are you sure that’s what you want to do?”
Both friends eyed Angel, breaths held and hands clasped. Their lips turned slowly upward as Angel’s smile widened.
“Oh, yeah. I’m sure.”
Fred’s squeal of delight almost pierced his eardrum as she leapt into his arms and hugged him fiercely.
“I knew it, I knew it, I knew it! I’m so happy for you. This is going to be the best Christmas ever!”
“I hope so, Fred,” Angel peeled her arms from his neck and looked expectantly to Gunn.
“Congratulations, man. It’s about time you got off your lazy, vampire ass and made a move. Cordy’s not getting any younger.”
“Charles,” Fred slapped his chest. “You’d better not ever say anything like that in front of Cordy. I don’t want to date a eunuch.”
At the “eunuch” word, Angel sucked in a breath and then remembered he wasn’t one anymore. But he still needed some assurance despite his friends’ initial reactions to his news.
“So you both think Cordy will like the gift? I mean…she won’t…you know…run off?”
“You really are the clueless dork she’s always saying you are,” Gunn said.
“Angel, Cordy couldn’t love anyone else. I mean if she could, do you think she’d still be hanging around with you 24 hours a day? She’s not exactly ugly or stupid. Look at me. I’ve only been here a few months, and I’ve got Charles despite the fact that I’m skinny, flat chested, wear glasses and crazy.”
Tingles of relief gushed through him as he absorbed her insane logic, and then a determination to get started and begin the rest of his life expanded his chest. Now that he’d confessed his feelings and was reassured he wasn’t lame to hope, he didn’t feel so alone and desolate anymore. The world was immediately filled with possibilities.
“Thanks, guys. So,” he clapped his hands together, “what do you know about this quilt?”
“Well, I’ve heard of them,” Gunn said. “And from what I know, they’re not exactly easy to come by.”
Angel’s smile flattened.
“Those are family heirloom quilts, not the type of quilt that gets given as a gift to friends or made for some church fair. It’s not very often that one wouldn’t get passed down and ends up for sale. Besides, they’re very personal, and I’m not sure Cordy would want some other family’s ghosts.”
Angel hadn’t really considered that. He’d been so excited to finally know the best gift for her, that he hadn’t considered that words written by strangers might not evoke the feelings of safety and love that her grandmother’s quilt had.
“Then we’ll just have to find the one quilt that will,” he mumbled to himself. “Gunn, these contacts you have, how long would it take to find one particular quilt?”
“I’d say at least a few weeks to know one way or the other. Tell me everything you know about this quilt, and I’ll give my aunty a call.”
“Your aunt is in the quilt black market?” Angel still couldn’t believe there was such a thing much less run by bun-wearing, gray-haired old ladies.
“Don’t be judgin’. Woman’s gotta make a livin’ and quilts is what she knows best.”
Angel shrugged and chocked it up to learning something new every day.
Herding Gunn and Fred into his room for privacy, Angel recalled everything Cordy had told him. As he spoke, he couldn’t help get a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach that this was a hopeless cause. The only thing working in their favor and which kept his hope from completely slipping away was the knowledge that this is what they did for a living – helping hopeless causes. And if anyone deserved to be the recipient of the Powers’ goodwill, it was their seer – a thought that should have given Angel peace of mind but somehow didn’t.
The next few weeks tiptoed by on snail’s toes. For the most part, it was uneventful. It seemed as if the demon world had all converted to Christianity when they weren’t looking, and horned creatures everywhere were, at this very moment, shopping for the perfect virgin skin coat for that special slime someone.
After a few days without visions, Angel patrolled and unbeknownst to the gang had actually picked a few fights among some mostly innocuous demon worshippers just to pass the time. Feeling a little guilty afterwards, he had advised them about a much nicer hellbeast to raise and the perfect sacrifices to garner its favor.
It hadn’t helped much. He was still going nuts waiting to hear from Gunn’s aunt.
Oh! And sweet little Fred? He wanted to strangle her daily. If she wasn’t sighing and making goo-goo eyes at him and Cordy, she was saying something rife with double entendre or innuendo.
Take this morning for example…
Angel was sitting on the couch polishing his broadsword while Cordy read a book. Fred bounded down the steps and practically skipped to Cordy’s side hitching herself up on her desk.
“So, Cordy, whatcha doin’?”
Cordy’s eyes didn’t leave her place in the book. “Fending off the lewd advances of Jude Law and Brad Pitt while polishing my toenails.”
“Looks like you’re just readin’ a book to me.”
“Then my clever plan’s working.”
Angel smiled and almost cut his finger off imagining the lewd advances he’d like to be making.
Fred’s heels pinged against the desk drawers as she swung her feet back and forth in rhythm with the music on the radio.
“I love this song, don’t you?” She began singing along with the annoying voice of whoever recorded the song, piercing his eardrums with “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, my two front teeth, my two front teeth…”
“Not so much, Fred. That’s one Christmas song they can put in a time capsule and bury under molten rock for all I care.”
“I think it’s cute. Not that I’d ever want teeth for Christmas. Okay, maybe if I was like a hundred years old – no offense Angel,” Fred yelled over her shoulder to him, “and all my teeth had fallen out, then teeth for Christmas would probably be pretty spiffy. I mean it’s got to get pretty boring drinking all your meals through a straw. Can you imagine mashed up turkey and dressing or pumpkin pie and whipped cream from a blender…”
That did it. Cordy put her palm on the page and slammed the book shut. Plastering her fakest smile across her face, she decreed yammer time was over.
“Are you trying to find out what I got you for Christmas, Fred? Because if you are, go pester someone who’s actually likely to cave like Angel.”
“Oh, no, I don’t want to know. I like to be surprised. Besides, Angel wouldn’t tell me. He’s really good at keeping secrets. Aren’t you, Angel?”
She turned her toothy grin to him as if she were as innocent as a new born lamb; a lamb his claws ached to slaughter. Angel’s whole body stiffened waiting for Cordy’s interrogation to begin.
“Yeah, Fred, we got how good Angel is at secrets from the whole Darla episode. Oh, that’s right, you weren’t here. Well, take my word for it; we are all aware of his abilities in that arena.”
He would have preferred a cross examination complete with hot pokers to the disappointment and bitterness he heard in her statement.
“But that was a bad secret. We’ve all got bad secrets we don’t want anyone to know about. I’m talking about good ones – exciting secrets that you’re just bustin’ to tell everybody. Those are really hard to keep inside, but Angel’s really good at those. Take your Christmas present for example…”
“Fred!” Angel was the magic bullet out of nowhere as he clamped his hand over her mouth and pulled her away from Cordy’s desk.
“Oh, really? Angel has a present for me?” She rose and backed up the still muzzled Fred and her captor, Angel, until his shoulders folded around one of the counter columns.
“You know Fred’s a little wacky. She probably has me confused with Gunn, what with the whole crush thing she used to have on me. Ow!” Angel pulled back his hand and shook out the pain Fred’s incisors just inflicted.
“I don’t have you confused with Charles, and you do so have a gift for Cordy. It’s a great present! You’re going to love it, I just know you will.” Fred’s eyes sparkled with joy and anticipation.
Cordy humphed. “Well, if he does have something for me, that’s surprise enough in itself. I think I’ll just count my blessings and not worry about what the gift is because more than likely I’ll be exchanging it.” She turned back to her desk and resumed reading, seemingly totally disinterested in Angel’s secret.
Angel relaxed but took Fred’s arm and marched her up the stairs for her daily talking to, once again narrowly avoiding disaster in the shape of a tiny physicist.
And now the two weeks were over at last. He couldn’t wait any longer. If they came up empty handed, he’d have to spend the last week before Christmas wracking his brain for something else to get her.
He was pacing in his room when he sensed Gunn just outside his door. He opened it to see Gunn’s knuckle an inch from his nose before it was jerked back just before impact.
“Damn, dog, don’t do that. I almost knocked your lights out.”
“Sure, fine, whatever. What did your aunt say? Did they find it?”
Gunn sighed and shook his head. “Naw, man, I’m sorry. There’s not an Angels’ Songs quilt to be had between here and the Jersey shore much less Cordy’s family one. Hell, she even checked with the Chinese and Russian quilt mafias – and those bitches are mean – in case there was anything overseas. Whatever happened to that quilt we’ll probably never know.”
Angel’s hopes for a smooth transition between the dork he was into the suave lover he wanted to be were crushed. “What do I do now?”
Fred’s tiny head peeked around the doorframe under Gunn’s arm.
“Angel, Charles told me. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything to Cordy.”
“That’s okay, Fred. She said she’d probably exchange anything I got her so I guess she’s not expecting much. She can’t be disappointed if she doesn’t know what I planned to get her.”
“I just called my mom hoping maybe she and her quilting bee could maybe make one for you, but she said they’d need at least a month to do something with all that embroidery and with people already busy making Christmas presents for their own families…”
“Thanks, Fred. I didn’t even think about making one.”
“It was Gunn’s idea.”
“I asked my aunt first, but I got basically the same story. Not enough time. I thought maybe Fred’s mom could somehow manage it, but I guess not.”
The three looked equally dejected and the heavy silence made their chests cave at the same time.
Angel and Gunn jumped back, hackles raised for an attack.
“Why don’t we make it?” Fred bounced up and down on her toes, the woman suddenly comprised of one big ball of enthusiasm.
“Fred, I don’t think…”
“Girl, I love you, but you’re…”
“No, listen! Charles knows how to make quilts, I’m a genius at design, and Angel’s got all that vampire speed that’s just itchin’ to be put to good use. With the help of some – okay maybe a dozen or so – people who actually know how to sew, we could do this.”
Angel looked at Gunn, both men trying to catch up with Fred’s train of thought and decipher the possibilities.
“C’mon guys, it’s for Cordy and true love!”
“Gunn’s expression changed from a definite ‘no way’ to ‘slim chance it could work’ and that was enough for a desperate Angel.
Angel grinned and grabbed Fred’s shoulders, planting a wet kiss on her forehead. “Okay, let’s do it. What do we need to do?”
Gunn started ticking off the essentials.
“We need material, thread, all the quilting tools – straight edges, curves, scissors, needles, hoops, batting, thimbles – damn!”
“What? What’s the matter?” Angel tensed. He knew it was too good to be true.
“Well this is an Angels’ Songs quilt. It’s got to have actual words on it. What are we going to put on it?”
“That’s the easy part, Charles. It’s supposed to be what family members want to tell their loved ones about how they feel.” Fred looked at Angel and Charles expectantly.
“That’s what I’m saying. How do we know what Cordy’s family would…”
The idea clicked for both men at the same time.
“We’re Cordy’s family,” Angel said.
A wonderful heat tickled his fingers and toes as the Christmas gift that would have been merely wonderful just became perfect. This would be even more special for Cordy, having them all tell her just how much she meant to them. And if, God forbid, any of them died, she’d always have a piece of them with her, surrounding her with their love.
He couldn’t wait to pick up pen and paper, fabric and scissors, needle and thread; and never in his 250 years did he think those words would ever cross his mind.
Well, this was a new hell, and it was called JoAnn’s Fabrics. And yes, Virginia, there is piped-in Christmas music in hell, too.
Angel’s arms were stretched out while the nice sales clerk, Caryn, hummed along with Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and continued to pile high what looked like torture devices but he was assured were necessary tools to make a quilt.
“Do you having a cutting mat?”
Angel just stared at her which was difficult to do with the ugly fluorescent lights burning his retinas.
“No, of course you don’t. Well, I suggest you get two. A large and small, especially since you’re in a hurry. You’ll want several people cutting at the same time.”
“Excuse, me…Caryn, is it? Why do I need all these safety pins? And I think they’re defective. They’re all bent.”
“They’re supposed to be bent. It’s easier to pin the layers of the quilt together once you’re ready to actually quilt. You can use the pins, or some people use spray adhesive – but that makes putting the needle through more difficult if you use too much – and some use these plastic clips with this drill-like contraption. See?”
She held up something that looked exactly like a drill-like contraption and mimed a demonstration.
“You push this button and it shoots a clippy thing through all the layers of the fabric. It probably would be faster for you, but since this is your first quilt, I think you should go the old-fashioned safety pin method. Less chance of screwing it up.” She winked and Angel was partly insulted and partly grateful for her consideration of his skills.
As she continued to load him down with razor sharp cutting tools, rulers of all shapes and sizes, marking pencils, chalk, straight pins (both flat and round) and seemingly hundreds of tiny objects he neither knew existed nor their names and uses, Angel looked pleadingly around for Gunn and Fred eventually spying them several aisles away fingering fabrics. He desperately wanted to cry out for help but decided he would forego drawing attention to the vampire shopping in a fabrics store. He just hoped his frustrated glare would cause the hairs on their necks to prickle enough for them look up and notice his distress.
“What size thimble do you need?”
Angel’s attention went back to the young clerk.
“What size thimble? How big are your fingers?”
Angel tried to shift the bulky and unwieldy items in his arms without dropping them, but the dull hollow of plastic of various densities and shapes bouncing onto the tile floor rang through the store before he could free his hand to show her. With one knee bent to help support the supplies in his right hand, he held up his fingers and spread them for inspection.
“Oh, I see. Big ones then. I’m not sure we have anything that will fit someone of your…er…stature. Oh! You’ll have to use one of these flexible rubber ones. It should adjust.”
She put something on the stack that looked like a miniature condom and Angel hastily tilted the pile until the embarrassing item was hidden under some of the other less offensive packages. Although he was hard pressed at this point to imagine any of this not being embarrassing.
“Excuse me, young man, is this yours?”
Angel craned his neck to look back over his shoulder at a woman whom he could only think to describe as the perfect Mrs. Santa. Silver-white hair cropped short but softly layered and waved around a sweet, oval shaped face. Her apple cheeks were bright with precise circles of red and her eyes sparkled with wonder and delight. She held up a package of various colored marking pencils that she’d just rescued from the floor.
“I guess. I’m not really sure. You can just put it on top of the pile.”
She moved around to his side and placed them gingerly on the shaky mountain in his arms doing her best not to cause a landslide.
“Looks like this is your first quilt. Must be someone really special for you to go to all this trouble.”
Despite the situation and his extreme discomfort, the thought of the woman he was going through this torture for calmed him and brought the blood rushing to his face as he smiled broadly.
“She is. Very special.”
“Doesn’t she know that?”
“What do you mean?”
Caryn tossed a pair of embroidery scissors at him that ricocheted off the backboard of his chest and landed precariously on top of the miraculously re-exposed mini condom.
The old woman’s girlish giggle relaxed him and forced his lips to curl up despite his determination to be ill at ease in his surroundings.
“It just seems to me that if she doesn’t know how special you think she is, it’d be a lot easier to just tell her. Is it really so difficult for you to say the words?”
The nice warm feeling she’d brought with her arrival immediately scattered with her logic. Angel didn’t want to hear sensible. He wanted and needed THE ideal moment this gift was going to create, because without it he was sure Cordy wouldn’t be all that receptive to his theory that they were right for each other. He needed to soften her up – make her vulnerable to his limited charms. Without it, he would screw it up – of that he was positive.
While he was tempted to rudely dismiss the interfering woman, he truly didn’t want to draw more attention to himself. So, he smiled sweetly and calmly said, “You don’t understand, it’s her Christmas gift. I have to give her something unique and…perfect.”
She nodded sagely and mumbled a quiet, “Ah,” before beginning on her way again. She’d only taken one step before she turned wagging a knowing finger at him as she spoke.
“Just remember, there’s nothing more perfect than a man telling the woman he loves that she’s the one. The one and only – forever.”
Before he could form a coherent thought much less a response, she was around the corner of the aisle and out of sight.
“How’s it going?” Gunn, a roll of batting held in the cradle of one arm like a fluffy football, slapped him on the back bringing his mind back but jostling him enough to almost making him spill everything.
Regaining his iffy balance, he let out a small “whew” before continuing. “I’m not sure. What does it look like?”
Gunn quickly thumbed through the items in his arms and gave his approval. “Looks like it’s enough to get started with.” He winked at Caryn and she let out a sigh of relief similar to Angel’s before she headed back to her usual perch at the register. “If we’ve forgotten anything, I can always come back for it. Fred’s over at the table getting the fabric cut, so we’re almost ready to head out.”
“Good. Listen, Gunn, are you sure we can do this? I mean I don’t want to put you guys through this if it’s too much trouble.”
“I’m not gonna shine ya. It won’t be fun and none of us will be sleeping much until Christmas, but I think it’s worth it for the look on Cordy’s face. And if it gets the two of you to finally admit you’ve both got the wild monkey love for each other, then I’m willing to do anything to make that happen. The tension is killin’ me.”
“Me, too,” Angel said, letting out a frustrated sigh.
“See? I knew you were about to pop, and I know I don’t want to be around when that happens.”
“When what happens?” Fred snaked one arm around Charles’s waist and pressed the quilt fabric they’d chosen tight against her chest with the other.
Angel lead the way to the check-out line and said over his shoulder, “When I lose it and just take Cordy up against the weapons cabinet in front of God and everybody.”
“Oh. OH! Is that gonna happen soon?” Fred’s eagerness to witness that scenario was loud and clear.
“We’re trying to avoid that from happening by making the quilt. Remember?” Gunn chided.
She pouted and her once bright walk became a shuffle. “Shucks. I think it’d be pretty hot.”
Angel couldn’t disagree. “Yes, but it would also be pretty dusty once Cordy staked me.”
Fred frowned. “Well, there’s that.” She steeled her spine and jutted out her chin, her frown immediately lifting into a brilliant smile. “So, quilt it is then!”
She marched into line in front of Angel and began unloading his burden onto the counter. Looking at the pile of fabric, batting and tools that was almost as tall as she was, she frowned as a terrible thought occurred to her.
“You did get the credit card back from Cordy, didn’t ya?”
Angel’s head dropped to his chest, but it couldn’t muffle out his soft, “Damn.”