Joss stepped out of his air-conditioned office into the heavy air of the Hollywood evening. December heat. He shook his car keys. Be good to get the air going in the car. He stopped and rubbed his eyes; heíd been up since four that morning and they felt sticky. Better be careful on the freeway, with the holiday traffic. He hoped heíd gotten the right present for the wife, he was still in the doghouse for working this week, but heíd had some catching up to do.
He settled into the low-slung leather seat and cranked the air; the CD in the player started up, blasting a live Grateful Dead recording. David was always trying to foist The Dead on him. He turned it down, trying to remember when he had put that CD in the player. He thought about Christmas again, and felt a little twinge. It really had been too long. His therapist had said that the brooding was worse than the moment of clarity, and he knew he should just go ahead and call Betty and get it over with, but he was still chicken.
It had been a good meeting this week. Joss preferred phone conferences with David. Whenever they had meetings with David, Jossís wife always found an excuse to visit the studio, like a lot of the wives. Wives of lawyers, girlfriends of executives and producers would wander in and out of his office, shooting little glances and worrying about coffee, which he had a secretary to deliver.
It wouldnít have bothered him so much, but the guy was so damned wholesome. Married to an Irish social worker. Not at all your run-of-the-mill deranged actor. David was solid. Heíd smile radiantly at the wives, who tried not to giggle, flashing his deadly smile with all the good nature of guy who had no idea how good-looking he was. That was what hurt the most. The least David could do was act a little arrogant once in a while.
The phone rang.
"Yeah?" he said, craning his head foreword to see down the street before he pulled out of the gate.
"Hey," it was Jan, his secretary.
"Something weird just came in...I think youíd better see it,"
"Iím already off the lot,"
"Sorry. I wouldnít tell you if it didnít look....important,"
True. He sighed.
"Well...sure. Youíd better go home. You can take a look at it in the morning,"
Damn, she was good at that. The most benignly manipulative person heíd ever met. Thank the Gods she worked for him. He looked briefly in his rear view mirror and pulled an extremely illegal U-turn, heading back to the gate.
"Iím on my way,"
"See you in a minute,"
Joss scowled at the package.
"Why donít we call security?" said Jan.
"No...thereís something...familiar about this. I donít know what it is,"
"I shouldnít have called you back here,"
"Yes, you should have. Itís just eerie, thatís all. I need to think about this,"
"Do you want me to hang out?"
"No....itís Christmas Eve...you go home,"
"Yeah," Joss stared at the small plain-wrapped package with "Open Xmas Eve" scrawled on it. The weirdest part: postmarked 1978, but clearly addressed to him in faded ink.
He picked it up, hearing a small rattle that sent chills through him. It sounded exactly like a small silver bracelet, snaking underneath the cotton pad in the dark of the box, winding itís way somehow through twenty years and coming to rest here on his desk like a miniature demon cobra.
Joss turned on the lights in his inner office and took the box with him, closing the door behind him. Here, surrounded by storyboards and drawings and stacks of scripts, he felt safer. He plunked down in front of his computer and turned it on. He placed the box on the keyboard and leaned back in his chair.
Should he e-mail Betty? Just write a rough draft and then call? Damn, this bugged him. And the wife would hate him being late tonight. He was gone all the time as it was. He needed to call her. He picked up the phone and dialed home.
"Hi, where are you?"
"Iím still at the office,"
"We did say nine, right?"
"Yes, Iím sorry,"
He heard her inhale, and breath slowly out her nostrils, trying not to sigh.
"Iím sorry, Iím finishing up, I promise,"
"Yeah. OK," she was so easily resigned these days.
"Give me a half an hour,"
"Yup. OK, see you," she hung up.
He leaned foreword and rested his head in his hands, rubbing his face in them. Something would have to give.
He opened a new document on the computer and started on overdue homework from his therapist.
Itís been twenty years and this apology is incredibly late, but I owe it to you..."
Wait, he thought, am I just making it because I owe it? He deleted that part.
Itís been twenty years and this apology is incredibly late, but I need to make it."
Now what? Where to begin? He leaned back in his chair again. He looked at the box. He picked up the box and rattled it. Goosebumps crawled over him. He set it down and closed his eyes. They stung. He opened his eyes and stared at a storyboard drawing of Buffy wielding a battle ax. He found himself blinking; the drawing went in and out of focus. Joss stirred a little in his comfortable chair as sleep slipped over him.
"Up!" chirped a familiar voice, and Joss leaped in shock, jamming his knees into his desk and wincing. He looked up. Sarah, in costume, stood in frontof his desk, holding a large black flashlight. He staggered to his feet.
"Sarah...itís Christmas Eve!" He grunted. She fixed him with her enormous eyes.
"Joss, letís get with the program. Weíve got a lot to do tonight and I am not in the mood for denial. Iím Buffy, and you know it. Letís get moving,"
She sighed and planted her hands on her hips.
"Iím so hoping you donít make me do anything Iíll feel bad about,"
"Wait...whatís the joke? Why would you-"
The flashlight poked him gently in the gut. He bent foreword, more afraid than injured.
"Now, I really donít want this to hurt. And weíre short on time. So hereís the overview: weíre going on a tour. You are coming, you are not arguing, you are getting a grip. Keep your hands, feet, denials, petty complaints and angst inside the ride at all times. Ready?"
Fog, like some cheap stage effect, began to bloom at her feet. She held out her hand to him.
"Címon, Joss, I donít want to be late with this. Giles will have a cow,"
"But I-" The flashlight swept along his temple, just grazing him.
She seized him by the arm with the strength of several large men and pulled him into the fog.
"BUFFY. Iím Buffy. Iím a character you brought forth, but youíd better not tick me off. Youíd better respect me and what weíre about to do. Iím going to make you an offer you canít refuse,"