With the voices getting louder, we tore off. I'm talking about a full sprint here, too. We'd parked the car about a ten-minute walk away, and we reached it in half that time. This might not sound too impressive, but it helps to keep in mind that Jess and Connie were juggling wicca supplies and I was carrying a struggling terrier from Hell who was *very* interested in trying to maul my arm.
Finally reaching the Neon, we threw the demon-doggie into a cardboard box in the back seat. This meant that we had to move the rat eyes, herbs, and road flares to the trunk, but hopefully the Sunnydale P.D. had learned its lesson about searching us.
Once this was accomplished, Connie and I took a few minutes to lean against the car and wheeze while Jess gave us that superior look that joggers have for the speed-walkers of the world. Next time I needed an extra witch, I was definitely going to get Mike. In his mid-forties with a nicely growing potbelly, Mike is someone who I can stand next to and congratulate myself on what great shape I'm in. Being around Jess is just completely depressing.
My thoughts were pulled away from my new resolution to go to the gym more often by the sudden appearance of a man and a girl behind us. Though how the girl managed to sneak up on anyone was completely beyond me. Petite, with dyed-blonde hair in desperate need of a touch-up, she was extremely pretty, but who wears a leather mini-skirt, boots, and bright yellow tank-top for a walk in the woods? Of course, when I was her age, I cut rather a bizarre figure, too. But it was the early eighties - everyone looked bizarre. I was depressed again when I realized that when I was her age, she probably hadn't even been talking yet. This trip was not doing wonders for my ego.
Her companion was a trifle more to my liking. Early to mid-forties, tweed jacket, and looking at him gave me a nice tingly feeling. Love at first sight? No, I don't believe in that stuff. But there was a healthy amount of lust here, and that was something I could definitely live with. The question was, however, what on earth was a guy like this doing in the middle of the forest with a teenage girl? The answers my brain was coming up with were not helpful.
There was a long moment of silence where everyone involved had a certain 'oops' expression on their faces, like they'd been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. I knew why we had those looks, and I was really hoping that my guess of why Tweed and The Kid had them was wrong.
The silence stretched out, getting more and more uncomfortable until finally Connie saved us all.
"Lovely day for a walk, isn't it?" she said perkily. It really frightens me how much she can sound like my mother without even trying.
"Oh, er, yes." Tweed said. Ooh, a British accent. Like the vast majority of American women, I adore a man with an accent. I made a mental note in his favor, but not even the brownie points gained from an accent could offset the fact that he was accompanied by a very young girl and in possession of a facial expression that closely resembled that of a deer in the headlights. Maybe I was wrong, though. Maybe it was all a big misunderstanding, and there was a perfectly wholesome reason why they were out here together. And maybe cows were quite adept at calculus.
"So," I said, forcing casualness into my tone, and not succeeding very well, "Just out for a father-daughter stroll? Spending quality time together?" From the shocked looks on their faces, I was clearly way off base. They stared at me, then stared at each other, then nearly tripped over their own feet in their haste to scramble farther apart.
"Er, eh, no." Tweed floundered. "Buffy is my student." 'Buffy'? Jesus, her parents should be institutionalized.
"Your student?" asked Jess, disbelief clearly dripping from every syllable. Guess I'm not the only one who was suspecting something.
"Yes," he said coolly, giving Jess that glare that older people like to give smart-alecky younger people. Come to think of it, I give Jess that look a lot. Turning from my younger counterpart, he stepped forward to shake my hand. "Rupert Giles," he introduced himself, "I'm the high school librarian. Miss Summers and I were just on, eh, a field trip."
"Val Stevens," I responded, looking him up and down. If ever there was a man born for the job of librarian, it was this guy. "I'm here visiting family for a few days." Turning to his 'student', I offered my hand, going through the usual introduction rigmarole. Connie and Jess joined in. Just as Buffy was shaking hands with Connie, I noticed a weird object that she was hiding behind her back. Seeing the questioning look on my face, Rupert followed my line of sight, and the expression on his face was clearly that of a man praying for the earth to swallow him at any moment.
"Is the squirrel problem in this area so bad that a crossbow is necessary?" I asked. Buffy's countenance fairly screamed, 'Oops.'
"Well," Rupert said, clearing his throat. "I am the moderator of the high school Archery Team, and Buffy is one of the more advanced members. There is a nice area for target practice in these woods, so..." he shrugged.
I wasn't buying it. What school would be willing to accept the possible liability of allowing students to use crossbows? Most I knew wouldn't even let them do science experiments that involved salt. I opened my mouth to say so, but was cut off by a burst of manic barking from the car. The Terrier from Hell had wormed his way out of the box and was now trying to get out of the window. Thankfully, I lived in New York City for several years, and so the windows were only barely cracked open, despite the heat of the day.
"Aw, cute puppy." Buffy said, "What's her name?"
"Fluffikins," Connie said quickly. I staunchly repressed the urge to roll my eyes. The really sad thing was that Connie would actually be tempted to name some poor animal that.
"Actually," Rupert said, observing the terrier press itself against the window in an attempt to tunnel through the glass through sheer doggy will. "It appears to be male."
I'd noticed that too. Damn. "Well," I said, trying to act natural. "It's actually a really funny story...." I fought for one, I really did, but couldn't think one up. So I pulled a really under-handed move. "..and Jess tells the story *much* better than I do."
Jess gave me a nasty glare that promised retribution, and I had just a moment to regret my choice of action before she snapped out, "Val's vet is an idiot."
There was a pause, and then Connie noted lamely, "Well, you kinda had to be there, I guess."
"Ah," Rupert replied delicately. Thus ensued another long minute of uncomfortable silence. Finally, Rupert made a show of glancing at his watch. "Well, er, we really do need to be getting back to school to, er, return the equipment."
Relieved, everyone shook hands and scattered. Connie called shot-gun, and I had to sit in back to pin down Devil-Doggie, so that left Jess to drive. That put a fair amount of fear in my heart as I kissed my transmission good-bye.
Now, in most cases we would've started talking immediately about where to go now in our search for my niece, or even about how awful it was that teachers were taking advantage of their students. However, we were stopped in our verbal tracks by a comment from an unlikely source.
"Bitches," growled a voice that was so deep that it seemed to originate several feet below the pavement. It made Barry White sound like high soprano.
And it was coming right from our Devil-Doggie.