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I'd never really been out of Sunnydale before, so I'd really been looking forward to getting out and seeing the world. I vowed not to go back until I'd set foot in every single state in the US. Maybe that goal was a little unrealistic, but not once did it occur to me that I wouldn't even make it out of the state. In fact, I didn't even make it two hours out of my hometown before my trip encountered its first disaster.

So, there I was, out in the middle of nowhere and the engine of my car was lying in the middle of the highway. My first instinct was to call it a trip, walk to town, and phone my dad to ask him to come get me. But I really didn't want to admit to him or anyone else that he was right about the fact that I couldn't even make it on my own for 24 hours. No, I was going to prove that I could handle things on my own. I'd get the car towed to the nearest town, find a job and work until I could pay for a car that didn't suffer from rust-induced leprosy.

Sounds simple enough, right?

And at first things just fell right in place.

My first break came as I was hauling the engine out of the road. It was obviously too big and heavy to just pick up, so I was trying to just push it. All I wanted was to get it out of the road so that no one would hit it. If I was lucky some auto salvager would buy it or something. Not that there would likely be too many people out there who would want an engine that had been dropped and run over, but maybe they could salvage something out of it. Besides, I could just imagine some idiot hitting the hunk of metal and then suing me for damages or something.

"Havin' some car trouble?" a man called to me as he pulled his truck over to the side of the road.

"Nah, I just figured I'd give the auto wreckers a hand," I replied, looking up as I heard him chuckling. I smiled as I spotted the fact that his wasn't just an ordinary truck. A tow-truck. The wheel of fortune was spinning my way for a change.

"Looks like yer the one who could use a hand," he smiled back at me, a wide toothy…rather *toothless** grin. I tried not to let it faze me as I saw that he was missing several teeth and the rest looked like they were on the verge of committing suicide.

The next several minutes were spent by the two of us doing back-breaking labor, but we managed to get the engine onto the back of the truck, and he got to work hooking up the rusty carcass to drag it back to town.

"Thanks," I extended my hand to him. "Mister…"

"Don't mention it," he replied, shaking my hand. "Now let's getcha into town and see what we can do fer ya."

I hopped into the cab of the truck, ignoring the fact that he hadn't taken the bait and told me his name. Then again, I hadn't told him mine, either. "Thanks for stopping, by the way," I tried again as he slid behind the wheel. "I'm Xander."

"James Robert Perkins," he replied. "Folks call me Jim-Bob." I stifled a grin. He certainly did look like a "Jim-Bob" if ever I'd seen one.

As it turned out, he was a stereotypical Jim-Bob in other respects as well. I think it's a prerequisite for Jim-Bobs to come from large close-knit families. As it turned out, this Jim-Bob was no exception to that rule.

"My brother owns a dealership just down the road a spot," he informed me as we pulled into Jim-Bob's Service Station. "I think you'll have better luck findin' a newer car than tryin' to fix this one." He smiled at me again. "I could give ya a lift if ya want."

I shook my head. "I don't think I can afford a new car yet. I don't have a whole lot of money." I had a few hundred, but I wanted to get something that would last a little longer than the sort of car one could purchase for a few hundred. I'd planned on working odd-jobs here and there on my trip so that I could stretch the money I had a bit farther, but that didn't help me right now. "I'm going to have to find a job or something to pay for it."

Jim-Bob nodded as he sized me up. "I just might be able to help ya there, too," he smiled.

"Really? That'd be great." Jim-Bob certainly was turning out to be the best thing that could have happened to me under the circumstances. "What do you want me to do? I don't really know a whole lot about cars, but I can certainly pump ga--"

"No, I'm afraid I don't really have any openin's here at the garage, but I do know that my brother is looking for some help right now."

A car salesman? Oh, Lord. On one hand it'd possibly get me a good discount, but…it just didn't really seem like the sort of job I'd be good at. I couldn't really imagine myself out there schmoozing for dollars. Besides, Oxnard didn't seem like a particularly huge town and I figured that I'd probably be working on commissions. Not exactly a high-paying job if there weren't enough car-buyers around. "Thanks again, but I don't think I'd be a very good car salesman…"

Jim-Bob laughed. "No, no, my other brother. He runs a club in town and he's looking for some kitchen help. Bussing tables and washing dishes. That sorta thing." He sized me up. "Yer 18, right?"

I nodded.

"Maybe you could even do some bartending then. Or he's always looking for talent."

Talent? I tried not to laugh thinking about the talent show that Snyder had forced me to be in my sophomore year. My acting debut as Oedipus hardly would earn me any stars on the walk of fame.

"It pays pertty good. I'm sure I could get him to take you on for a couple months. Pay's good and ya should be able to afford something reasonable by the end of the summer."

"Sounds great," I returned. "Where do I find your brother?"

"Why'n't you go get yerself a room and stop by a little later. I'll get somethin' set up fer ya."

I thanked him for what seemed like the hundredth time in the past hour.

"There's a hotel just up the street that should have a spot fer ya." He pointed up the road. "Take the second left and it's just down the block. Ya can see it from the corner."

I wondered briefly if another of his brothers might run that as well, but decided it would probably sound rude to ask, so I bit my tongue.

The hotel wasn't exactly the sort of place I wanted to spend the summer in, but it was cheap, and cheap was good. Well, cheap was good except for the roaches involved. Besides, the woman who ran the place was willing to give me a pretty good discount to pay for a month in advance. If miracles occurred and I managed to get enough money to get out of town before the month was up she would pro-rate me and refund the rest. But, I figured that probably wasn't going to be an issue anyway.

My room was kind of small and it was pretty dirty. On the other hand, my room at home was hardly immaculate, or huge, either. It would definitely do for a few months. Anything was better than going home and facing up to everyone that my summer excursion was a complete failure.

I unpacked my suitcase and went into the bathroom to wash up a little before heading back to the service station. My clothes were grimy and I was covered with grease and dirt. A little showering would probably help my chances of landing a job at the club.

It could be kind of fun working at a club. Music, dancing. Probably lots of ladies…it could end up being a really profitable summer after all. After all, it wasn't Sunnydale, so odds were a lot better that any women I hooked up with would be 100% human and would have a pulse.

Interlude One

"Does this story have a point?" Buffy breaks in to my tale of woe and horror. Okay, so the story is nowhere near the real woe and horror yet, but somehow I can't seem to get myself worked up enough to tell about that part.

"I'll get to that. I just…"

"You're just stalling for time."

"True. But there is a point."

"Does the point have anything whatsoever to do with you making me humiliate myself in front of Riley?"

I shrug. "Not really, but--"

Buffy turns and starts walking away from me, obviously still angry with me. I should have let her leave, but I really can't stand it when she's so upset.

"But it is a story that will humiliate me completely."

Buffy turns around, a slight smile tugging at the corner of her lips. She's trying not to let me know that she's starting to warm up to the idea of forgiving me already. "Okay, I'll give you ten more minutes."

Ten minutes. Okay, I'd have to work my way to that part of the story quickly. I just wasn't ready to skip to that yet. The best way to do it would be to tell one of the less embarrassing things first and work my way to the big one.

"I showered quickly and then tried to go out and get some clean clothes. The door had kind of swelled from the steam from the shower and it didn't want to open."

Buffy grins. "I can see the humiliation factor coming into this story."

"Oh no, not yet," I admit. "But it comes into play a little later."

"I get it," she rolls her eyes. "Foreshadowing, right? Skip it and just get on with the humiliation."

I roll my eyes. "Fine, don't let me tell my story." She held up her hands in mock surrender. "Okay, after a few minutes of panicking," I note her smirk at the thought, "and pulling at the door I managed to get it open and get out on my own."

"Talented guy."

"Are you going to let me get to the humiliation or not?"

"When you put it that way…"

"So, I finished getting dressed and headed back to the service station…"