image of women sitting in armchair writing

At Your Convenience

The first thing I did when they let me out at 2.23 on a Tuesday afternoon was feel the sun on my face. I just stood on the sidewalk for twenty minutes, my head tipped upwards towards the sky, feeling the heat heavy on my eyelids -- eyelids painted in silvery blue and my mouth stained red, because for the first time in a nearly a year I was allowed to wear make-up. Allowed. I followed the rules (mostly), I never spoke out of turn, I did what I was told, I washed that war-paint off my skin until my cheeks and eyes were puffy and I looked fifteen again. Not that I remember much of being fifteen - raised voices, strangers coming to the house in the middle of the night, and my Mom locking me in my room -- but I remember what I looked like back then. Dead inside.

Losing the prison threads and slipping into my leather pants and a favourite T-shirt felt like slipping into my own skin. Except... it was different, or I was different, or the world was skewed. I'd become too used to wearing old, coarse denim and that smooth, snug leather felt wrong, like I was playing dress up, pretending to be me. I mean, I'm not Faith the badass anymore but I'm not prisoner 43100 either. Maybe somebody can tell me who the hell I'm supposed to be now because I sure as shit don't know.

So I got out and I only looked back once at the fortress that I could've probably fought my way out of, if I'd had the balls and compulsion to do it. It was stark and grey and enormous in broad daylight, corseted in high voltage barbed wire fencing. The kind of place that soldier boy of B's could've worked if he'd chosen a career in a different government department. Heh. The girls inside would've flayed that blond piece of meat alive...

There was no sign of Angel or any of his motley crew and I had to admit I was a little disappointed. I guess I can understand his not being there, what with him turning into a flaming fireball in direct sunlight, but I thought maybe he'd send someone, maybe even that lady cop that he'd mentioned once or twice. But it was just me waiting on the sidewalk for nothing and no one, feeling the sun on my pale skin, looking like I hadn't seen the outside in years. My eyes weren't accustomed to the light; I kept having to shade them from the sun. I felt like one of those Western hostages that were occasionally released by terrorists in sun-baked, debris-ridden Middle Eastern countries, blinking in the sunlight at the world's media, bone-weary relief shining through their emaciated features.

Except that I didn't have TV crews and weeping relatives. Just articulated haulage trucks thundering past and dust swirling around my boots.

I waited for the bus to take me away from this place, where I'd spent a year and didn't feel any more redeemed at the end of it. If it's any consolation though, I didn't feel any more evil either. So I gotta wonder if there really is a place for in-betweeners like me. Jail didn't want me, the good guys didn't want me, fuck, even the bad guys wouldn't touch me now. I was distressed goods. Frayed around the edges, lost my groove, no sparkle in my eyes, no swing, no pep, no place to go. I'm a right hand gal without a body to be attached to. Or something.

But at that moment, I didn't want to think about this being a less than Faith-friendly world. I wanted ice cream, and popcorn, a Big Mac, sweet, fizzy Pepsi cola, pizza, anything, and everything that I'd been deprived of for an entire fucking year. Because, actually, when you have all that stuff, life is pretty good.

I was out, I was free. I repeated it over in my head, as if that mantra could awaken me from this dream.

****

Later that day, I had an appointment with my PO. He'd set me up with in a room in a shelter for former convicts, a temporary thing he insisted, until I got myself a job and a place of my own. There were rules, but not as many as in jail, so I could deal. I also had the room to myself. All that space just for me, without living under someone else. Without listening to their breathing at night, or their personal nightmares. I'd shared a cell with a chick called Trudie whose sister had been shot by a cop in a gang fight. So Trudie went after the cop and bagged herself a life sentence. I used to fall asleep to her ragged breaths as she played her sister's murder on loop in digital surround sound every night. It was gonna be weird to sleep for more than three hours at a stretch and not be woken by another person's screams.

But I wasn't aiming for sleep that night. I'd heard the thumping bassline from the club across the street and it made my blood burn in a way it hadn't for a long time. It didn't matter than I didn't recognise the music, it didn't matter whether I liked it or not. I just wanted to immerse myself in the beat, the flickering strobe lighting, and the press of strangers against me. So I changed my clothes -- industrial boots, black jeans and a barely there halter top. A smear of dark red lipstick and I was good to go.

I had no cash but I managed to sweet-talk my way in to the club. The chick on the door was obviously a dyke and she so wanted to jump my bones. I just smiled at her, making her think that she had a shot with me. I didn't care, I was back, and I'd flirt with Al fucking Gore if I felt like it.

It wasn't long before guys were queuing up to buy me drinks - tequila slammers, vodka, beer, shots of unknown origin. They were offering and I was taking. They wanted to talk to me, they were asking my name but I didn't want conversation, I just wanted to feel the beat vibrating under my feet. I left them and pushed my way onto the dancefloor, ignoring the sweaty hands that pawed at my back and waist. When I was dancing, just letting the music move me, it was like I was someone else, something more than a girl who couldn't hack it in the real world.

The lights were in my eyes, dazzling, and for a moment I couldn't see but they changed sequence and the crowded floor shifted and that was when I saw her. In a skirt that barely covered anything, her long, long legs gleaming under the lights. Her hair was different to the last time I saw her but back then I was too busy crushing my elbow into her face to think about her always immaculate hair. I'd thought briefly about taking her instead of Wes, tying her up, trying out those five main torture groups on her but I think even I wasn't fucked up enough to do over someone as beautiful as Cordelia.

It took a minute or two of me staring at her for her to notice me. She stopped dancing only for a moment. But in that moment I saw the fear, anger and finally indifference. She never had time for me, maybe because I was even more redundant in this world than her. Even without the money and status, she was still better than me, she had her visions and that made her noble in a way that I would never be, my moral ambiguities aside. I mean, who'd have thought that a beauty queen would turn out to be the heroic one amongst B's cartoon friends?

The last time I saw Angel - a visit so long ago that I can't even remember what month it was - he told me that Cordy suffered from these killer headaches, a nasty residual hangover courtesy of The Powers That Be. I guess she went way up in my estimation after that and looking at her now, hips swivelling and jutting sharply in time to the music, you'd never know that she suffered from anything except maxing out her credit card.

I kept trying to catch her eyes but she was being stubborn. So alcohol fuelling my courage, I just walked right up to her. "Hey."

She glared at me before glancing off the dancefloor towards the mirrored wall at the side. I followed her eyes to see Wesley talking to some giggling blonde chicks. Well, there was another change. "Since when did Wesley become a babe magnet?" I shouted above the music.

"I know!" Cordelia blurted then just as quickly remembered that she was supposed to hate me.

She continued dancing and I guess I was dancing in front of her, if not with her. I wondered if Angel was here but I doubted it. Then again, Wesley, queen of dorks was here hitting on girls. This was like some freaky alternate universe. And maybe it was the tequila talking but Cordy was looking damn hot with her hair like that. Her dark eyes were on me, watching and waiting for me to do... something. Maybe she expected me to punch her in the face. Her gaze flicked down to my chest. Then again... maybe not.

A smirk slid easily into place. "Buy you a drink?" I had no money but I'd get some dumb guy to buy it for me. I wanted to slide my fingers against hers oh-so-accidentally as I passed her the glass. I imagined the little look that would pass between us in that moment.

Instead, she stared at me like I'd slapped her. She was still, surrounded by moving, heaving bodies, at one point almost carried away in the crush but she stood her ground.

"Faith, in what dimension do you think I'd let you buy me drinks?"

She turned and within seconds I lost her in the crowd. I must've been drunk because it seemed like a good idea at the time to go after her. Craning my neck, I shoved past the sweaty bulks of bodies, catching a glimpse of her retreating back. Squeezing my way off the floor like a cork from a bottle, I saw her disappear into the ladies' restroom and followed her inside.

She stood at the mirror, teasing her hair with her fingertips, beside five other girls at various stages of reapplying make-up. When she saw me she frowned and headed for a cubicle. I cut her off at the chase and yanked her inside with me by the wrist, shutting the door and barring it with my back.

She pulled her hand free, rubbing her wrist. "Ow. Are you crazy? No, wait, forget that question." Even as the anger simmered on her face, her eyes returned to my chest. Seems she noticed that I wasn't wearing a bra.

Reaching behind me, I locked the door and brazenly took a step forward. "You sure you won't let me buy you a drink?"

"No," she said, her voice hard but her eyes gleaming.

"No? But you're gonna let me kiss you."

She made a disparaging noise from the back of her throat but there wasn't even a flinch from her when I pressed her up against the wall, next to crude drawings in black marker and spider-like graffiti declarations of love and lust and everything in between. Cordelia didn't struggle when I pinned her shoulders to the dirty wall and she didn't try to stop me when I kissed her, rough and hard. I almost thought I'd imagined the slight pressure of her hand on my breast but it was definitely there, hot and slightly damp, urging me on. Like I've ever needed encouragement around girls like her.

She raked her other hand through my hair, exposing my neck to the humid air that wafted through from the club. Her lips left mine abruptly and moved fleetingly across my skin, her breath raising goosebumps in its wake. My knee slipped between her legs, edging up her skirt to the top of her thighs. When she moaned in response I couldn't help but feel a little triumphant because I knew she didn't care about the impatient queue forming outside, just that my hand kept moving upwards as she breathed shallow and fast.

With hooded eyes I watched as she bit her lip, my fingers finding just the right spot, delving into warmth and that slick space. She shuddered and rolled her hips, pressing closer, her hand dropping to cover mine in a tight grip, guiding my movements. My thumb pushed and circled over her clit, dragging the nail over the hardened bundle of nerves.

Cordelia muffled her groan as she came, her mouth locking on my neck, and I felt the dampness of spittle on my skin, and the briefest touch of her tongue.

I pulled back, a grin on my lips, wondering how she was going to repay me, but she was already smoothing her skirt down her hips. I watched her move her thumb under her lip, wiping away a smudge of lipstick. She was going to go home and shower away the thought of me just as quickly.

When she left the cubicle, I slumped against the wall, feeling like I'd been trampled under her spiked heels. Damn, if she wasn't even better than me at this game.

****

That was the first night I saw her at the club. But the second time she sought me out as much as I looked for her in the crowd. She'd touched my hip and said that she didn't normally go for this kind of stuff. And as I licked the colour from her lips, she whispered that she wasn't like me, even as her hand slid down my stomach and made me weak at the knees. Yeah, Cordelia Chase could make my legs shake like a pneumatic drill. Not even B at her most self-righteous made me feel this small, or this guilty, or this good.

The third time I sneaked her into the shelter to fuck her against the closet, the rattle of the coathangers drowning out her rapid, muffled groans. The fourth night she took me back to her apartment. She didn't tell me about the ghost until after he'd attacked me with cutlery ...

By the tenth night we laid in her bed, tangled in expensive sheets -- well, they were luxurious compared to what I was used to -- with me wrapped around her long, perfect body. I knew I was already addicted to the scent of her, the slope of her back, the way that little river of sweat would collect in the small of her back, saturating her tattoo when I dragged my tongue over the ridges of her spine.

I didn't stop to consider why she was doing this, why she was letting me do this to her. Maybe she was just playing out a fantasy, because the script never changed. We found each other in that club, we left, and we fucked. Sometimes we stayed and fucked. But I knew that when I laid next to her, she didn't wonder what I was thinking. Afterwards she didn't want me to touch her, or even acknowledge her. And every time that happened I felt that she took a small piece of me away with her.

She never asked me to leave, but she didn't have to. The sheets were cold long before I left. I didn't torture myself over what she doesn't feel for me because I didn't want to make that mistake again. I didn't let myself become angry because Cordelia only wanted me on her terms. I didn't care that she wouldn't tell her friends. Been there, got the T-shirt but this time I was gonna handle it the right way. At least she let me touch her. B never would.

Well, I never said I wasn't still fucked up, did I?

The End