The Fragile, Part 1

(by, 13 November 1999)

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The Fragile
Part 1 of 2

    Dad had taken a break from vacuuming the rugs. He'd pulled them out of 
the Outback to clean them while she sat half-on the passenger seat, smoking 
and reading.        
    "Dad, why can't I help ?"
    "Because you're studying- and I know that you won't do this again between 
now and when Mom and I get back from Florida."
    Pandora put the novel down and turned to her Dad just before her snapped 
on the vacuum again.
    "I really wish that you and Mom could wait until after Thanksgiving to go 
down to Florida."
    "We could. But I have that week long seminar at University of South 
Florida just before, and we'd be moving down just a week later anyway. You 
know how Mom hates to fly- and with all the shit that's been going on 
recently there is no way I could get her in a plane twice in a month. And I'm 
getting old. All those years of playing lacrosse have caught up with me. I'll 
be glad to go get in the heat, and if it makes Mom happy..."
    "You'd rather listen to me complain for a few hours about Thanksgiving 
than Mom complain for months, right ?"
    She tapped the ash off her cigarette and drew deeply on it. Arching her 
head back, she blew smoke high into the air and the wind tore it apart 
    "It's not like I wouldn't gladly fly you down, hon."
    "I know, Dad. You might have the money, but I don't have the time. As it 
is, I'll barely get my independent study done by Christmas. At the same time 
I wish you and Mom were staying for the holiday, I also feel mildly guilty 
about not coming down."
    "Well, two things we'll forgive you for- your schoolwork, and if you 
couldn't come because you had a boyfriend."
    It wasn't even an hint. Dad wasn't that way. As a writer, he wasn't that 
wasteful of his words. 
    "Oh Dad, if started dating I'd just be having sex all the time, and you 
know how Mom would feel about that-"
    "Well, we wouldn't tell her-"
    Pandora laughed, then pulled deeply on her cigarette. She exhaled a long 
sweat stream of smoke.
    "Mom would know anyway. She'd, I don't know, she'd smell it. You know 
her. But you'd better hurry. I have to drop you at the airport in an hour-"
    From where he was, Quinn couldn't hear their conversation. All he could 
see was the young blonde with her legs hanging out of the car, a book in her 
right hand, a cigarette in her left. She was unselfconciously smoking in 
front of her father and talking in an easy relaxed way. He was jogging by, 
unusually slow, and the truth was he was intentionally looking her way 
because he'd seen her outside the house before- so many times.
    She was attractive as all hell. And when she smoked, she had a certain 
look that turned Quinn on in a major way. It was a `good girl doing something 
bad' look. Not that smoking was really bad, but, well, she had these very 
conservative dark rimmed glasses, long wavy hair and a penchant for 
turtlenecks and dress shirts that gave her that librarian look. 
    He was watching her through the trees on the edge of the property, pretty 
easy now that the wind had torn the leaves from the trees. She looked up, met 
his eyes, and waved cheerily with the hand holding the cigarette.
    He nearly ran into her mailbox as her tried at once to acknowledge her 
with a smile but look away quickly enough to avoid the impression that her 
was staring at her, and keep on his course. He dodged the box more out of 
luck than skill and didn't dare another look back, his heart suddenly racing 
a mile a minute. God, that was stupid, he thought to himself.
    But she had been smiling through her exhale as she waved, hadn't she been 
    He thought that she was.

    Quinn hated the grocery store. It was his own fault for coming down so 
close to eight, when people were trying to squeeze in beer purchases before 
the state-imposed deadline, but if he missed the opening of Buffy, he was 
going to be pissed as all hell. He was fairly running through the store with 
the box of frozen fish and a bag with two onion buns. Not a great dinner, but 
one of his favourites.
    Just as he went to squeeze through shopping carts to the express aisle, 
he was cut off by a shortish blonde in shorts with great legs and a familiar 
looking turtleneck.
    He realised that it was her, the girl from earlier today. She had been 
moving as quickly as him and the attempt to cut him off was intentional, but 
she turned to him, paid him a perfect smile, and started to say `Sorry.'
    When she saw it was him, she allowed the smile on her face to linger 
    "Sorry to cut in front of you like that but I'm in an hurry. Buffy's on 
in a few-"
    "I know," he said, trying his damnedest to sound mildly disinterested. 
Not pulling it off, he added. "So am I."
    "Are you taping it ?"
    "No," he said, realising that since he had two vcrs it was mildly stupid 
that he hadn't thought to do that.
    "Well, we aren't getting out of her before eight."
    He saw that she was right. There was only one woman in front of them, 
with nine items, but she had a coupon for all of them, and she was currently 
arguing about the price that had run up on the Hamburger Helper.
    She was waving her checkbook around like a weapon. "It said 2.39 on the 
display and I'm not paying 2.48. Where's your goddamned manager ?" The 
checkout girl sighed and ran her bell. Her shrill "Price check on four" told 
them everything they needed to know about how she felt.
    "And you're going to have to wait for me, because I need a pack of 
cigarettes, and that takes forever."
    He looked at what she had in the way of purchases- two bags of his 
favourite chips, Salt and Vinegar- and a two litre bottle of Diet Coke.
    Quinn was in love.
    "Why don't you come over and catch the part you missed after Angel ?"
    "I don't think so," Quinn said, and immediately he felt his head, 
checking for a recent wound which might explain the completely wrong answer 
which had come out of his mouth.
    Of course, this was part of the game. If she was really interested-
    Well, if she was really interested, she was probably insane, and he'd 
given up dating head cases in high school but-
    If she was serious, she would push the point. She pushed the point.
    "Come on. You have fish, I have chips- and I have beer at home. And I 
never bite on the first date."
    Date. Did she say date ?
    He found himself able to say yes the second time.
    Pandora was right about the time. It was almost ten after when he 
finished checking out and she was waiting for him, standing just outside the 
store, smoking the first cigarette from the pack of Marlboro Lights 100s she 
had bought. 
    "Not that you don't know where I live, but why don't you follow me home ?"
    He considered his options, realised there wasn't any, that whether she 
was going to share a little television with him or kill and eat him, he was 
powerless to say no to her. The male of the species had li mited options 
after all.
    "You really don't mind if I smoke ?" she asked. 
    "Why would I ?" he asked innocently.
    "Well, I did see you out running earlier-"
    He smiled. "I don't mind. Really. I'm not some kind of health-nut freak, 
you know." He pointed out their upcoming dinner of fried fish sandwiches and 
potato chips and smiled. 
    "Well, that mailbox you tried to eat wasn't very nutritious, either."
    "You saw that ?"
    "I see you running every day. I kind of watch for you."
    "Why's that ?" he asked.
    "Because you're cute. And because I see the way you look at the house 
when you run by- like you're hoping to see something."
    Pandora lit her cigarette and just then Willow was nearly hit by a car. 
Pandora screamed and instinctively lunged into Quinn's unexpecting arms. He 
smiled at her as Willow was pulled out of traffic by some extra.
    Smoke was trailing out of her mouth as he looked down at her and he had 
the overwhelming urge to sink past her blue-grey eyes, slip inside the wild 
range of her blonde hair, and kiss her. It was as though the desire came from 
somewhere outside himself, somewhere that momentarily froze him in a scary 
place. But he couldn't stay there.
    Her lips parted and she spoke, smoke still trailing from between them.
    "Do it."

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