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05/18/17 04:16 am
pj! I remember wishing one of your stories would be finished seriously about a decade ago. Amazing. I just tried an old password I used to use and amazingly got in too. Memories!
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Authors Chapter Notes:
I'm trying something new here: first person. I'm still not certain how I feel about it, so I'll be especially interested in feedback on this one. That said, I need to give a big thank you to a few folks who were kind enough to read a messy early draft of this chapter and who gave me some excellent pointers.Thanks to: atatangent (I made William sound a tad less 'Pride and Prejudce' for you.), ]shellpresto ( for an army of notes to consider) and to my bff jhuntnifer who read two drafts even though she has absolutely no interest in fanfic. You guys rock.
Clearly-all mistakes are my own. ;)

Disclaimer: The characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are owned by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and Fox studios. This story is not meant to infringe upon anyone's rights, only to entertain.

The Laughing Gull Café was a million miles away from the type of place I was used to. Actually, it’s only like 3000 miles, but 3000 miles can be another world entirely if you travel in the right direction. It was exactly the type of place I needed: quiet, earnest and almost entirely cut off from my well-intentioned but overwhelming friends and family. The Laughing Gull Café doesn’t have WiFi, hell they don’t even have a website. The person I was two months ago would have called it inconvenient. Perspectives change.

When I’d first heard of Camponesset Island I’d thought it sounded like the most romantic place on earth, I’d imagined private picnics and long walks on rocky beaches. I’d imagined the perfect Cape Cod honeymoon with my perfect Cape Cod fiancée.

I had fairytale-daydreams about being welcomed into his family and hearing all about his endearing childhood antics. I pictured myself wearing adorable Capri-length pants and learning how to dig for clams, complete with slow-motion splashing and tickle fights. It was supposed to be the start of my perfect happily-ever-after life.

It’s not really that I’m prone to daydreams, or maybe I am a bit, but thinking up romantic stories is my thing. I work at it. Being able to think of all the details that make a sweet moment into a particularly memorable one is a required skill for people in my profession. I didn’t become Buffy Summers, the Princess of Love, without spending a lot of time thinking about happy ever after endings. I write about sassy girls who wear stylish clothes and are swept off their feet by darkly handsome men with a mysterious edge about them. It sounds cliché, I know, but I try to bring a unique twist to my stories. Still, it must be said that there is a reason that it has become a cliché: it works. There’s a comfort to the traditional pattern. It speaks to an awful lot of reader’s secret hopes and dreams.

I thought that at twenty-seven years of age, a tad old by romance novel standards but well within the norms set by my real-life friends and family, I’d finally found my own story. It was supposed to be a love story. It was supposed to be as good as any of the romantic novels I’d ever written, novels that had made their way up the best-sellers list and earned me enough money to attract a con-man clever enough and dedicated enough to get me to agree to marry him.

Parker was a pro. He even did accents. For me, he spoke like a Kennedy, all broad A’s and dropped R’s. Apparently the girl before me got a Texan named Lindsey. He got a free all-access pass to her credit card numbers. It helped him buy the props needed to play the part of a wealthy businessman falling for a young romance writer. He was so good he probably could have pulled it off without the props.

He probably read my books during his research phase. He certainly knew exactly how to charm himself into my bed. Fucking bastard charmed himself right into my heart with his soulful routine. He played it just right; he acted just wounded enough to make me feel like I needed to nurse his sweet little heart back to health. I can’t believe how easily I fell for it. I did though: hook, line and sinker. I’ll tell you something: a broken heart is nothing compared to the complete loss of self-respect.

I loved him. I wish I could pretend otherwise, but what’s the point; it was obvious. I fell. Head over heels. I chose this place for him. Our perfect honeymoon was going to be a surprise trip home for him. He’d told me dozens of stories about growing up here that always ended with this wistful expression and a casual comment about how long it had been since he’d been home. Now I realize that he was covering his bases. If I found out that he’d screwed up some facts, he’d be able to blame it on how long it had been since he’d been home. I told you, he was good. I’d made all the arrangements as a surprise, imagining all the time how delighted he’d be to spend some time at home.

Imagine his surprise when I went to tell him. Actually, I have to imagine that surprise, too. When I showed up at his company to treat him to lunch and the packet from the travel agency, he wasn’t there. He really had no reason to be there since he didn’t work there. He’d never worked there. In fact, aside from the no doubt high pressure business of ruining women’s lives, the man I knew as Parker had never worked a day in his life. Of course, he never lived on Camponesset Island either.

I learned a lot of things that week. Parker’s real name is Riley, he’s from Iowa and he never loved me. I also learned that apparently, I’m a celebrity. Make that: I’m a celebrity in the midst of a scandal. The tabloids loved it. The princess of romance fails at the court of love; that’s my favorite headline. It makes it sound like I screwed it all up, like I wasn’t completely heads-over-heels in love. I was. I thought he was my best friend.

The FBI filled me in on a few things pretty quickly. He’d done a few cons before, but had never actually gotten engaged to any of the others. I was the big job. Lucky me. He was really going to marry me. The thought still makes me shake with anger. They figured that he spotted me during a book signing and saw money signs dancing about my head. It must have been an unusually successful book signing. He’d have been disappointed if he’d ever actually gotten hold of my financial information. I do well, but not well enough to justify a pretend marriage.

I have nightmares where I don’t find out. I dream that I’m married and happy, but that it’s all a lie. I imagine him laughing at me when I leave the room.

The first couple weeks were a blur of phone calls and humiliation. I’ve always thought that people get numb after the first few days. You don’t. Every time I had to tell the story, it hurt. I rotated between phones calls with the police and calls to the wedding venders. Interesting fact: you don’t get your down payment back from the bakery when you cancel because your groom is being taken in for questioning by the FBI. Another interesting fact: my publisher isn’t sure that my readers are going to “trust” me as a romance writer anymore. Perfect.

I could have canceled this trip. I was going to cancel this trip. I had the packet out and was about to call when two little lines on the brochure caught my eye: Please remember that communication with people off-island can be challenging as storms often disrupt the phone lines and Camponesset Island is only accessible by ferry or small privately owned craft; please see the ferry service in Hyannis to make transportation plans.

No communication sounded perfect. In fact, everything about a month alone on Camponesset Island sounded perfect. See, there’s that perspective thing again.

Having all your dreams torn away and your humiliation and heartbreak splashed across the front page of the gossip magazines really shifts your priorities. Hell, it shifts everything. I’m not the same person. Buffy Summers, the Princess of Love, was social and light-hearted. She laughed easily and didn’t have to remind herself to smile at people. I do.

Smiling stopped coming naturally when I found out that it was one of my “friends” that had tipped off the papers.

I signed the receipt for my cottage, Elizabeth. It’s not an alias, Elizabeth is my name. My mother selected it for the birth certificate, but I’ve always been Buffy. I remember when I started school that the teachers tried to tell me that my “real name” was Elizabeth. I laughed; Elizabeth sounded like a different person, a serious and dour one.

I’d come in to The Laughing Gull just between the lunch rush and the dinner rush. That, and the fact that most of the island’s tourists had already headed home for the year, meant that I had almost an entire section to myself. I noted one table near me was occupied by a guy drinking what looked like a cup of coffee and reading a book. He was taking notes, so I suspected that he was a student. The only other people I could see from my table were a family grabbing what appeared to be a late lunch. They were obviously tourists with their Whale Watch T-shirts, camera bags and sunburns. I smiled as I took in the dimly lit room, the dark wood, the vinyl-covered booths and the requisite seaside-themed decorations. It looked comfy -- a little tacky by my taste and a tad bit run-down -- but inviting in a way that the large chain restaurants try but fail to achieve with faux fireplaces and carefully created “conversation nooks.”

It wasn’t really the kind of place where people settled in with their laptops. I decided to anyway. I needed to get some food, I hadn’t actually stocked the kitchen at my cottage yet, and I wanted to try getting some work done. I hadn’t completed a single page since I found out about Parker. My readers not trusting me as a love authority really wasn’t an issue. My figuring out that they were right to doubt me -- that was a problem.

It wasn’t just Parker.

Looking back, I had realized that every relationship I’ve ever had has this epic-fail feel to it. I mean sure, Parker takes the cake. None of the others are likely to serve jail time. They all stole something from me though, my innocence, my time, my Coldplay CD. There should be a court for crimes against the slightly more than half of humanity with breasts. Womanity? I need a better word. It’s got to be catchy.

I’d placed my order with one of the two waitresses manning the café and was thinking about this court, imagining all the justice a group of wise ageless women in gauzy timeless dresses could mete out. I would have to testify, of course, I would have to spell out all the misdeeds of the selfish, conceited and now trembling with fear men that I’d made the mistake of dating. I was imagining some particularly delicious sentences when he stopped in front of my table. I saw male. I hated him instantly. I looked at the guy and saw every wrong doing of every man I’d ever dated.

“Miss? You seem to—”


“I’m sorry to interrupt, but—”

“Then why are you? No, don’t answer. You’re sure you’ve met me before, right? You just couldn’t help but notice that I’m using the same type of laptop as you?” He looked shocked. I think I noticed shock on his face, but mostly I saw red. Everything that I’d been through, all the anger that I’d been controlling without even thinking about it, just erupted. I launched it all towards the guy I saw standing in front of me. The guy who was clearly about to hit on me. “Save it. Save whatever ridiculous bullshit you plan to spew. I’ve heard it. I’ve no doubt heard it from someone better at it than you. Whatever you think that you’re going to get from me -- forget it.”

He looked pained. “Miss, I just—”

I was causing a scene. Everyone in the small restaurant had stopped and stared at us, the cook was even peeking out from the kitchen. It only fed my temper. My humiliation had been far more public than this.

“You just can’t give up. What is it with all of you? Men! You just have to be assholes. Do you really think we need you that badly? That we have to put up with it? Newsflash: we can buy a toy for twenty bucks that gets the job done faster and better than whatever you think you’re packing in those khakis.” The freedom was exhilarating.

He wasn’t even looking at me when I finished. He just stared at the floor, red-faced, until I ran out of steam.

Finally, when I was panting and shaking with self-righteous indignation and feeling more than a little proud of myself he looked back up.

“I am--sorry to have bothered you. I only wanted to point out that your glass appears to be leaking.” He tipped his head towards my table.

I stared at the spot he had indicated for a moment before the meaning of his words cleared the fog of rage in my mind. Leaking? Yup. There was absolutely a puddle making its way across my table. Another moment and it would have hit my laptop; it had already ruined the small notebook I use to organize my ideas. Shit! I sprang into action, grabbing a stack of cheap paper napkins and attempting to sop up the iced tea that was still spreading across the table. It didn’t take long for the waitress to come and help; after all she’d been watching my tirade along with everyone else in the café. She pulled a cloth out of her apron and whisked away the chipped glass of tea.

“Oh dear. I’m so sorry. I’ll get this cleaned right up and bring you a fresh glass in a tick.”

“It’s okay. It didn’t even get my laptop -- no harm done, really.” And that’s when it hit me. Yeah, I can be a little slow. It took me that long to realize that the guy I had just chewed out, the guy I had assumed was trying to hit on me or rip me off, had only wanted to help. He had helped. He had stuck around through my entire rant against men in order to warn me before my laptop got wet. “Oh God! He—” I looked up and quickly scanned the restaurant for him in hopes of apologizing. He’d left. I couldn’t blame him. I was a bitch.

My face burned and I knew I’d turned a bright red. I blush frequently; actually I don’t seem to have any ability to hide any of my emotions. It’s a good thing I never wanted to be an actress.

The waitress was a pleasant-looking, middle-aged woman whose nametag said Joyce. She had a warm motherly air about her and the practiced, efficient motions of someone who’d been waiting tables for ages and was completely comfortable in the role. She returned quickly with my new tea. I looked up at her hopelessly. “He was trying to help.”

She nodded. “Yes. He was.”

“I was a bitch.”

She frowned and I blushed even deeper.

“Sorry -- my language. I’m…I’m really not having a very good…year.”

She smiled at that and her lips twitched like she was holding back a laugh. “That’s all right, dear. And I’m sure Mr. Pratt won’t hold a grudge. He seems like a very sweet man.”

Mr. who? I frowned at her. Was she talking about the same guy? It seemed awfully formal. The guy couldn’t have been more than twenty years old. “The boy who I was—that tried to—” I wanted to hide under the table. “That’s who you’re—”

“Boy?” She laughed softly, but her expression made it clear that she wasn’t all that impressed with me so far. I decided that she was definitely a mom; she had that innate ability to triple my guilt with a single well-arched eyebrow. “Perhaps you didn’t take a close look?”

She had me there. I had a vague memory of glasses and curly hair and khakis. Loose khakis on a slender frame.“I guess not.” I swallowed hard. I’d been on the island less than a day and I was already alienating people. Great.

In my defense, it happens all the time. That is, I get approached by guys who are way too young for me all the time. It’s because I look young myself. I’m not bragging; I’m just small. Petite is the word writer’s use. In stories the word describes women with a delicate and feminine air about them. In reality it means that you have to scour the junior’s section in hopes of finding a pair of jeans that fit and don’t have butterfly appliqués on them. When I first got out of college I tried substitute teaching at the local high school, I got reprimanded by teachers who thought I was a student without a hall pass four times in the first week. I had to find another job. I should know better than to make rush judgments about other people’s ages. “Is he…is he a local? I mean—I’d like to apologize. Is there any way that you could—”

“Well that’s a lovely idea.” She smiled her approval at me. “I know just the thing: Ms. Flora’s cupcakes.”

Cupcakes? I shook my head. “I don’t think—”

“Fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and your Mr. Pratt has a sweet-tooth -- comes in every day for tea and cake.”

My Mr. Pratt? His heart? Whoa. I lifted up my hands. “I think you have the wrong idea. I just wanted to apologize for the…the misunderstanding. I mean — —if he’s a local then maybe you could just pass on a message for me.”

She looked disappointed again. “Surely you don’t mean to ask someone else to deliver your apology?”

“No. Of course not, that would—” That would let me start trying to forget the whole fiasco. It was clearly too much to hope for. “You don’t by any chance know where Mr. Pratt lives, do you?” I couldn’t believe I was asking.

“Of course. He’s your neighbor, dear.”

I stared at her in surprise. How the hell did she know where I was staying?”

“You are the young woman renting the third cottage on Weldon Street, aren’t you?” She looked confused for a moment and moderately horrified by the idea that she might have been mistaken.

I nodded slowly and she gave me a wide grin.

“I knew it. That’s my sister, Iris’s place you’re renting. She rents out the one next door, too. Mr. Pratt has been there for a few weeks now.” She turned away suddenly and glanced toward the kitchen. “Let me just go see what the hold-up is with your sandwich and then I’ll wrap up those cupcakes for you.”

She returned a few minutes later with what I have to tell you was one of the best tuna salad sandwiches I’ve ever eaten and again shortly later with a box of cupcakes. It was a regular white bakery box, but she’d tied a bright pink ribbon around it. I doubted that was standard.

I took the bakery box and tried to return her smile. I couldn’t really believe that I’d let her talk me into this. I blushed in anticipation of my upcoming embarrassment. Still, if the guy lived next door to me it would be pretty difficult to avoid him, so an apology was definitely needed. I hoped that he wouldn’t be home so that I could leave a note.

“Now don’t you worry; I’m sure that you and Mr. Pratt are going to get along just fine. He’s a writer, too, you know.”

I looked up at her in shock. She knew who I was. My hopes for anonymity were shot. There would probably be some lowlife photographer camped out in front of my cottage by morning. She must have seen the despair on my face.

“Oh dear! Is it a secret? Of course; you wanted some privacy on your vacation and here I am blabbering. I didn’t mean to bother you.”

I shook my head. “It’s okay. I just didn’t think—”

“I can keep a secret.” She gave me a wink and leaned closer. “But maybe you could stop by and sign one of your books for me. I’ve read them all. Twice.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it; the mischief dancing in her eyes charmed me. “I will,” I promised before giving the woman an impulsive hug. Sometimes you don’t realize how much you need a new friend until you make one.

Chapter End Notes:

Oh...and I made up Camponesset Island. :D

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