CHAPTER ONE: FOUR YEARS AGO
“No, absolutely not,” said Joyce Summers, hoping she said it with conviction. She poured herself another cup of coffee and waited for the inevitable to begin.
“But Mom,” Buffy continued, “this is our junior year of high school. Next year we’ll be seniors and then who knows what’s going to happen to us after graduation—Willow could go to M.I.T., Xander could go to . . . well, whatever school would take him. The point is that this may be the last chance we’ll have to really be together and bond, away from high school and this one-coffee-bar town. Don’t you remember what it was like when you were a teenager?”
“But that’s what I’m saying,” said Joyce, hoping her weakening resolve wasn’t showing. “Buffy, you’re not even seventeen. A trip halfway across the country, to a strange place, for a whole weekend. This isn’t like you’re going to a sleepover down the street.”
“C’mon Mom, I’m a big girl, remember? Willow and Xander will both be with me, so what could go wrong? And besides, Willow checked this place out on the Internet—she said it’s listed as like one of the safest ski resorts in the country.”
A small lie—Willow had checked out the ski resort on the Internet, but reported only that she had trouble finding much on it besides the gorgeous pictures on the resort’s own site. She kept talking, knowing that if she could keep it up just a little longer, her mother would cave.
“And really, how often do you win a free weekend of skiing, all expenses included?” Buffy had been surprised at her luck when her name came up at the Sunnydale High drawing. But it’s about damn time something good happened to me, she thought. Even better, Willow had won a ticket as well. The other two tickets were won by students they didn’t know very well, but that could be fixed.
“You’ve never even been skiing. I don’t think you’ve ever seen snow except on television. You might hate it,” said Joyce, with an abundance of parental concern. “Is there even going to be any snow this time of year?”
“It’s the mountains. It always snows, or they fake it, or something. I’m not really sure. But I’m sure it’ll be fun—kinda like ice skating, except different. And hey, if it’s boring, I’ll just sit in the warm lodge and ogle all the guys while sipping on hot cocoa.” They both smiled at this.
Joyce’s eyes sparkled—she had missed the obvious. “Well anyway honey, I know you really want to go, but of course I can’t let you miss two days of school. It’s simply impossible.”
“Got that covered,” Buffy replied, with a hint of triumph in her voice. She had found out about the resort yesterday, and had been strategizing since. Sixteen-plus years of practice was starting to pay off. “Friday is teacher in-service—only half a day of school. Monday is fall break, no school. We’ll leave at noon on Friday, spend Saturday and Sunday on the slopes, and Monday we’ll be back in plenty of time for school on Tuesday.”
Joyce chuckled to herself, realizing once again that her daughter had it all figured out. If only Buffy would join the debating club or something and put her skills to good use . . . Joyce still felt uneasy about letting her go. Spending a summer with her father was one thing—at least Joyce knew that she was being looked after. But a weekend without supervision, not even in the same state? I guess I’m just going to have to get used it, she thought to herself. Year after next she’ll leave for college, and then who knows what.
“But I want to know who you’re going with, how you’re going to get there, and I want you to call me every night.”
No matter how old she got, Buffy would always be her little girl.
“What’s the sitch?” asked Xander, as Buffy walked towards him and Willow. They were sitting on the bench out in front of Sunnydale High, where they always met before school. Around them, students milled about, dreading the first morning bell. The excitement of the first few weeks of a new school year had already worn off, and all that was left to look forward to were months of endless exams, quizzes, and assignments until winter vacation finally came.
“Mission accomplished,” replied Buffy.
“Did you have to pull out the stake and holy water?” teased Willow.
“Nope, just a lot of persuasion and maybe a little bit of guilt.”
“Guilt is good. Usually works with my parents too,” said Willow.
“Not for me,” Xander put in. “Then again, my folks disavow any responsibility for my existence.” His
thrift-store clothes and lopsided smile marked him out to other students as the prototypical slacker.
Willow and Buffy giggled.
Buffy looked at Xander. “And speaking of your continued existence, were you able to get your ticket?”
Although Willow and Buffy had won theirs in the contest, Xander would be left in Sunnydale unless he could convince one of the other two winners to sell or trade him their ticket.
Xander’s face showed an affected expression of wounded pride. “Well, of course. You’re talking to the Xan-Man, the knight of negotiation, the baron of bargaining, the prince of um . . .”
“Parley?” Willow said helpfully.
“Sure. Anyway, yes, of course I got the ticket. Josh Bailey will be spending yet another boring and/or life- threatening weekend in the Dead Zone, while I’ll be at beautiful Arctic Ridge, zooming down the slopes.” He fished the ticket out of his jeans pocket and read from the back of it. “Two full days and nights of skiing, free lift tickets, equipment rentals, and room reservations. Plus all the hot ski-bunnies a guy could ever ask for.”
“You never did tell me what you had to give him for it,” said Willow.
“Well, you see, there may have been a reason for that,” replied Xander. “I kind of had to promise him you would tutor him in trig for the rest of the semester.”
She leaned over and playfully punched him in the arm.
“Ow, what was that for?” said Xander, rubbing an imaginary bruise on his shoulder.
She punched him in the arm again harder and smiled. “And that one’s for asking.” She looked over at
Buffy and winked. “Everyone’s been saying I should be more assertive. I thought I’d start with Xander.”
Buffy smiled and looked at her watch. Another few minutes and classes would start.
“Great, then it’s all set,” she said. “This is going to be the best weekend ever. We’re just like the Three Musketeers, the Three Amigos, the
uh, the Marx Brothers.”
“Right,” said Willow, following up. “I’ll be Groucho, and Buffy can be Harpo.”
“Who does that leave me?” said Xander. “You get to be Karl,” said Willow, deadpan. Unfortunately, the crack flew right over both Buffy’s and
Just then, Willow remembered the conversation she had had with her father the night before. Although the plan was that they would borrow her dad’s car for the trip, he refused because he thought it wasn’t the kind of car to handle mountain roads. This left them without transportation, and possibly stranded in Sunnydale. Just as she was explaining this to her friends, their conversation was interrupted by a familiar, if not grating, voice nearby.
Queen Cordelia was holding court nearby, gesticulating wildly while holding a small piece of paper in her hand. “And so then I said ‘My God, that shirt is like so Leave It To Beaver. And even the Partridge boys would have rejected those pants as out-of-date. Can you get more disgusting?’ And then I think I actually saw him start to tear up. So anyway, I told him that if he gave me his ticket, I wouldn’t tell everyone how he was such a big loser.”
“But Cordelia, you are telling everyone,” said one of her friends.
“Excuse me, interrupt much?” Cordelia snapped. “Anyone can tell just by looking at him that he’s an inhabitant of Dweebville. So now all we have to do is find out which other three losers have tickets, get them, and I’ll pick which of you get to go on a fabulous ski vacation with me. Plus, my father said I could borrow his new SUV for the trip.”
Her friends’ faces lit up, and they began to gossip and look around to see who had the other tickets.
“Well,” said Buffy, looking at Willow and Xander. “Willow, if your dad won’t let us borrow his car, we’ll going to have to find alternative means of transport.”
“I agree completely,” said Willow.
They both looked at Xander. He looked at them, not comprehending, before he realized what they wanted. “You want me to try and talk the Ice Queen herself into letting us ride along with her?”
“Well, you are the—what was that Willow said? ‘The Prince of Parley’? Anyway, Cordelia despises me and mocks Willow. I’m sure that if the ‘Xan-Man’ can’t do it, then nobody can,” Buffy finished.
Xander shook his head slowly. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I’m not exactly number one on her ‘I-want- to-spend-a-weekend-with’ list either.” Xander hoped he was being sufficiently convincing—if either Willow or Buffy found out that he and Cordelia had kissed, he would never live it down.
“Xander, as much as Cordelia may dislike you, she despises us even more. You’re our only chance.”
“Okay, I’ll do it. One for all and all for one and all that . . . But I won’t like it.”
“Courage under fire, that’s our Xander,” said Willow, smiling.
“I’ll need some courage myself,” said Buffy. “I still have one last obstacle in my path, one last encounter to deal with before I can leave for Arctic Ridge in good conscience.”
“Evil blood-sucking vampires?” said Willow. “
“Undead, brain-eating zombies?” said Xander.
“Witches?” said Willow.
“Nope, Xander’s handling Cordelia,” joked Buffy. “No, my battle will be far worse. There is only one creature that can stand between me and a weekend of freedom from the Hellmouth. And its name is . . .” Buffy paused for effect.