Dawn walked through the bustling hallway of Trillium High, sandwiched between two of her friends. All three of them seemed to buzz with anticipation and more than a little self-involvement as they took up over half the available space in the hall but continued to walk side-by-side.
"This is gonna be so cool," Virginia enthused. She was by far the smallest of the three and her exuberance was making her jittery, like she'd had too much caffeine.
Meghan was much heartier than her friend and naturally inclined to being laid back. Still, she too was excited as she agreed, "Way cool. The last slumber party I went to, Theresa's mother decided she needed to, like, live her second childhood through us. I swear she was practically regressing before my eyes. Very mid-life crisis. And also lame," she added with great conviction.
"No danger of that here," assured Dawn. "Willow and Xander haven't quite hit the need to regress yet. Then I consider Xander and his love of cartoons and think that maybe it's because they never grew up."
"Oh, do you think Brad Watkins and his friends are gonna crash?" asked Virginia, unable to keep her hands still as she spoke and nearly dropping her books as a consequence. "I heard they crashed Lisa Ferguson's party and were total lame-o's, with dead fish and making spooky noises and stuff outside." She rolled her eyes dramatically. "Hello? Creativity counts!"
"I don't think so," Dawn replied. "I doubt they ever know about it."
Virginia's face fell. "Oh." She immediately brightened as she asked, "Can we tell 'em?"
"Well I for one think we can do without," declared Meghan. "Who needs a bunch of sex-starved muscleheads gawking through windows, trying to catch a glimpse of us in our underwear?" Virginia seemed very much like she did, but remained silent anyway. "We've got us, a DVD player, pizza money, an empty house and all night. The perfect ingredients for fun and teenaged girl hijinks." She paused for a moment and then flashed a proud smile at the others. "I've been trying to work 'hijinks' into a sentence for three days, go me."
"That's my goal," Dawn said with a firm nod. "Although less with the hijinks if I don't want to get turned into a toad or something." When she noticed the others staring at her with an odd expression, she hastily corrected herself. "Grounded. I mean grounded. But yes, fun for all. Large with the fun."
Still pouting a little, Virginia glanced at her friends. "Not even a little bit of gawking?" she asked hopefully.
On the grounds in front of an impressively large house, Giles handed several bills to the well-dressed man across from him. A chest was resting on the ground next to them, only one of many items that covered the area. Several people were milling about, browsing carefully or being helped by individuals scattered in strategic locations around the merchandise.
"This chest is truly a work of art," the man said, placing the money in a bag he was carrying with him. "I know you'll be happy with it."
Giles admired the chest, taking in the elaborate carvings that decorated its surface "Yes, it's quite lovely," he agreed appreciatively. "And just about the right size to hold broadswords."
Regarding Giles strangely for a moment, the man seemed about to say something, but then thought better of it. Instead, he turned his attention back to the chest.
"Miss Ashley carved the designs herself. She was quite phenomenally gifted. In fact, she created many of the items available today," he gestured around him. "We're selling several of her paintings as well if you'd like to take a look."
"No, thank you," Giles declined, putting his wallet back into the inner pocket of his jacket. "I don't really have the wall space available. However I did notice them earlier, and they are indeed beautiful. I'm surprised that her family is parting with so many personal items."
The estate agent didn't find that strange at all. "Miss Ashley didn't really have any family left," he explained. "Her parents both died in car accident about ten years ago. It was only Miss Ashley and her younger sister, Lydia. But the two never got along. After Miss Ashley unexpectedly fell ill, Miss Lydia made arrangements for home care and then all but disappeared. That was a little over a year ago."
"If it's not too forward to ask, what did Ms. Buchanan die from?"
"Well that's the thing, no one could ever find out," the man replied. "Miss Lydia made sure that her sister got the best care possible and saw doctors from around the world, but nobody could ever pinpoint what was wrong. Miss Ashley just slipped into a coma and never woke up again." He shook his head ruefully. "Such a shame. She would have been 27 this year."
"Interesting. And the sister, Lydia? You say she disappeared?" Giles' curiosity was definitely peaked.
"Not literally," he elaborated, "but she may as well have. She would contact us regularly to check on Miss Ashley and make sure that she was being cared for, but when she left town, to the best of my knowledge she never came back."
Frowning, the Watcher pressed for more information. "Nobody found that rather ...suspicious?"
The man leaned closer to Giles, who followed suit. "Well yes, actually," he answered. "I've known them for years, since their parents died. As I said, they never got along. Lydia hated Ashley. Personally, I think it was jealousy," confided the agent. "Ashley ...she had so much talent. She excelled at practically everything she did. Painting, dancing, even the few sports she tried. You name it, Ashley could do it, and like she'd been doing it her whole life. Lydia simply couldn't compete."
He thought about his statement and then amended, "Except for singing. Miss Lydia had a beautiful voice. She was actually giving serious consideration to singing professionally." He chuckled mostly to himself at a memory. "Ashley's voice could make your ears bleed." He glanced at Giles again and shrugged. "But nobody could ever find out what was wrong with Miss Ashley, let alone that it was Miss Lydia's fault. One of those great unsolved mysteries, I suppose."
The conspiracy talk over, both men straightened as the agent turned to Giles' purchase. "Sort of like this chest. We never found the key, who knows what's in it?"
Smiling warmly, Giles replied, "Yes, but that's half the attraction. I'm afraid it won't fit in my car." He smirked. "There's barely room enough for me. If you wouldn't mind holding it here, I'll send someone along later today to collect it."
"Oh sure, no problem," They shook hands and Giles turned to leave. He stopped and turned back as the agent called out, "Hey, if you find anything interesting in there, let me know. I've been wondering what's in this thing for a week."
Giles nodded and regarded the chest for a minute before heading back towards his car. "Yes, quite the mystery," he said to himself.