Chp 41 Soul Mate
Business as Usual
“It’s a very pretty ring!” Agnes peered at Anya’s finger, which wasn’t difficult as it was waving vigorously right under her nose. She always felt a little nervous when Anya came round to the tearooms. Although the ex-demon had kept her secret for a long time, Agnes was well aware that the girl liked to talk – a lot – and as dear Richard had often said, “Careless Talk Costs Lives”, although Agnes was fairly sure that hadn’t been an original saying of his, although, of course, she wouldn’t have dreamed of telling him.
“I’ve had it for ages. Been longing to wear it – I thought it would cheer everyone up. I mean, when someone is very happy, it makes you happy in return, doesn’t it? But Xander didn’t want me to – ” She frowned for a second, as if remembering a time when she had been completely independent and doing what a man wanted would have been unthinkable. “But I did. Because I love him!” she finished brightly.
Agnes poured herself a second cup of tea. She liked Anya – the ex-demon often dropped into the tearooms to chat – but she was just a little tiring. “I thought you’d be very busy in the Magic Box, what with Hallowe’en almost on us.”
Anya greedily licked the topping off a currant bun. “Oooh, cinnamon sugar! Well, Giles is back from England. You know, Rupert Giles – Buffy’s Watcher. He used to own The Magic Box but he gave it to me when Buffy died. Now he’s back because she’s back – and between you and me, I think it’s a little unfair to Xander and the others to ignore them while she’s gone and then, wham, she’s back and so there he is again, but anyway, he can’t have The Magic Box. It’s mine. I’ve got the papers to prove it. I must admit he’s useful, though. The customers like it when he speaks English at them. I expect you find that in here, don’t you? I mean, it’s so quaint when you say biscuits instead of cookies and sweets instead of candies!”
Agnes – who tried hard, but knew the occasional smidgeon of a Hampshire accent crept into her voice - smiled politely.
“Your Mr Giles has been in for tea,” she said. “But he didn’t pay me a lot of attention, so I don’t think he knows what I am. I didn’t speak so he didn’t realise I am English. But I must admit, I was a little alarmed the other day,” she continued. “I brought your muffins and cakes round, as usual, and found the Slayer working in your shop! Naturally, I didn’t come in.”
She shuddered as she recalled opening the door, the bell ringing, and seeing Buffy Summers striding towards her. “Is she going to work there every day? I mean, you know your own clientele better than me, but I can think of several of your customers who would be horrified to find they were being served by the Slayer when they just dropped in for some little harmless charm or potion.”
Anya pulled a face. “Oh I know! I would lose so much money! That was just an experiment. It only lasted one day. Buffy’s dreadful with customers.” She twisted her finger again so the ring sparkled, hesitated, then said, “Agnes - do you think it matters that Xander bought my ring in a shop?”
Agnes frowned. She knew exactly what the girl meant. Engagement rings in the demon world were usually fought for – a battle that involved a lot of blood, weapons, teeth and the removal of limbs, tentacles and fangs. They came carrying their own properties – luck, wealth, a life that lasted longer than a year – some even came with three wishes included, but they were very rare and had to be handled with great care.
“That’s the problem you have being fully human now,” she said gently. “You can’t wear a demon ring.”
Anya sighed, ate the last piece of Chelsea bun and eyed a plate of gingerbread men that Agnes had just taken out of the oven. She picked one up and nipped off its head.
“I know,” she mumbled through a mouthful of hot crumbs. “And I don’t regret being human – except – oh, a demon ring would have made me feel so more secure about the whole marriage thing.”
“But Xander loves you. And you love him, don’t you? He’s your soul mate.”
Anya nodded violently. “Oh yes he is, and I’d never tell him about the ring. I mean, it’s a beautiful diamond and I love it. Only – “ she sighed. “I’m sorry, Agnes, I don’t expect you to understand.” She giggled. “I mean, I don’t suppose anyone’s ever offered you an engagement ring!”
Agnes poured herself another cup of tea, from her favourite brown pot – tea tasted so much better when brewed in that – and smiled…..
……she hadn’t known what to wear for her dinner date with Richard Wilkins III. She possessed very few clothes; somehow the shops in Hollywood didn’t stock the same things that Marks and Spencer and C & A did back home. She’d tried to find a new twinset, but it was so difficult to window shop when you couldn’t go out in daylight.
Agnes had flirted with the idea of a cocktail dress, but somehow she wasn’t cocktail shaped and even “a little black dress” which all the magazines told you was what you could always rely on in an emergency, would need shoes with a slightly higher heel than her sensible brogues. (She often wondered why she’d been buried wearing them, but was eternally grateful to whoever decided these things that she had woken up wearing her best shoes and not her Clarks sandals which were the ones she’d been wearing when – well, that had happened on a dinner date, too, but she wouldn’t think about that now.
So when Richard arrived in his limousine to pick her up from her funny dark room at the back of a Chinese restaurant, she was wearing her best flowered summer dress and a white cardigan, because even though she no longer felt the cold, she knew Los Angeles' restaurants were chilly and she didn’t want to start shivering in front of him, because it might give him the wrong idea.
Unfortunately, she was fairly certain that Richard already had all the wrong ideas. The large bouquets of roses that arrived regularly, the boxes of chocolates filled with blood – and Agnes would never know how he got human blood inside chocolate creams! – trips to the theatre, lunches, dinners, and what was even more unnerving, the feeling she had that wherever she went, someone was watching over her.
Occasionally – it happened to every vampire, Agnes had discovered – you found yourself in an awkward situation where eating was concerned. Usually when you were trying to have a nice snack of some sort. The person involved took exception to what you were doing and there would be a disagreement, sometimes a scuffle, and often a dusting.
Agnes had got used to pig blood but, and she was honest enough to admit it, nothing tasted as good as a hot human. But she did find the actual hunting and eating bit extremely difficult. She always felt she had to apologise first and that gave the meal time to get away or fight back!
Since Agnes had met Richard Wilkins III, she’d realised that her life had become far easier. Only the other evening, a terrified young man had almost thrown himself into her path, baring his wrists for her. When she had finished and thanked him, he’d moaned that anything was better than what he’d been told would happen to him if he refused to comply.
Richard had made it quite plain that he had big plans for this evening. Agnes had tried to back out of the date, but Richard Wilkins wasn’t the sort of thing you stood up easily.
Well, as she settled herself in her chair, she steeled herself for a difficult time. She had to admit that the empty restaurant on top of a skyscraper – she wondered if it had a bad reputation as there were no other customers – had a wonderful night-time view of Los Angeles.
The meal was extremely good; the chef’s slices of rare beef spread with mustard, rolled round a blood pate and simmered in a light pig blood sauce, was delightful. Agnes ate with appreciation, keeping her eyes firmly on her plate. She had two reasons for doing this, of course. One, she couldn’t catch Richard’s too warm gaze and Two, she didn’t have to look at his meal that refused to stay still on his plate.
But, as she had guessed, there was no way she was going to avoid having a serious conversation with her host.
“Now Agnes, stop fiddling with your spoon and listen to me.”
“Dear Richard – please don’t – ”
“Agnes, I am a widower, I have ample means and a good social life. But Agnes, I’m a lonely man. I have no children – oh, how I’d have loved a daughter, but that was not to be. What I need is a wife. We get on so well, Agnes. We agree about so many things. You could live anywhere you liked - I have houses and apartments all over America - indulge yourself, take up a nice hobby – pottery, watercolours. I also think a nice hobby is such a plus for a woman, don’t you.”
He sighed. “I haven’t got time for a hobby myself, although I think I could get quite interested in golf.” He looked hopefully across the table at the English vampire. “I don’t suppose you would care to take up golf, would you?”
Agnes bit her lip. She had been brought up not to contradict a gentleman but really, Richard should have more sense that to suggest such an outdoor, sunshiny game to a vampire. “No, Richard, I do not think I would find golf interesting! And please, don’t say any more because – “
But Richard Wilkins III wasn’t listening. He usually didn’t when people were saying something he didn’t want to hear. Instead he pulled a small box out of his pocket and opening it, offered it across the table to Agnes. “Here! This is your ring, Agnes. I want you to do me the honour of becoming my wife. Mrs Richard Wilkins III.”
Agnes hadn’t meant to touch the ring: she’d meant to say something kind and complimentary as she turned him down, because as thrilling as a proposal was, at any age, she did not love Richard Wilkins and she knew that she could only marry someone who was her soul mate.
She frowned for a second or two because she didn’t quite understand how not having a soul changed that belief, but Agnes had secretly read Barbara Cartland novels when she was a teenager and knew without a doubt that Love Would Conquer All in the end.
But – it was an engagement ring! Being offered to her, Agnes Pringle, who no one had ever loved. And before the kind words of refusal could be spoken, she had taken the box and touched the ring.
The shock ran through her body, jolting her in her seat. A foul smell filled her nose, images crashed inside her head. The stone was a ruby, carved in the shape of a rose. It was stunning, beautiful, the most wonderful ring she had ever seen. But as she touched it, she saw in a flash all who had died for Richard to win it. Humans, demons, vampires, things that had no name and no place in this world. All had been extinguished from their lives so that she could put this on her finger.
From a distance she heard Richard’s warm, cheerful voice. “It comes with eternal life, Agnes. No Slayer will ever kill you. I thought you deserved that. I’m a great believer in eternal life. So, when do you reckon we should plan our wedding? What about Hallowe’en? “
Agnes flung the ring onto the table, pushed back her chair and stood up. It wasn’t the horrors that had upset her so much; it was the temptation she’d felt to give in, embrace it all, take what Richard was offering. She felt humiliated; she’d believed she was a nicer person than that. But obviously she wasn’t.
He looked up startled and with a flash of clarity, she knew that he did love her and that hurt her even more. Trying not to be sick, she fled from the table, pushing past Richard’s guards and throwing herself into an elevator, praying she could get out before Richard came after her. She was only thankful that she had enough dollar bills tucked into the elastic of her bra to pay for a taxi. Lessons learned when young and Unturned could prove useful years later when you became a vampire!
She had left Hollywood the same night; taking nothing with her except a suitcase and the money from her pink piggy-bank. She knew she dare not stay; Richard thwarted would not be an easy man to deal with. She only hoped he would want to forget about her as soon as possible; that he would feel she wasn’t worth chasing.
Agnes hadn’t even thought about where she was running to; she caught the first Greyhound leaving the bus station, not even looking where it was going – the sign on the front read Sunnydale - all stops….
“No, I’ve never been engaged,” she said now to Anya and there was something in her voice that made even self-centred Anya glance up in concern.
“Oh, I didn’t mean – I just thought - anyway, Agnes, what I wanted to ask was, will you do the catering for my wedding and make the cake for me?”
Agnes beamed with pleasure. “I’d be delighted! You must let me know exactly what you’d like.”
Anya sighed. She knew what her guests would enjoy, but knew the Harris clan would find that inedible. So hopefully Agnes could make a cake with tiers made from different ingredients.
And after she had left, Agnes sat for a long while, sipping cold tea and wondering if she could reproduce the rare slices of beef, spread with mustard, wrapped round blood pate and simmered in pig’s blood. It would make such a good dish.
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