A Buffy the Vampire Slayer story by Mer
Some days- fall when a cool wind
rattled the sycamores and paper cups whirled along
swooping concrete curbs, I built us a dream house
of nearly naked rooms and windows
streaked blue with summer rain.
- from Dark Land of Desire by Sheila Black
Xander dreamed in houses. It was a sign of overwork, too many hours huddled over blueprints and whiteprints and CAD machines.
He did developments because they paid the rent, houses born like litters of kitten with their shaded windows like eyes still shut. He built malls like rambling country estates and squat office buildings named for whatever natural feature they'd bulldozed in to make the parking lot. But it was the single houses that invaded his dreams. Impractical, uneconomical one-offs that were a labor of love.
Somebody else's love, of course. Somebody else's sagging old camp on the unfashionable side of the lake, needing bathrooms and winterproofing, plugs for the teenagers' computers and stairs to the attic whose ladder was long lost. Somebody else's old Victorian in a bad neighborhood needing hardwood floors and three colors of paint. Xander picked green and cream and lavender, the colors of the new twenties. It came to him in a dream.
Xander liked picking up the pieces of old, broken things and putting them back together. Underbid the contracts if he had to, doing the job for not much more than expenses and beer money, despite what he knew Anya would have said.
But it was the new houses that appeared in his dreams. Rich lawyers and doctors came and wanted mini-mansions, wanted custom-this and hand-that, wanted a house that was unique, just like everybody else. Which is just what they got. Bathtubs like swimming pools and tiny cramped showers they actually used. Huge cathedral hallways when they never came in the front door.
It made no sense that it should be these that haunted him, but Xander had given up expecting the important stuff to make sense. In his dreams he walked through empty rooms, sliding on golden blond slick smooth wood, smelling new paint and sawdust and sunshine.
Dreams don't come true, Xander knew that, and so it was raining, of course, the Sunday he finally gave in to the urge and drove out to the latest without his crew. The siding was late and the upstairs was still wrapped in Tyvek like a giant envelope all ready to mail. Still, the inside was warmer that it ought to be, with rain sheeting down the yellow-stickered windows until even his truck was no more than a red blur seen through blue. Xander stretched out in the luxury tub, still with its price tag, to wait out the rain.
"You shouldn't sleep in the tub. You'll drown, and there will be crying and unpleasant floral arrangements."
"There's no water," Xander explained. "It's not even hooked up yet."
Anya shook her head stubbornly. "It's still not a good habit to get into. What kind of example will it set for the children?"
"We don't have children!"
"Of course not. We don't even have a tub to bathe them in yet. Xander, be sensible."
Xander laughed. "What are we doing here anyway? Aren't you supposed to haunt, you know, old houses?"
Anya looked at him as if he were difficient. "Only if it's your old house. I like these. They're full of modern conveniences and the sign of a successful businessman."
Her hand on his felt like a sunbeam. "Besides, they're one hundred percent ghost free. I don't like sharing you with anyone."
"You know it's not mine, right? I have to have it ready for the Hagersens by next Friday."
Anya smiled. "It's okay. I'll be in the next one."
"Not that I'm complaining," Xander asked, "but how come you get to move around so much? I thought ghosts got pretty much the one space and that's it."
Anya leaned over, and Xander swore he could feel the gentle pressure of her lips on his eyepatch, even though that was impossible for any number of reasons. "We do."