Chapter Six - The Storm Breaks

Arriving at Roger’s place a little after eight o’clock, Anne used the key Roger had given her to unlock the front door. She was quite surprised by the fact that their relationship had progressed so far and so fast that she already possessed a key to the place. The moment the door opened to reveal her, Roger swooped over, scooping her into his arms to plant a fantastic kiss upon her silken lips. When he broke away for a breath, Anne gasped herself, squeaking out, “Good to see you, too!”

A sigh of relief, as well as pleasure, escaped from him as he smothered her with tiny kisses all over her face. “I didn’t think you’d be coming back. I thought you just ate breakfast and split.” He kissed her again. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Me too. But just so you know, I’m not a one-night-stand kinda girl.”

“I didn’t figure you for one, but I have all these insecurities and I wasn’t sure. You see, since I’ve known so many of those types in the past, I was scared.” His voice dropped a few decibels with shame. “I used to be one myself for a long time. You know, love ‘em and leave ‘em.”

She gave him a lop-sided grin while leaning deeper into his arms. “You used to be a girl? Roger?”

“That’s my big secret, the part of my past I didn’t want to share. That other woman I kept mentioning? Well, that actually was me.”

“That’ so…”

“Weird?”

“I was thinking more along the lines of gross.”

Their gazes met in a fervent encounter, and Anne saw how deeply Roger cared for her. It wasn’t simply affection he felt toward her, but oh so much more. In that moment in time the slayer could definitely see herself falling in love with this man. And then…

She felt a thick, heated breeze in her ear as Roger whispered, “I love you, Annie.”

Then everything stopped: the howling wind, the city symphony, his ragged breathing, and her stampeding heartbeat. There was that phrase again. She didn’t doubt it, but she couldn’t return it. It was so hard to explain. Just the fact that he could say it so easily was infuriating when she could hardly even bring herself to think it. Anne wanted Roger, needed Roger, but she didn’t love him just yet. And now with these totally bizarre, unfounded feelings for Xander, they only made matters worse and chances for true love with Roger slim-to-none. “How can you honestly say that?” she asked almost angrily as she pulled from his embrace. “We just met three days ago. Don’t you think you’re jumping the gun just a little, Roger?”

The powerfully large man leaned back to look at her in utter shock, as if he was completely surprised she couldn’t respond back the same way. “No. For some reason I feel like I’ve known you forever—all the intimate details.”

“But that’s just the point; you don’t! You don’t know a damn thing about me, Roger. You don’t know who I really am or what I am. You don’t even know where I’m from! How can you love someone you don’t know at all?”

Now he was on the offensive. “Maybe I would know you if you’d just tell me that stuff. Always so quiet and unwilling to share. How am I supposed to learn if you don’t tell me?”

“And what about you, huh? You haven’t revealed anything like that to me!”

“What about our first night together? Who was the one that answered all your questions, and who was the one who refused to respond? I remember. Oh yeah, I answered all your questions. I’ll answer anything. See, I’m open. You just have to care enough to ask to ask the question.”

Oh, that hurt a lot more than it should have. Roger was fighting dirty. “Roger, I care a lot about you; I really, really do. I just can’t say— ”

“I love you,” he finished bitterly.

“Not yet, I’m sorry,” Anne replied, although she wondered for what exactly she was apologizing. It wasn’t her fault that he loved her and she couldn’t love him back. “Look, I don’t want to hurt you, but you can’t seriously expect me to say… that this early in our relationship.”

“Humph! What relationship?” he grumbled lowly. Then, in a louder, more assertive tone Roger answered her. “Oh, but I do.”

That response knocked Anne for a loop, practically beating the breath out of her. “Ooh, Roger Winters! You pompous, arrogant son-of-a-bitch! How could you actually expect anyone to say those three incredibly powerful words after only knowing you a few days as just casual lover? And to have her mean them, too! That’s ridiculous.”

Back to the defensive. “It’s not so much that I expect it…”

“What? You want it as some sort of sick payment for your ‘services’ rendered?”

“Never! It’s more to see for myself if I should be investing my heart like I want to, and believe me, Anne, I really want to, desperately so.”

“So let me get this straight. If I don’t say I love you now, then you’re gonna walk out on me and this relationship?”

He answered quite simply although tight-lipped. “Yes.”

“That’s just plain disgusting!”

Roger shrugged her comment off as if it were nothing and turned away from Anne. “Think what you like. I guess I don’t care anymore. Besides, you don’t know what it’s like to wait for someone. The agony, the torture, the UNENDING PAIN!” he boomed with such ferocity it shook the building. She could hear the tears in his voice.

“I think I have some idea,” she whispered meekly.

The dark-hair man shook his head. “No, Anne, you don’t have the slightest inkling. From what you told me, you and your ex were very much in love, real, mutual love. I’ve never been that lucky to have the object of my affections care for me in return.”

“But I do care!” she protested, exasperated.

“Dammit, Annie! Stop saying that! You’re only making this harder for me!”

“Why does it have to be hard at all? Can’t you just wait, let it play out?”

“NO!” he screamed even louder than before, banging his fist on a sofa table and almost shattering its glass. “Don’t you understand that I can’t wait anymore? I’ve been waiting for seven years!”

“What?” she asked confusedly. “Seven?”

“Seven very long years,” he gritted sourly. “Two for her to realize I existed in the first place. Five more for her just to come home after she left. She never did, so I guess I should keep that meter running, huh? And now I’ve found you and you want me to wait another seven? Well, I’m sorry that I have to disappoint you, but after my first experience turned as sour as it did, I discovered that nothing is worth that amount of torture and hurt I endured.”

Her eyes were soft and sad, mimicking her voice. “You’re wrong. Love is, it is. But, like almost everything, it takes lots of work. You can’t just expect the other to love the same or as quickly as you do. You have to give her time.”

He bit out a laugh. “You’re saying that seven years wasn’t long enough? Hell, maybe I should wait another three and make it a nice, even ten. Or how about I wait 18 more to make it our silver anniversary of NOT being together?!”

“Enough! Sarcasm noted and unwelcome,” Anne interrupted. “I get your point. What was this wonderful girl’s name anyway?”

“I’m tired of this conversation and all your games. I’m going to get ready for bed (though I don’t think I’ll get much sleep). I suggest you do the same.”

Anne sighed, disappointed in his reluctance to share the woman’s name after his whole spiel about openness. But, like her, it might hurt simply too much to speak the name. “Okay, fine. Where am I sleeping tonight?”

Without hesitation he answered. “Your apartment.”

The fear was back, but the slayer refused to show any of it to him. And although she wanted nothing more than to cry until her eyes burned with the fire of salt water, Anne just wouldn’t let herself do it while in his presence. Through gritted teeth: “Fine.” She turned to the door roughly, throwing the stale air around her into a frenzy of tiny, invisible cyclones.

“By the way,” Anne added, slamming the card so lovingly written onto the same sofa table from before, “here’s a little something from me to you, just to show you how much I like being with you and how much I appreciate all you’ve done for me!” Again the slayer turned away from Roger to the door.

“God, I should’ve never come here. I knew I wouldn’t find her—she doesn’t want to be found.” He was muttering to himself now.

Still facing the door: “Are you saying you’re leaving New York?”

Without answering her, Roger stalked off toward the bedroom, leaving a distraught slayer in his wake.

Right now, more than feeling fear or sadness, Anne experienced seething rage—a bubbling cauldron of wrath inside her gut. Some people! They just knew how to push her buttons, and unfortunately, one of those people was Roger Winters. How was it that one man could be so romantic and beautiful one moment, and then so aggravating and maddening the next? For a brief instance she wondered what would Roger be like as a teenager. Was he as awkward and hormonally driven as Xander was, or had he been born this mature and already cold to the world? But all of that wonder was quickly eliminated and replaced with her natural anger.

Anne yanked open the door soundlessly, feeling the chilly air in the hall sweep through her and kiss her hand with its icy lips. It felt good, too. Her whole body was already numb with cold anyway; this was just a little refresher. As she exited, the slayer tilted her head slightly, and in a disgusted tone of voice that was hardly her own, she uttered, “Coward!” And she closed the door.

The hallway was even quieter than Roger’s apartment. It was downright preternatural. She couldn’t hear Roger; she couldn’t hear anyone for that matter; she couldn’t even hear the fucking city! Most of the time she despised that sound, but now she desperately needed it, like a drug fix. She needed something familiar to cling to, for now everything was out of sorts, bizarre and surreal. Anne wanted to immerse herself in the deafening symphony, submerge her ears in the droning of traffic and buzzing of electric lights. She wanted to listen till her brain went numb and she couldn’t think anymore and the image of Roger’s cold eyes was at last expelled from her mind. She wanted to feel the moment her brain dripped lazily from her ears and onto the littered pavement.

A sudden urge to escape the building flooded Anne’s veins with ice, and she lost control of her legs. Sprinting like a gazelle over the Serengeti, the slayer pounced on the elevator button, pressing it repeatedly and urging it to hurry.

The tears began to spill down her cheeks, silent sobs escaping her lips. Anne had held them in before Roger because she didn’t want him to see her cry; she didn’t want to give him the perverse satisfaction. But now it didn’t matter—nothing mattered—for she’d never see him again.

With a muffled ping the elevator doors spread open like the jaws of a famished beast. She entered warily, but let the monster swallow her up in a big, exaggerated gulp. Anne could feel herself plummeting down its gullet, and the feeling was driving her to her knees, her tired soul acting as a lead weight to bring her down and drown her. She felt nauseous. Anne wanted out, and she began to bang on the doors with her fists. “Let me out!” Anne yelped, sobbing louder now. Behind her screams, playing softly in the background was the familiar elevator tune “The Girl from Ipenema.”

Abruptly, the ride stopped and the doors parted and Anne came tumbling out in a jumble of limbs, surprising the innocent bystanders. Embarrassed and upset, the slayer raced through the lobby, tears of innocence lost sliding down her cheeks and into the damp air behind her. She didn’t care if these people saw her cry. Right now Anne wanted everyone to know what Roger had done to her, how bad he made her feel. No, she wanted the whole world to know. Anne cried harder.

The slayer flung herself into the revolving door and then burst into the winter air with the bang of a firecracker. Snow battered her exposed face like ocean spray against the sea rocks. The orchestra around her swelled to a crescendo as police cars and ambulances went screeching through the night to an unseen accident, or still likelier, a murder. Anne’s eardrums burst with the songs of Manhattan—an unpleasant sound to most others—and it felt wonderful. Her body began to sway to the hidden rhythms as she concentrated her hardest on them. Now she felt nothing but the pulsing of the blood rushing through her head and the throbbing of the artery of the city on which she stood. No longer was Roger’s devilishly handsome, yet haunted face glowing behind her eyes. The city was blocking it out, and that was exactly the effect Anne had hoped it would have.

The blustery cold hardly bothered the thick-skinned slayer, for she was too lost in the beat of the city to feel it. Passersby would stop momentarily to stare at this strange woman cloaked in nothing but a cheap sweatshirt and a pair of worn sweatpants, but would soon move on only to find an equally disturbing scene right around the corner.

Snow affixed itself to Anne’s hair, cementing strands of blond together in a knotty mess and freezing her scalp. Still, she never seemed to notice. The city’s own private siren had her completely ensnared in its web of sounds and buried its musical talons in her body. And Anne would’ve been there all day too, if someone hadn’t run into her.

The slayer stumbled clumsily over her feet and other’s as well as she tried to regain her balance in a crowd of people. Someone crushed Anne’s toes with her fashionable stiletto heels, and Anne reeled back against the wall in pain. As if her life didn’t already suck enough! Suddenly all the sensations she had tried to fight from coming through exploded from behind the containing dyke inside her, and Anne felt a burning pain rip through her gut. She moaned terribly as the memories filled her. Her stomach knotted with fear, forcing Anne to double over. She needed to get away from all these people, and as much as she hated to admit it, the slayer knew that the only place free of these distractions was her apartment.

After hailing a cab and spewing out the address in a torrent of emotion-saturated words, Anne did her very best to relax against the sagging, springless leather seat by listening to the stop-and-go sounds of traffic. She vaguely recalled holding a brief conversation with the cab driver, but it was pointless chitchat, just like the stuff she engaged in with everyone else—except her Sunnydale gang… and Roger.

Speeding down Park Avenue from East 82nd Street, past numerous attractions for the mindless tourist, and to the Manhattan Bridge the cab buzzed ferociously, tearing up the asphalt and launching missiles of rock salt into the wind. Anne watched the familiar urban scenery fly by as light of the city and dark of the night became one unholy enemy on the horizon, creating stars not seen anywhere else in the heavens.

Once again she was semi-aware of a conversation she was having with the Turkish cab driver, but the details of it were all but lost to her. Something about the on-and-off weather New York had been having. She mumbled an agreement although she didn’t know what the man was talking about in the first place.

Another silence befell the cab for a few more minutes before the cabby asked in a thick accent, “What you been up to layley?”

Without so much as a thought, Anne’s answer slipped out. “Falling in love.”

Anne’s eyes widened like those of a deer caught in the high beams of a speeding car, as did the driver’s. “’Scuse me, miss? Did I ear ya krokt? Fall in luf?"

She didn’t know how to respond, for she didn’t want to continue this line of questioning any further. However, even if Anne had wanted to answer that query, she wouldn’t have gotten the chance because he followed it up with another one. “Whoz lucky man?” Anne knew it had been intended as a compliment more than a question, but no matter which it was, it hurt like hell to answer.

“I wish I knew.”

“You not know?” he laughed, amazed. “Zat possible?”

The giggle building within Anne’s gut simply could not be stifled and it tumbled over her lips in great waves. It was true, she didn’t know whom she loved: Xander, Roger, Angel? Things were happening too fast for her to find out with whom she wanted to be. Also, the expression on the driver’s face in the mirror was priceless: a look of utter confusion. It was good to know she wasn’t the only bewildered person out in New York City.

When she didn’t answer his question, the driver took it as his signal to shut-up, and the cab settled into a comfortable, welcome silence. For a while, Anne didn’t feel like throwing herself off the edge of the world and into a pit of sheer nothingness. She just sat there in the backseat, staring out at the colorful world around her—a world she had just finally begun to rediscover. As the car screamed down Fourth Avenue and opened to Lafayette, the swirling mass of neon lights passing by congealed to form a hideous, yet stunning palette of colors—like rainbow oil in a puddle of rainwater. It mesmerized the girl, capturing all of her attention. The hues flitted as if they were the secret, forgotten fairies in a thicket of wood, skating along the edge of reality and fantasy.

And suddenly, the light disappeared completely, letting shadows fill their empty spaces they left behind so hurriedly. All of this happened the second the cab turned onto the Brooklyn Bridge.

It was like driving into the snapping maw of a hungry Great White Shark, the colorless steel girders wrapping around the car like teeth. Anne felt trapped, swallowed and claustrophobic. The air stiffened like a starched sheet. She closed her eyes and counted to ten, willing away the bridge and the darkness and the evil. The rhythmic droning of grating under tires filled her head and throbbed right along with each beat of her racing heart. “Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop, make it stop,” Anne chanted over and over again with each exhalation.

Finally, when she opened her eyes, it was all gone. The fear, for a short while, too, subsided. The bridge was already melting into the night behind her. Anne was safe, but for how much longer? She steadied her breathing, chewing her lip and rubbing her knees together nervously.

“You okay back der, ma’am?” the cabby inquired with concern as he glanced in his rear-view mirror at her huddled form.

“Yeah, yeah,” Anne reassured. “I’m just… nevermind. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me. My day’s been a bit strenuous, and I guess it’s finally catching up to me.” The man shrugged and, thankfully, left the slayer to herself.

After what seemed like a thousand eons, the taxi reached Hornwaggler Apartments’ littered and deteriorating doorstep. The slayer eagerly jumped out from the back, paid the driver, and walked to the front door. For once in her life, Anne opened the door with no problem. She was too full of other emotions to worry about something as small – it seemed – as her everyday worry. The old, creeping fear that she might never leave here was far from her mind. Right now she was more concerned about losing her precious Roger.

She ran through the brief lobby and up the four flights of stairs to Apartment 44. This time Anne didn’t even take the time to notice the trip upstairs as she always had in the past.

It seemed that today was the day all traditions would be broken and the hindering walls were going to come down instead of go up.

Anne shoved her hands into her pockets to search for her keys and found she still had Roger’s ring of four he’d lent her. As she discovered her own apartment key, she tried to decide what to do with his. It was too late to return them now, so tomorrow—after they had both cooled down a little—she would stop by with them, and hopefully they would kiss and make amends and go about as they had before, this whole mess behind them. Personally, she was hoping for more than just a little kiss…

Opening the door, the slayer entered her silent apartment and tossed her coat on the couch haphazardly; there were some traditions that could not be broken even today. It was miserably quiet here, just like in Roger’s place. And just like in Roger’s place, that silence spooked her.

Anne was tired, so very tired. Everything today had just zapped all her energy, as if a giant monster from her Sunnydale past had remained hidden in the shadows and drained her strength all day. She found it hard to concentrate anymore on anything but Roger or sleep. Responding dutifully to her body’s urgent cries for rest, Anne waddled into her bedroom, stripping quickly, then slipping on her nightgown. She switched off the light and crashed into her bed… alone.

One would think with how tired she was Anne would fall right into a gracious sleep, but she didn’t. Instead, she lay awake, staring at her stained ceiling, thinking about only one person. Roger was who was keeping her awake. She couldn’t get his voice out of her head. “I love you.” “Dammit, Annie!” “Don’t you understand that I can’t wait anymore?” “God, I should have never come here.”

“Oh, Roger,” Anne sobbed into the darkness. “Please don’t go. Don’t leave my soul to be ravished by these city vultures. Just don’t leave me.” Everything penned up inside her spilled out awkwardly, tears gushing in rampaging streams. “Don’t leave me…”

The sobbing went on for hours, almost until the sun rose from its bed over the horizon. Eventually sleep came to her, but what little of it was granted by the Sandman was fitful and restless, for it was marred with strange and macabre dreams.