“That was a really good interpretation,” Fred said, impressed by the film.
“It was,” The “date” agreed. Cordelia said nothing.
Coming out of the theater, she’d seen more hand holding and even a chaste kiss when Paige rose on tip toes and planted one on Angel’s cheek as a ‘thank you’ for the movie. Oh, it was endearing enough. Angel had turned a nice shade of less pale, and Paige gave him the lovey-dovey doe eyes, and for a moment, Angel even forgot about the earlier trouble she’d caused.
It was clear that he was becoming more and more interested in this Paige. Cordelia was just waiting for the next opportunity to bring that idea down…
“Why don’t I drop you guys back at the hotel, and then I can take Paige home…or wherever.” The ‘wherever’ part had been a hint. And it was a plea not lost on the others. Angel glanced back through the car at his friends and they nodded in agreement.
He cast a painful glance in Cordelia’s direction but met Paige’s instead, and somehow she, even in the cramped conditions, managed to somehow snuggle closer to him. “Sounds like a good idea to me,” She said. Angel was obviously pleased. But Cordelia frowned. She hadn’t agreed to any of this.
“Why don’t we go to Caritas?” She blurted, bringing a hiss, a gasp, a cough, and a growl from the car…and also the inevitable ‘What’s Caritas?’, the later of course being from the “date”.
“Caritas is sort of our hang out!” Cordelia chirped. Gunn kicked the back of Cordelia’s seat so hard, she fell forward. “Hey! Watch the seats!” She snipped. Gunn was about to retort, but the damage was already done. The seed had been planted, Paige looked curious.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been there. Where’s it at?” Paige looked over at Angel, as did Cordelia, though Cordelia’s look was laced with a very nasty spite. Surprising to one, and not so surprising to the other, the girls found that Angel had gone completely stony.
He worked hard at focusing his attention on the traffic, and only the traffic, ahead of them on the road and on nothing else…least of all the insane need to thoroughly strangle Cordelia right now.
Cordelia’s grin faltered just the slightest…it was clear that Angel was near his boiling point. “It’s kind of…out of the way,” Cordy went on, words spoken slower, more precise. For a second, Angel thought she had come to her senses and was trying to undo Paige’s interest. Cordelia watched Angel’s face intently—she didn’t want to blow the whole surprise in one sentence.
No way, this had to last the rest of the night. With a Chesire grin, she finished, “Our friend, Lorne, that I mentioned, he runs it! He’s a hoot! You sooo have to meet him!”
“Cordy!” Angel growled.
“What?” She whined, feigning innocence.
Angel’s voice was direct and taut, each word stressed, “Paige doesn’t want to go to Caritas.”
“Shtick, Angel! EVERYONE wants to go to Caritas! It’s like the MOST happenin’ place in LA!”
“Cordy,” His tone was getting there. “Cordy,” He tried a little lighter. “Caritas isn’t the kind of place—”
“Angel,” Paige said hopefully. “It sounds kind of fun. I’d like to go!” The horror in his eyes.
“NO.” Angel said most indefinitely. “It’s not…” She stared over at him. “Fun.” She didn’t understand! She didn’t…she wouldn’t…vamps, demons, Lorne, green… He elaborated. “It’s just a…bar. It’s…dark. Usually crowded. Loud. Very, very loud. Not exactly the type of…crowd…you’re used to. Lots of…undesirable…types. Scary. Types. And… And… And…” None of this was getting through to her, and he blurted disdainfully, “And they have karaoke!”
“I LOVE KARAOKE.” The new girl said.
“OH MY GOD, You do???” Cordelia had more than squealed. Angel looked like he was about to vomit…or combust. “Funny…” The unstoppable Seer chattered on. “Definitely something you and Angel here DO NOT have in common. Angel can’t stand karaoke. He has this phobia about it, god, he’s such a wuss!” She reached past Paige and punched Angel in the shoulder.
When he glanced in her direction, his eyes flared yellow. Cordelia didn’t mind. “God, we have to DRAG him on the stage to get him to do anything…Hey, Paige! Did you know Angel likes Barry Manilow!” Paige stared at him in shock.
Angel had never wanted to die more in his life. He felt the stake hidden within his jacket pocket and seriously considered it…
“BARRY MANILOW?” Paige exclaimed, bursting into laughter. “I had no idea!”
“There are lots of things you don’t know about Angel,” Cordelia drawled, eyes darkening, “Maybe tonight we can fix that.”
“I’d love to go to this Caritas.” Paige said, utterly amused. “Barry Manilow…this I’ve got to see.” Whatever Cordelia was trying to do, she was sure doing one hell of a job. Enough to make Angel temporarily suicidal.
Then the “date” took her finger and ran it around the edge of Angel’s ear as if the idea of him singing Barry Manilow had been the sexiest thing she’d ever heard of. Cordelia frowned and Angel suddenly stopped frowning.
In fact, he looked downright sheepish…and disturbingly, enthralled. Paige’s finger left his ear lobe, and with a slightly shy grin and a flame of her cheeks, she leaned her head against his shoulder and laughed. Glancing down at her, Angel suddenly transformed back into cool and collected…as if he’d suddenly settled into his lax human skin. The tension in his body immediately ceased. He sat back in his seat, the “date’s” head bobbing lustfully against his shoulder. Angel smiled. Snorted a laugh even.
Cordelia could tell by the look on his big, dumb vampire face that whatever she’d been able to mess up…Paige had somehow just fixed.
“I don’t know if they’re open tonight,” Wesley tried in a somewhat strangled voice. Someone had to stop the madness.
And it was a good effort. But Cordelia had set forth something in motion that could not be stopped. She didn’t know what the hell was going on in Angel’s head, but she couldn’t imagine what he thought was going to happen once they reached Caritas and the “date” waltzed into the club expecting it to be just like any other club she’d ever been to.
Cordelia couldn’t wait to see the expression on her big, stupid, cutesy face when she realized she was standing knee deep in a room full of other worldly weirdos. And Cordelia caught herself dreaming of the moment the “date” realized that Angel was one of those weirdos. She’d probably scream and run!
Cordelia grinned. She could stand to see that. She pounced on Wes; No way was Wes of all people dissuading this opportunity! NO WAY! It just had to happen… “They’re open like every night Wesley.” She stung. “You KNOW that.”
“Oh yes huh! Jeez! You’re so full of crap!”
“Well,” Feeling foolish, he grumbled, glaring at her from the backseat. “Perhaps they’ll be closed tonight.”
“Maybe,” Fred tried. And Gunn,
“Yo, they closed.”
But Cordelia ignored them all. “Come on, Angel…Let’s go to Caritas. Let Paige here meet our friend, Lorne.”
It was a dare. And when Paige said, “Please?” Angel found himself out of options. He turned at the next right and headed reluctantly towards the club. He was going to kill Cordelia, he wasn’t sure when or how or just how long he would take in doing it, but he was going to do it, and he was going to enjoy it, dammit! Just as much as she was enjoying killing him right now…
Plans for Cordelia were put on hold as Paige again rested her lovely head against his shoulder. He turned to stare down into her innocent green eyes. Everything else suddenly got fuzzy. He felt the knot in his stomach harden as his anxiety swelled.
Angel had never feared karaoke so much in his life. him singing, and Paige’s realization of what he was, to come…
“HEY THERE, GORGEOUS!” Lorne, Karaoke singing Demon Host of Caritas, squealed with delight as the group entered the club. It was a little crowded. “Hello, hello! Kisses please!” He waltzed right up to Cordelia and they hugged, kissing each other on the cheek lightly.
The Host was dressed to a T in a silk burgundy leisure suit and gold lamiae shirt that accented his features perfectly, and Cordelia complimented him on it. She adjusted the silken scarf tied about his neck, and he grinned. “Thanks, doll. I just picked it up at Lucy’s Vintage Duds.”
“What is this?” Paige asked slowly, looking around at all the strange oddities—demons, vampires, things she couldn’t even name—and a couple of middle aged barflies at the counter.
Angel’s cold heart caught in his throat and he waited for her to freak. They all did, in fact. Even Lorne as he turned to regard the newest addition to the group.
“Is this…costume night? Or something?” She asked.
“Yes!” Wesley laughed quickly, encouraging the others to do the same.
“Yeah, they do this…every now and then,” Gunn tried, less convincingly. Fred grabbed his arm, they know knee-deep in lies, and started to tug. “Let’s just find a table,”
“Wow. Great costume!” Paige piped, checking out Lorne’s horns and beady, red eyes. “You look…almost real!” She reached out to touch a horn and Lorne jumped back.
“Ah, no touchy-feely, please! These things take forever to…position…right. And I wouldn’t want one of them to snap off or anything! Hehehe!” Angel regarded him appreciatively. Paige seemed to immediately feel at home. “My name is Lorne, and I am at your service,” He took her hand and bowed to kiss it. “You extremely, beautiful, lovely young thing, you!”
“Thanks,” She smiled. “My name is Paige.”
“And what a lovely name!”
“She’s Angel’s “date”.” Cordelia said blandly. Lorne glanced up at the big guy in awe. The smirk that crossed his lips caused more anxiety in Angel. Questions would be asked…later, but they’d be asked. Angel didn’t really feel like giving full disclosure at the moment…
“Well, well, well! I bet there’s a story to be told there!” The Host chimed.
“Oh, there is,” Cordelia promised him. She cocked her head at Angel. “We should let Paige tell us the whole story over a round of Sea Breezes.”
“That sounds like a fabulous plan! Give me a minute to clear a big table, I’ll be right back!” Lorne scuttled off into the crowd, calling his headwaiter, Sergio.
“This place looks really cool!” Paige said excitedly, taking everything in. A seven foot tall Lanatnae Demon was at the mic doing a decent rendition of The Monkee’s “Last Train To Clarksville”.
“Uh, yeah,” Angel said worriedly. “It is.” She slipped her hand into his and held it until Lorne came back.
“Follow me, my friends, follow me!””So Paige, are you gonna dazzle us with a number?” Lorne asked hopefully.
“Oh!” She laughed uncomfortably. “I don’t know. Maybe? I’m not that good.” He could care less about her quality! He was dying to read her,
“I hope so! I’d love to see you up there!”
She was scrunched in between Angel and Gunn. Fred sat next to Gunn, then Wesley, and around the table, Cordelia and The Host. Cordelia had long ago gone silent; she chewed on her straw. She kept glancing up to catch Angel staring at her.
She’d look away, not because it was a threatening look, but because it was a scared, pitiful look. She couldn’t help but feel guilty. Somehow, in that persuasive manner that Lorne just happened to be gifted with, he talked the “date” into getting up on stage and doing a little number, and to Cordelia’s great amusement, she sucked! Sugar Pie Honey Bunch had never sounded worse!
Paige looked silly. She worked up this completely-off beat, and she gripped the microphone tight enough to make her knuckles turn white. At first Cordelia didn’t think she’d finish. Maybe it wouldn’t take finding out about Angel’s vamp status to send her running to the hills.
Maybe just a bad case of stage fright, accompanied by a little heckling…
Cordelia shouted, “Don’t quit your day job!”
“Don’t do that!” Angel snapped. It was the first time he’d talked to her since they’d entered the bar.
Paige went on, shaking like a leaf. “Sugar pie honey bunch, you know that I love you, love you…I can’t help myself…I love you and nobody else,”And for some reason, the audience loved her.
Any performance by a pretty girl, whether they could sing or not… No one booed. Everyone clapped. Everyone sang along and laughed and had a good time. Angel was smiling way too often. Even from where she sat, Cordelia could feel the pulse coming off the stage from Paige and transcending to Angel. S
he watched him…watched Paige…watched Angel again. Paige started to loosen up about half way through.
She started strutting around, swinging the microphone, voice wailing like that of a dying cat. Cordelia frowned.When it was all over, Paige got a standing ovation…something about pretty girls making a fool of themselves over the karaoke machine…they could do no wrong.
Cordelia found herself feeling lower and lower. She felt like Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding. Paige was definitely Cameron Diaz…or Denise Richards, because of her big, white teeth, long shimmery hair and dimple if Denise Richards had been in that movie. Cordelia feigned a smile; she could be Julia Roberts.
Julia Roberts was an adored actress. A respected Academy Award winner. Julia Roberts had been closer to the guy, so Cordelia felt on the up.
But, wait! How did that movie end???Paige finished the set and came to edge of the stage where Angel was waiting. When had he gotten up??? They were both laughing, heartily. And looking around, Cordelia saw that everyone was. Gunn, Wes, Fred… strangers, everyone. Everyone was thrilled. Except for her.
Paige said something to Angel…something too low for anyone else to hear…that brought an even bigger smile to his face. Cordelia had never seen him smile more. He stepped towards her. She touched his shoulders. He slid his hands over her waist to lift her down from the stage. She wrapped her arms around him. She kissed him. He kissed her back.
Cordelia’s chest hurt as she watched it all in slow motion. She watched Angel kiss Paige back, again and again—music blasting in the background, people laughing and talking and clapping still, the lights flashing red, blue, purple and yellow over them… In a kiss, Cordelia had lost Angel.
“Don’t look so sad,” A friendly voice lulled her from her daze. She felt the green hand on her shoulder and looked over into empathetic red eyes. Lorne was smiling at her; the only one in the entire room paying any attention to her. She tried to smile back, but her eyes had begun to sting, and tears welled.
“What do I do?” She questioned.
“Dry your eyes.” He answered gently.
“And then what?”
“Nothing…you can’t do anything.” She stared into his ruby red peepers. Devastated. He passed her a napkin, then slowly got up. He patted her shoulder, and started towards the stage. He had a job to do, the show must go on…Cordy was on her own.
Amongst the roar of the Caritas patrons Cordelia felt lost. Lorne tapped the mic, thanked Paige for her “wonderful” performance, and then went on in introducing the next performer. “I’m going to the ladies room,” Cordelia announced softly. She gathered her jacket, slipping it on quickly, and rose from her chair.
Wes and Gunn hadn’t even heard her. They continued talking and jiving and watching the stage. Fred turned, though, and stared up at her. “The ladies room.” Cordelia repeated again, pointing to the back of the bar. Fred’s eyes followed her gesture, and she nodded in understanding.
‘Want company?’ She mouthed.
‘No.’ Cordelia mouthed back, shaking her head regretfully. Fred nodded, and Cordelia walked away. Fred watched her. She was good at watching, and she’d watched from day one. They may not have known it, but she knew a lot more about her friends then they’d guess.
A lot more. Fred thought about following Cordelia, but as Angel and Paige made their way back to the table and Paige started chatting away excitedly, Cordelia had disappeared. Fred kept a vigilant watch for her return, but after a few moments had passed, when Angel finally questioned her absence, Fred decided to save face.
“Cordelia felt sick. She went home. Don’t worry. She’s okay.”
Cordelia leaned against the wall in the alley and cried for a few minutes before wiping her face and taking out her cell phone to call a cab. She didn’t know why she was crying. She didn’t know why she was in the alley. She only knew that she was, and as Lorne had said, there was nothing that she could do about it.
She dialed 4-1-1 and waited for an operator. She got transferred to Yellow Cab, and gave the dispatcher the address. She put her phone away and took out her compact. Her eyes were red and her cheeks slightly wet, but overall, she looked pretty much okay.
She was wearing waterproof mascara, so no raccoon eyes at the moment. Give her a few more hours though, she thought, a few good hours of good, hard bawling…raccoon eyes were inevitable. No mascara could resist that.
Wiping her face one more time, choking back the hurt, she put away her compact and raised her head high. She was Cordelia Chase after all. Nothing so silly as a kiss would make her fall to pieces. She ventured out to the sidewalk to wait in front of the club.
A few impatient moments later, the cab found her and climbing in, Cordy gave the driver the directions to her apartment. The car pulled from the curb and merged with traffic. They caught the greenlight and Cordelia was on her way.
From the shadows near the side entrance, Angel watched in complete silence. He didn’t move until the cab turned the corner, out of sight. Still, he stayed in the shadows, thinking pensively.
“There you are,” A lazy voice said. He turned and regarded Paige, grinning profusely as she leaned against the door frame. She came forward and gave him a kiss. “Your friends are waiting, what are you doing out here?”
“Getting some air,” He took a deep breath.
“Is everything okay?” She smiled still, holding his hand between her warm palms.
“Sure.” He lied.
“Well come back inside. You’ve got to sing for me.”
“Angel!” She flirted shamelessly. She pressed her cheek into his shoulder, batting her lashes and using all of her feminine charms. “Angel, come on!”
“Uh, no, Paige.”
“Come on. We can sing together. It will be fun.”
“I don’t think so.”
He grinned then, slipping his arm around her and led her back to the door. “I tell you what, how about you sing again, and I watch. That was fun before, huh? I’m sure it will be fun again.”
“You are a big wuss!” She teased, socking him lightly in the arm. “Cordelia was right! You’re petrified, aren’t you!”
“Okay. A lot.”
“Wow, Cordelia knows you too well.”
“That she does.”
“Do I have to worry about that?”
“I said do I have to worry about that?”
Angel turned to regard his “date” carefully. “What do you mean?”
Her tone had said it all, yet Paige seemed to dance around the implication. She shrugged, swaying her hair across her shoulders. She was trying to play it cool. “You tell me. What does that mean to you?”
Angel looked shell shocked. “Are you’re asking if me and Cordy—”
“I’m just asking if there’s anything I should worry about.”
“Yes.” Angel answered truthfully. He took his hand back and slipping it into a pocket. “Yes. There’s something you should worry about.”Paige’s eyes widened at this. That hadn’t been the reaction she’d been expecting. “But it’s not why you think.” He clarified. “It’s nothing like you’re thinking.”
She stared at him silently, and Angel waited for a sign to continue. He didn’t know why, but he was suddenly ready to spill everything. He didn’t know exactly how, but he suddenly wanted it off of his chest. All consequences aside, he wanted to tell her the truth…if not for her sake, for his own. He was ready to tell her everything.
“Let’s just forget about it.” Paige shrugged suddenly, sinking back into her demure demeanor, and wrapping her fingers around his massive arm again. “We can talk about it later. Let’s just go back and have fun.”
“Shh.” She held a polished finger up to his lips. “Whatever it is, it can wait.” Then she smiled devilishly. “Who knows…maybe we could talk about it over breakfast…if things turn out, that is.” He could feel the warmth of her breath, hear the rate of her heart speed up, see the flush on her cheeks at her somewhat bold suggestion.
She took her finger away, and backed slowly into the club. She was a beautiful, sexy girl. And she wanted him. This, now, was clear.
Angel stared after her painfully.