Chapter Three - The Ice Cracks

 

Following the directions Skippy gave him, Roger led Anne back to her apartment building, Anne slinging her arm over his shoulder and dragging her feet behind her. It was slow going because of the weather, but the pair somehow managed to make it most of the way, Roger doing most of the grunt work. “You know, you could help me out here. There is a reason God gave you legs,” he informed the slayer.

Her nod was greatly exaggerated because of the alcohol, and it bounced back and forth atop her neck like a ping pong ball. “Yea, I know, but why expend precious energy wen you can do all the work fer me?”

Instantly, Roger stopped in mid-stride and sat Anne roughly down on the cement stoop of an abandoned row house. While she slouched pitifully over, barely able to hold her own, the blonde lifted her head and scowled as angrily as she could manage. Her eyes burned with the fire of anger and alcohol: the deadly combination. “I really ‘ate you.”

“That phrase probably would have more of an effect on me if you weren’t drunk out of your mind and you could pronounce all the letters of the alphabet. Also, it might have helped if that statement didn’t sound like you ate me.”

“Sut-up!” Anne ordered viciously. “Just take me ‘ome.”

Folding his arms across his broad, well-defined chest, Roger stared at the crumpled woman on the stairs as he said, “Not if you’re gonna act so very rude and demanding. Geez, even when you’re totally sauced, you’re a bitch.”

Suddenly, Anne snapped, and she burst into hot tears. Fat drops of salty water trickled down her face and onto the cement. “Please, I just wanna go ‘ome!” she begged.

Seeing that her crying was genuine, Roger sighed and hefted Annie to her feet. “All right, let’s go. Your apartment’s right around the corner, so we don’t have much further to go.” She leaned exhaustedly into him only to start whining again. “No! Not there, I ‘ate it there.”

“You need to sober up, Annie, and that is a perfect place to do it.”

“Can’t we go somewere else? Wat about your place?” the slayer pleaded.

“My apartment’s all the way on the other side of town. Besides, I don’t need to wake up in the morning to find that my whole house smells like vomit and beer.”

“Please,” Anne whined, her eyes imploring.

Roger closed his eyes, a pained sigh escaping his thick lips. “Okay, okay! Just stop with the puppy dog eye thing.”

“Why should I? It gets me what I want.”

“Yeah, well, it may have worked this time, but you keep it up, and I’ll develop an immunity to it. Then where will that leave you? Back to your apartment, that’s where.” Anne stared up at the man and smiled a lop-sided smile since all her muscles had relaxed. Slowly, she was beginning to uncover the real Roger Vlinters, the softer one that hid behind the muscular visage, the one she liked better.

@~~`~~~

After cruising through the snaking streets of Brooklyn in favor of the even more snaking streets of Manhattan in the confines of a tiny taxicab that reeked of incense, Anne and Roger stepped onto the curb in the pulsating heart of a midnight-lit city.

Curiously, the snow that fell here seemed somehow whiter than the gray stuff that fell in Brooklyn. The color was a purer, empyreal white, not the ashy hue such as in the flakes of the poorer communities. The ostentatiously dressed civilians of Manhattan were clothed in powdery ivory coats of snow overtop their fur jackets and Armani suits.

Through Anne’s blurry eyes, all she saw was the golden light of the street lamps reflecting off of the icy blanket on the roads, and to her it seemed as though King Midas had walked down this street with his golden touch before their arrival. The sidewalks and the cars and the buildings were all bathed in a heavenly flaxen color, making the world appear as a giant bar of gold. How she wished that she could live in this Epicurean lifestyle like Roger did because compared to him, her life seemed oh so pedestrian. Briefly, Anne even felt a bit ashamed and embarrassed that he had seen what type of life she lived and where she lived it.

Without uttering a single word to each other, the two entered the granite building that towered above all the other structures in the neighborhood. Elaborate etchings encompassed the turn-style cherry wood and glass door and slithered up the building’s stony sides, the rose bush carving branching off around the corners. Windows framed in oak and covered in a gold leaf coating stretched across all faces of the building in straight, very strict lines, but the sharp appearance made it look all the more elegant.

Peeking over the rooftop of the apartment complex were four gargoyles, each sitting on its own corner and each wearing a wanton, evil grin as it spread its stiff gray wings into the chill midnight air. The narrow slits in the stone that were the creatures’ eyes flashed fire red as the minute piles of crystal snow glimmered in the flickering light of the beating heart atop a speeding ambulance. Meanwhile, the subtle folds in the beasts’ rock hard flesh created an aged, forever look to their cement physiognomies – the wrinkles of the ancient ones.

Anne wobbled into the complex, using Roger as a crutch. She took particular interest in the spinning doors, as of that moment she was so drunk she could never recall seeing anything that magical before in her lifetime. “Come along, Annie,” Roger ordered, tugging gently on her arm.

The blonde pirouetted around to look the man straight in the eyes; her glare filled with animus while reflecting in his shimmering brown irises and back into her own. Right now, she didn’t know why, but she despised him. “Don’t call me tat!” she slurred. “Call me Anne. Only my friends call me Annie, and you, sir, are NOT my friend!”

“What friends are you speaking of? I didn’t know you had any.”

“Ooh…” Anne growled ferociously. “You’re gonna get it, mister!”

Taking her firmly by the wrist, Roger dragged the irate girl through the dazzling, golden lobby and over to the elevators set back in a rose colored hallway. He quickly pressed the up button and then mumbled something to himself about the top floor. “Oh, don’t tell me you live in the pent ‘ouse ‘ere!”

“Okay, fine, I won’t tell I live in the penthouse here. Will that make Miss Princess happy?” he shouted.

“No!” Miss Princess shouted right back.

“See tis guy right ‘ere?” Anne asked a stranger standing right next to her while she pointed to her chagrined companion. “ ‘e owns the pent ‘ouse. The pent ‘ouse! Can you believe it?”

The scared little man adjusted his tie nervously as he replied, “Ah, na…no. That’s, ah, well, amazing.” He pressed the up button as rapidly as he could, anxious to escape the obviously intoxicated woman wavering dangerously next to him.

“Sorry, sir. My friend here’s just had a bit more to drink than she should have,” he informed, ushering Anne behind him and away from the stranger.

Roger’s words hardly helped to soothe the stout elf’s nerves any. His eyes darted catywampously between the beautiful blonde girl and the powerful, strong man, who had his arm around her waist. “Yes, well, methinks you should try and get her to lead a more salubrious way of life. The whole drunk look isn’t quite so flattering for such a kissable face.”

“And metinks you sould sut-up!” Anne yelped angrily.

Roger placed his hand over her mouth to keep her from upsetting the other man more. Still, it was understandable why she would say something as rude as that. After all, where did this man get the right to say anything about her lifestyle to her? And that whole kissable thing. It was obvious even to the drunk that Roger was more than a little angry that he had said something like that about her. Pervert. “She’s just had a really bad day,” Roger explained.

“I can imagine,” the man spit out distastefully. “Where is that blasted elevator!”

The soft ding announced the arrival of the most anxiously anticipated elevator. The whir of the gears as the doors opened sounded like crashing cars to Anne, and she squeezed her eyes shut as she tried to dull the pain in her ears. A few people climbed out of the lift as Roger, Anne and the chubby gnome climbed in it. “What floor?” inquired Roger as he promptly pushed 15 for his own. “Four.” It was a short and simple answer, good enough for Roger.

Then, as he was going to push it, Anne dove wildly at the panel, shoving Roger aside. “I want to push the button!” And she did, and not just floor four either – all of them. Her companion rubbed his face with his hand as he smiled, totally embarrassed, at the other occupant. This was going to be a very long and silent ride. That cry from Anne was the last thing that was said as the lift made its halting way up the shaft. When the elevator finally stopped on the plastic garden gnome’s level, he exited in complete silence, without saying so much as simple goodbye or even bothering to look back at the mix-matched couple. “Rude little man, don’t ya tink?”

“Maybe if you hadn’t scared him so damn much he wouldn’t’ve acted like that.”

“Ah, ‘oo asked for your opinion anyway?” As he started to retort, Anne answered for him before he could even form a syllable. “No one did.”

Instead of pursuing another fruitless argument (which he would inevitably lose), Roger decided to drop the subject in order to bring up a new topic of conversation. “How are you feeling?” Lame, but at least it was the start of a conversation nonetheless.

“Smased.”

“Stupid question.”

The elevator finally came to halt on the top floor, and the pair stepped off together, Roger still holding her swaying form with his one arm. “Could you please reach into my coat pocket and get my keys for me?” he asked sweetly as he pulled Anne along with him to the closed white door at the end of the hall labeled: “Penthouse Suite.”

Reluctantly, Anne dove her hand into his pocket, fished around just to make him uncomfortable, and then immediately found a ring of four keys. “Wat’re all tese for?”

“One’s for here, one’s for my parents’ house, one’s for my car I never use, and the last one’s for none of you business.” All of the sweetness had disappeared from his voice as he spoke of the remaining key. “Now give ‘em here.” Roger presented his free hand to Anne, and she hesitantly forked over the keys to him. “Thank you.”

The spot-free door swung open and the Roger and Anne entered Roger’s neat and clean home. “Welcome to my humble abode. Make yourself comfortable anywhere you like. Only thing not offered to you is the alcohol.”

Anne turned her suddenly green face toward Roger and managed to barely spit out the question “Were’s you batroom?”

Even through the slur, he understood. “Oh god. Follow me, and hurry.” He led her as quickly as humanly possible through the labyrinth of rooms and pointed her through the open doorway of a spacious powder room. She slammed the door shut, and Roger walked wearily over to the nearest chair in which he sat himself down.

After a few minutes had elapsed, he heard the toilet flush and then the sound of water running in the sink. Anne stepped out of the bathroom, her face no longer green, but red and glimmering from a good scrubbing. Upon her face she wore an abashed smile as she mouthed the word “Sorry.” Strands of long, blonde hair had plastered themselves to her forehead and neck, and the rest of the tangled mass fanned her head in a disheveled manner. “Would you mind too terribly if I-”

“Took a shower?” he finished.

“Well, peraps more along the line of a bat?”

“What the hell is a bat?” Receiving an angry glare from her, Roger smiled and said, “Oh, a bath! I get it. Fine, sure. I don’t want someone sleeping in my bed that smells like you do anyway.”

“Now wait just a minute!” Anne flared. “ ‘oo said anything about me sleeping in your bed?”

“Would you rather sleep on the couch?”

A relieved countenance graced her face. “I tought you meant…” and she trailed steadily off, her cheeks flushing.

Roger laughed heartily at the confused woman before him. “You thought I was implying that I wanted to sleep with you?” He broke for another laugh that soundly strangely familiar to Buffy. “Oh, Annie, you are to funny! Imagine, me wanting to sleep – oh, here’s the best part – with YOU!”

“It’s not tat ‘ard to fatom,” she whispered softly. Then, in a booming voice: “Besides, you’ve been flirting wit me all night!”

Immediately, Roger was on the defensive. “Is that so? When did I ever come on to you?”

“Well, look were you brought me! Right back to your place.”

“You asked me to!”

“I was drunk and vulnerable, wat’d you expect? At tat point I was very sus…sus, ah ‘ell! I was ready to accept any suggestions I ‘eard.”

“So, you’re saying I planted the idea to come back here in your mind? That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard, and I’ve heard some crazy things in my time.”

“Well, so ‘ave I, and this isn’t one of ‘em.”

Roger laughed. “You have no idea.”

“Oh,” she started to herself, “I tink I do, Roger, I tink I do.”

They continued the argument as Roger ran between rooms, gathering all the things he needed for Anne’s overnight stay: clean sheets, towels, soap, etc. “Wat makes you so sure I’m even going to stay?”

“Because,” Roger began as he rooted through his linen closet, “you don’t wanna go home.”

“You’re wrong, Roger; I do want to go ‘ome, more tan anyting else – just not back to tat God-forsaken apartment.”

“Oh, that’s right. You want to go back to California,” he spit out with disgust. “It’s not that great there, you know. Awfully lonely for such a populated state.”

“No, it’s awfully lonely ‘ere. All of my friends are back tere. I could never be lonely in Cali.”

“Yeah, well, you obviously didn’t live there long enough,” he stated absent-mindedly, and Anne wondered what his connection to the western state was. “I’ve been there before. What part are you from?”

“I’d rater not talk about it anymore. Is my stuff ready yet?”

“Hey,” Roger barked, “you brought it up. Besides, I thought you wanted to talk about your home since you’re so anxious to get back there.”

Anne raised an eyebrow. “Maybe I did want to talk about it, but not wiff you.”

“If not with me, then whom? Am I not the closet thing you have to a friend as you’ve got in New York?”

She thought about it for a moment and came to the startling realization that he was, though instantly she told him that he wasn’t and that Skippy was. It was really strange for Anne to think that she’d made a connection with this man – of all people in New York City – that allowed her to become closer to him and share her secrets with him. The slayer hated him for what he’d done; nevertheless, she felt herself compelled to tell him more of her past than she’d ever told anyone here. Why? What made this guy different, other than the fact that he was the biggest jerk Buffy or Anne had ever met? He acted just like the rest of the ostentatious people of Manhattan. Who was this Roger Vlinters?

“Let’s go,” Roger ordered, picking her up and throwing her over his shoulder when she didn’t move. “I don’t need you stinking up my place any longer. Get in the shower.” He shoved a pile of snow-white towels at Anne. “I threw in a shirt and a pair of boxers for you, too. While you take your shower, I’ll make us some coffee.”

Anne nodded approvingly at Roger, making her way into the bathroom attached conveniently to his bedroom. She looked around the immense room and remarked to herself about how it could practically be its own house. Tentatively, the former slayer stepped onto the cold, tiled floor and squinted at the room’s sheer whiteness; the whole place practically glowed. A humongous bathtub/whirlpool/shower sat nestled in the corner, the silver fixtures winking enticingly at Anne. Her smile spread from ear to ear at the thought of taking a bath in the deep tub with the jets on full blast and lots and lots of bubbles. “I may not be out for awhile,” Anne warned, never removing her gaze from the luxurious bathtub. Roger barely acknowledged her with a quick okay. And the slayer giggled, actually giggled for the first time in her entire life. “Yes!”

@~~`~~~

A little less than an hour later, Anne emerged from the bathroom and into the comfortably large living room. She seated herself next to Roger on his fluffy, overstuffed beige couch. “God,” she started, breaking the silence between them. “I wish I could live in a place like this every day of the week. Where’d you get the money for an apartment like this anyway?”

After a brief moment of hesitation, Roger answered her question. “First of all, you sound better. I see your h’s are starting to make their way back into your speech. Now, to answer you… my dad.”

“That’s it? Your dad? You mean to tell me he just handed over this fortune to you? There’s more to this, and I want to know it.”

With a heavy sigh and a heavy heart, Roger elaborated. “You are so nosey. My dad… He was… He’s dead. Truck struck him from behind and, well… After the funeral I took the money and split, just picked up and left town without so much as a word to anyone except my girlfriend and my best friend. I didn’t even tell my mom.”

“Not even her?”

“She wouldn’t’ve cared if I left or not, but she would taken the money for herself. My mother was always, I guess you could say, lost to me. She never once made any effort to get to know me. Of course, my dad didn’t give a damn about me either, but my mother was always the one I longed to know better. At least I knew what my dad did for a living. When we had to fill out those stupid forms in school, I never could answer the question ‘Where does your mother work?’ You know, she never even cast me a second glance on my 16th birthday. But I don’t hate her or him, for that matter. In fact, I really don’t care at all about them anymore, which I guess may be even worse. The day I left, I knew it was the best thing I ever did, for myself and for others.”

“How could you say something like that? Don’t you think at least your friends deserved to know about what happened to you, even if your mom didn’t?” Anne asked, intrigued, if not a bit angry.

“I doubt it,” Roger sighed. “After the way I treated them, I don’t think that even today they could look me in the eye. You can’t even imagine the horrible things I said, the terrible stuff I did. I think now they know I didn’t mean any of it; it was just because of the two terrible losses I suffered. Still…”

“Two losses? Your dad and…” When he didn’t answer Anne decided to drop the subject for the time being and change the path the conversation was heading. “So, your dad had money, huh?” Her scrutinizing eyes searched the soft colored room, finally coming to rest upon her glum companion.

“A good bit, obviously – he was a doctor. But all of this money didn’t come from him.” She was about to ask how, but he answered her without even hearing the question. “I’ve been very fortuitous when it comes to money. A lot of this I’ve won or even found. And of the jobs I’ve had, most of them were really well paying, and I made my own little fortune in just the span of three years. Plus, some of the money came from my college funds, which, for the most part, weren’t tapped.”

“You never went to college?”

“Oh yeah, I did, but I somehow was able to get a couple of scholarships and help with financing my four years there. Plus, I lived with some friends, which cut down on room and board expenses.”

“So then how’d you get all those fabulous jobs?” the slayer inquired, now completely hooked on learning about Roger’s life saga.

“I never said they were fabulous, just well-paying.”

“Well, like what?”

“I’d rather not talk about work anymore tonight. Don’t you agree we’ve had our fill of that?” She nodded. “Maybe some other time. Now it’s your turn to answer my questions…”

Suddenly scared about what she might tell Roger in her intoxicated condition, Anne stuttered, “Roger, I don’t-” His questioning look made her stop in mid-sentence. “One question.”

“That’s hardly fair.”

“I don’t care what’s fair. One question is all I’ll answer, and even then, only if it’s within reason.”

“Fine. Why are you in New York? I mean, what made you leave your home in California?”

“Roger, how is it that you managed to pick the one question I will not answer? I’m tired. I think I’ll turn in now.”

As Anne picked up and headed to his room in Roger’s clothes, he stopped her by asking her quietly, “What is it you’re running away from?” Her breathing was the only sound within the room. Not even the traffic below dared to enter the silence.

“My life.” She turned from him and wandered toward the hallway. “I’m really tired, Roger. We’ll talk later on. Goodnight.”

Hushed footsteps whispered while she crossed the carpeted living room floor, and each time she placed a foot down she sighed. This was the kind of life that was lost to her and probably always would be. Here within the glow of the night, Anne found solace in the fact that she had made a new friend, or so she hoped. After what she had just done, she wasn’t quite so sure anymore. The man sitting quietly on the couch had opened himself somewhat to her, trusted her with his secrets, and when he simply asked the same of her, Anne refused to answer. At least he was gentlemanly about it – as Anne would have never suspected before– and didn’t pursue her any further. At least Roger did have some respect for her.

The bedroom was huge; it had a long, rectangular window spanning the area above his bed, giving the owner an incredible view of the downtown area and of Central Park. Velvet, white drapes framed the window and his bed underneath it, brushing the spotless carpet with their tips. Flanking the sides of the room were dressers and bureaus, all constructed out of cherry. Another white door perpendicular from the entrance camouflaged in with the pearly walls, and the only reason Anne was able to notice it was of the shiny gold, extravagantly made door handle that graced the door’s right side. She assumed (and correctly) that it was his closet. Above her, built directly into the ceiling, was a tiny, dome-like chandelier with strings of crystals splitting the light and creating many hundreds of rainbows throughout the cheery room. Even now, after she had switched the lights off, the slayer could still see the ring of gold ivy leaves that circled the top of the wall, making its way all around the bedroom.

Anne padded gently over to the side of the bed and tentatively placed a hand on the down comforter. Instantaneously, it disappeared within the sheer softness of the bed, yet it felt as though it was suspended in space without anything to uphold it. The slayer put more of her weight on her hand, and slowly her arm, followed by her other hand, began to sink into the bed, vanishing further and further into the invisible below. Feeling like a child again, Anne pounced onto it, automatically being sucked down into the fluff and feathers.

As she curled up under the silken sheets and brought the comforter up to her chin, Anne compared this bed to the matchbox she slept in every other night of the year. Roger’s bed was warm and inviting, hers was stiff and uncomfortable; his symbolized the wealthy life, hers symbolized the impecunious life.

This man was slowly changing her, and at the same time, she was slowly changing him. In the past day, Roger had entered her life like a whirlwind, flipping it upside-down and doing irreparable damage to it; nevertheless, he managed to make it a little bit brighter. How ironic it was that the person who had gotten her fired from her only means to support herself – her job – was also the person with which she was suddenly beginning an unexpected friendship. Anne knew she should hate him, knew she should despise the very ground he walked on, but for some reason unknown to her, the slayer couldn’t. She was drawn to him. There was something mysterious about this man that piqued Anne’s interest and made her want to decipher the enigma that was Roger Vlinters. She wondered if Roger felt the same way about her. After all, he had made several efforts to get to know the real Anne. The slayer sensed in his looks and attitudes that she had captured his interests as well, and despite what he really wanted to feel toward Anne, he was drawn to her, too. Of course, she could be totally imaging all of this, but Anne highly doubted it. In her two years of slayer experience, Buffy had almost relied strictly on her instincts and emotions, so even know as Anne Winters she still trusted in them and their ability to be correct.

Gradually Anne was lulled into the most peaceful, nightmare-free sleep she had ever experienced since she’d moved to New York. Minutes passed, and nothing stirred in the room. It was as if time had stopped completely – everything frozen within the moment her eyes closed for the night.

The door to the hallway was cracked open, and the lone stream of light that pierced the room was disrupted by a shadowy figure outside of it. Roger peeped in on her, checking to make sure Annie was comfortable in his bedroom and not frightened of this strange, new place. But obviously his trip had been pointless, for she was sleeping deeply already and seemed to be in the grips of a wonderful dream, her cherubic face beaming a truly happy smile.