The Kitten, the Witches and the Bad Wardrobe - Willow & Tara Forever

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 Post subject: Constants - Chapter 6
PostPosted: Wed Sep 17, 2008 10:18 pm 
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6. Sassy Eggs
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Joined: Mon Aug 18, 2008 7:44 am
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***
PART 6
***

Tara blinked up at the darkening sky. She shifted uncomfortably when she realized she was lying on her back, and heard the squeak of rubber beneath her. She was sprawled out on a pool chair, wearing a one-piece swimsuit with a pair of cotton shorts tied loosely above her hips. She didn’t remember falling asleep, just enjoying the warmth of the sun on her face, what felt like seconds ago. Sitting, Tara rubbed at her aching neck, and winced when the skin of her flexed elbow flared with pain. How long had she slept? Tara guessed from the sun’s location that it was nearly six, which meant she’d conked out for a solid two hours. Her usually cream colored arms and legs were a bright pink, and the tops of her ears itched. She glanced pensively at the unused tube of sunscreen that she’d carried down with her, then forgotten. Tara wriggled her nose, and touched a tentative finger to its tip, finding it tender as well.

“Well, great,” she muttered to herself. “That’s what you get for sitting inside reading and painting all summer: pasty, easily burnable whiteness.” Tara stood unsteadily and made her way to the pool, dipping in a toe to test its temperature. She stripped off her shorts and eased into the cool water, gasping when it reached her knees, and again when it soaked into her suit. When she was waist deep, she took a full breath and plunged under, pushing off the bottom step and gliding just below the surface toward the deeper end. The noisy chatter of the crickets and cicadas was immediately drowned out by water rushing past her ears, and for a moment, Tara simply enjoyed the sensations of being underwater. She stopped kicking and floated, her body gently buoyed to the surface by the water, then rolled and began a lazy back crawl, traversing the pool while gazing at the dim, starless heavens.

Tara loved swimming. Hannah, her only friend in high school, had been on the school’s two-member swim team, and so she found herself often sitting by the local pool where she practiced. At first, Tara would park herself in a deck chair and read, making conversation whenever Hannah completed a lap at her end of the pool, but eventually her friend had lured her into the water, and Tara had been part fish ever since. She enjoyed the feelings of weightlessness when she was in the pool; it centered her, soothed her, and gave her peace of mind. Planing through the water, she could block out all of her daily stressors, and focus only the things that brought her comfort: memories of her mother, Donny as a baby, her painting, the garden, and the old sycamore tree that in the yard behind the hose in Laurel, its lowest branches dipping just enough to be used as a handhold. She remembered sitting in the tree, with her back pressed against the rough bark of its trunk and a book closed in her lap, watching her father play with Donny in the yard. Back when he was happy—back when her mother was alive.

When she reached the far end of pool for the sixth time, Tara caught movement at the edge of her vision. A bearded man in khaki shorts, sandals, and a tee shirt that barely contained his bulging gut was swinging the gate open and entering the pool area. “Miss, pool closes in five minutes,” he stated, when he saw he had her attention. Tara nodded and pushed off of the wall, stroking through the water toward the side of the pool where her towel and clothing lay. She clung to the edge while watching the man circle the pool, gathering leftover towels and debris, and when she was certain his attention was not on her, Tara swung herself up out of the water. She banged her shin on the corner, wincing at both the impact and the tender skin, then quickly hobbled over to the chair and wrapped herself in an oversized beach towel.

~*~

A mile away, in another pool, Buffy Summers surfaced gracefully, standing in the shallow water and sweeping her damp hair behind her shoulders. The collective intake of breath from the nearby boys was audible, and it wasn’t lost on Buffy. She was quite aware of the effect she had on boys; they’d been turning their heads and leaving a trail of drool since sixth grade. By high school, she’d had a queue of suitors, and she diplomatically shot each and every one down. Sure, she loved the attention, but Buffy didn’t want to get too attached to anyone; she didn’t have a lot of free time during the field hockey season, and wanted to be able to spend it on her own terms, without worrying about another person. And besides, none of the boys that were wooing her made her feel much of anything in return. Then, she met Liam.

Liam Whelan was an enigma. Three years her senior, the brooding upperclassman took an instant interest in Buffy, and a spark was finally lit under the girl. They’d dated for three years—a passionate, urgent union, which Buffy had hidden from her mother—before the real demon in Liam became apparent. Always moody, the senior had grown even more distant, and when Buffy tried to close the gap, Liam had lashed out; sharp, hurtful things were said, which even today still rung in Buffy’s ears. In the cold spell following a particularly vicious argument, they’d broken up, and Liam, having graduated two years earlier, simply vanished from the girl’s life altogether.

The boys’ reactions to her friend did not go unnoticed by Willow, either. Sitting at the edge of the pool, with a pair of olive capris bunched at her knees and bare feet dangling in the water, she looked up from her book just in time to catch the swiveling heads and whisperings that passed among the group of students bobbing behind Buffy. Despite her earlier comments about picking up a boyfriend, Willow knew all too well how the scene would play out: one of the young men, spurred on by his companions and cocksure from his high school conquests, would paddle over to the blonde and say something witty, charming, or self-effacing. Then, Buffy, apparently dead set in her decision to stay single forever, and tired of boys who thought a gentle let down was merely the first step in the long dance of courtship, would turn him aside with a blunt, firm, “Don’t bother; I’m not interested.”

Willow had witnessed first-hand the devastation Liam’s actions had wreaked upon Buffy. As her closest friend, it had fallen upon Willow to console her, to cheer her up, to keep her social life afloat, instead of holing up in her room. Many tears had been shed during their senior year, but while Willow hoped that she never again had to help her friend through such heartbreak, she felt that Buffy’s avoidance of men altogether was folly. How would she ever be happy if she systematically shot down all attempts at love before they could even get off the ground?

She felt bad for the boys, as well; they didn’t know that they were lining themselves up to crash and burn. Willow had borne her fair share of rejection; she knew what it felt like to learn that the object of your affection was in no uncertain terms not interested. Okay, so maybe she’d never exactly acted upon her feelings, or made them known to her crushes by any means, but with the way they had looked right past her, Willow had held few doubts about what the results of such a display would have been. And besides, she’d known Xander Harris, the self-proclaimed Rejection Magnet, long enough to have experienced the effects of unrequited attraction second-hand. Willow didn’t want to see anybody’s hopes shattered this evening, and so, recognizing that only awkwardness lay ahead, she decided to defuse the situation before it became ugly.

“Hey, Buffy!” she hollered.

When the blonde turned toward Willow’s voice, a small tidal wave of water, delivered by a sure-footed kick, splashed her directly in the face. After a brief fit of coughing and sputtering, Buffy, failing to recognize her friend’s offering as the act of goodwill that it was, leveled a dangerous glare at Willow.

“You are so gonna’ get it…”

With two powerful strokes, Buffy reached the edge of the pool and hoisted herself out of the water. Willow scrambled back with a yelp, dropping her book and retreating to the opposite side of a pool chair. A crowd of onlookers gathered as the girls circled the chair, and when Buffy finally leapt straight over the obstacle, Willow narrowly evaded her lunge and darted for the far side of the pool. While weaving around the plastic tables, the redhead first tried to defend her actions, then resorted to pleading for her friend to call a truce. Eventually, a group of boys—some of whom Willow recognized as belonging to the group whose egos she had generously preserved—formed a wall, effectively barring her escape route and allowing Buffy to grab her about the waist from behind. With grim determination, the blonde carried a struggling, squealing Willow to the pool’s edge, then unceremoniously dumped her, fully clothed, into the water.

~*~

“Hey,” Tara greeted her brother as she swung the apartment door closed behind her. “Anything good on?”

Donny was sprawled out on the couch, watching a documentary on television. As Tara stepped closer, she saw on the screen what looked like a weasel standing on its hind legs, while several others rooted around nearby. When Donny didn’t reply, she navigated around the sofa and stood just within his field of vision. Her head cocked inquisitively to one side as she took in a minute of the program. Two of the furry animals began tussling while the one remained standing erect. “Is that weasel the…referee?” she finally asked.

“They’re meerkats,” her brother replied, glancing at Tara for a moment, then returning his attention to the show. “That one’s acting as a lookout for predators while the others look for food.”

“Huh.” Tara sat down on the edge of the couch. “What do they eat?”

“I don’t know; bugs and stuff, I guess?” Donny looked at his sister once more, then did a double take. “Whoa, what happened to you?”

“Oh,” Tara examined her singed skin, pushing the pad of her thumb into the red patch just above her knee. “I sort of fell asleep by the pool this afternoon; I guess I didn’t have much of a base. But the water’s really nice.” When she pulled her hand away, a perfect white oval remained, but it quickly succumbed to the redness.

“Yeowch,” Donny said, making a face. His gaze drifting back to the television, where a meerkat was tangling with a nasty-looking snake, while frenetic tribal drumming was added to make the scene seem all the more gripping. The siblings watched the program quietly for several heartbeats, before Tara again broke the silence.

“Are you hungry, at all? I stopped at the store, so there’s all sorts of things in the kitchen.”

“Nah, not really. I kind of snacked when I got home.” When Donny realized his sister wasn’t going anywhere without a conversation, he stretched an arm out for the remote, and muted the program. “How was work?”

“It was good.” Tara thought back to her morning at the diner. The gorgeous redhead—‘Now she’s “gorgeous”?’ she thought. ‘What happened to just “adorable”?’—and her friend had talked with her. Willow had understood Tara’s odd sense of humor. She had said Tara’s store recommendation was “perfect.” She had maybe feasibly possibly conceivably had a dream about Tara. “It was really good!” she amended.

She had reached out and touched Tara’s arm. Surely it was just her imagination, or maybe the sunburn, but Tara thought she could still feel her skin tingling where the Willow’s fingers had brushed her wrist. It had been a gesture of comfort; the girl had realized Tara thought she’d put her foot in her mouth, and was merely seeking to reassure her that all was well. But that touch…

And the day’s surprises hadn’t ended there. “Oh! I, um, I sort of got invited to a party.”

For the first time that evening, Donny’s interest was piqued. “What? That’s awesome! Who invited you to a party?”

“My coworker, Faith.”

“When is it?”

“Next Friday.”

From the thrilled look on Donny’s face, anyone would have thought it was he who had been invited to the party. When he thought through the logistics of it, however, his excitement waned. “Uh, Tara, I don’t think Papa’s gonna want you to go out to a party…”

“Yeah…” Tara had considered this, as well. “He, um—he won’t find out…if you help me.”

Donny’s eyes widened. Tara had never been one to break the rules; little things here and there, like the trip to the ice cream parlor, but never anything so big. Even the suggestion was unprecedented. “What do you mean?”

“Chances are he’ll be out late on Friday, right? It’s only a problem if he gets back before I do. If you can stay awake until he gets in, and call this phone number as soon as he does—“ Tara produced a Post-it note with Faith’s cell phone number jotted down on it. “—I can hurry home. It shouldn’t take me but a few minutes, since it’s just up the street. We’ll say that I had to make an emergency trip to the pharmacy; he won’t ask any more questions about that.”

“Why would you have to make an emergency trip to the phar—oh. Never mind.” The boy held up his hand to keep his sister from answering. “You’ll need to, uh—“

“Already taken care of.” Tara smiled. She looked at her brother hopefully. “So, are you in?”

Donny let out a long breath, craning his head back onto the arm of the sofa. “Guuuh. This is a really bad idea. But, yeah, I’m in.”

“Thank you!” Tara launched herself at Donny, pulling the boy into a tight hug, out of which he half-heartedly tried to wriggle free. She pulled back, her hands resting upon his shoulders, and looked at him seriously. “Really, thank you, Donny. I—I really need to get out of here for an evening. And Faith seems really nice; she said she would help me make some friends around here.”

“Sounds cool.”

Tara picked up on the subtle undertones, and decided to broach the subject tentatively. “How’s, uh—how’s school going?”

“Fine.”

“Actually fine, or ‘I wish my sister would stop being so nosy’ fine?”

Donny rolled his eyes. “It’s okay. I don’t really talk to many people, I guess. The work’s fine. I mean, I’m doing all right with my classes. I don’t think my math teacher understands probability.”

Tara’s brow furrowed. “I don’t think I understand probability,” she admitted.

Donny sat up straight and cleared some magazines off the coffee table, making space for an imaginary example. “Say you’re on a game show, okay? You get ten green discs and ten red discs, and there are two identical boxes with lids. The host asks you to put the twenty discs into the two boxes in any manner you choose. Then, they blindfold you and move the boxes around so you can’t tell which is which. You must reach into either box and pull out a disc. If it’s green, you win a car or something. If it’s red, you lose. So how do you put the discs in the boxes to give you the best chance at winning?”

As her brother rattled off the set up, Tara became increasingly befuddled, so that by the time he reached the question, she was thoroughly lost. “Um, all the green ones in one box; all the red ones in the other?” she guessed.

“How often would you win, if you did that?”

“You don’t know which box is which?”

“Right. You pick randomly.”

“Well, you’d pick the green box half the time then, right?”

“Exactly,” Donny verified. “If you do that, you win half the time.”

“So is that the answer?”

“Well, what happens if you move some of the greens from the one box into the one with all the reds?”

“I—I don’t know. You still win if you pick the green one, but if you pick the other one it’s up in the air; maybe you win, and maybe you lose?”

“Yes!” Donny nodded triumphantly, as though he’d just proven an important point. “You win half the time outright, and then the other half of the time you might still win. So you win more than half of the time, right?”

“I guess so, yeah. Because there’s greens in the red box, now.”

“Exactly. My math teacher doesn’t get that. She says you can’t get better than a 50% chance. We argued about it for fifteen minutes.”

Tara blinked. “Now my skin and my head hurt.”

“Sorry,” Donny chuckled.

“You feel like watching a movie?”

“Hm. What movie?”

“Let’s see what’s on.” Tara retrieved the remote from the table where Donny had placed it, and began flipping through the channels. “Ooh, have you seen ‘The Sting?’”

“Un uh.” Donny saw the details for the movie scroll up on the screen. “Ew, made in nineteen seventy-three? No, thanks.”

“Trust me: you’ll love it!” Tara promised.

~*~

“Hey, don’t you play innocent victim with me,” Buffy challenged. “You earned your dousing fair and square.”

A grumpy and bedraggled Willow harrumphed. She was sitting on a pool chair, wrapped in both her own towel and Buffy’s. Her damp hair hung in crimson tendrils; some were still plastered to her face and neck.

“Excuse me?” Both girls turned at the sound of a voice, and found a familiar blond boy standing nearby, a book clutched nervously in his hands. When he saw he had their attention, he stepped forward, offering the book to Willow. “Uh, you dropped this, back there by the pool.”

Willow accepted it gratefully. “Thanks so much. Hey, don’t you work at that diner on Route One?”

The boy beamed, surprised that anybody would remember him. “Sure do! I’m Andrew.”

Buffy’s eyes widened. “Hey, weren’t you the one who spilled—“

“So!” Willow interjected hastily. “You’re a student here?”

Andrew nodded proudly. “That’s right. I’ll be the first in my family to go to college. Well, I guess my brother Tucker went to college, but only for a couple weeks. There were, uh, incidents.”

“Wait, Tucker Wells?” Buffy asked. “They told us about this during my tour; didn’t he release a pack of wild—“

“There were incidents,” Andrew repeated.

“So, um, don’t take this the wrong way,” Willow said, “but how can you be a student here? Aren’t you…I don’t know, a little young?”

“I’m sixteen,” Andrew stated, defensively. “I started early, and got moved ahead a grade.” His tone was not boastful, but deflated, and Willow wondered how much the age difference had made school difficult for the boy.

“So you’re sixteen years old, a college freshman, and working?” Buffy counted the items off on her fingers. “Boy do I ever feel like an underachiever. You two are going to give me a complex. Come on, let me redeem some of my pride; I’ll bet I can out-ice-cream you both.” She nodded toward the tables that University staff had set up, upon which sundae ingredients lay.

Willow and Andrew exchanged a look of solidarity, then turned on Buffy. “Oh, you’re on,” they said in unison.

Forty-five minutes later, Buffy and Andrew sat at a nearby table while Willow tossed and turned in a pool chair, moaning and clutching her belly. Buffy seemed amused, but the boy still shuddered at the grim spectacle he’d just witnessed. “I thought she was bluffing,” he admitted, the tone of his voice somewhere between awe, admiration, and horror.

“So Andrew, which classes are you going to be taking?” Buffy asked.

Andrew ticked off his courses on his fingers. “General Astronomy, Object-Oriented Programming, Calculus I, Mechanics and Particle Dynamics, the Freshman Honors Colloquium and, um, WMST200.”

“Isn’t that a women’s studies class?”

Andrew shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Uh, so which are you taking?” he asked, leaving the question unanswered.

Buffy tried to remember her schedule. “Some human development class, Intro to Criminology, Intro to Dance, Psych 100, and, uh—“

Willow hiccoughed, then groaned when the spasm shook her over-full tummy. Andrew looked at the redhead worriedly. “Should we take her to the health center? Or a hospital, maybe?”

Buffy dismissed her ailing friend with a wave of her hand. “She’ll be fine. Believe me, this isn’t the first time she’s come out the surprise victor in a sweets-stuffing contest. Oh! Mythology of Ancient World Civilizations; taught by, get this, Dr. Rupert Giles.”

“Whoa, you’re in Dr. Giles’ class?” Andrew’s eyebrows rose high on his forehead.

“Yeah.” Buffy’s eyes narrowed dubiously. “Why?”

“Haven’t you heard about him?”

“No. Heard what?”

“A few years ago, he went on a camping trip with his wife and daughter, I guess? So, something happened, and they both mysteriously disappeared. They say he went a little crazy, claiming all sorts of things about a weird creature in the woods taking them. Everyone thought he must have killed them, but they couldn’t ever find the evidence to prove it.”

“A weird creature?” Buffy asked skeptically.

“The guy’s a total psycho, if you ask me,” Andrew remarked.

“Will, how come the Internet didn’t say our teacher was crazy? Shouldn’t there be stars for that?”

Willow eased onto her stomach, taking a sharp breath as the pressure in her abdomen shifted. “Probably because it didn’t happen,” she replied. “It’s most likely an urban legend, just like that haunted house they talked about during Overnight Stay.”

“No, it’s true,” Andrew insisted. “Tucker told me so.”

There was a moment of silence, during which both girls considered the reliability of Andrew’s source, but neither was willing to voice her objection. Finally, Willow shifted tracks. “So, Andrew, how do you like working at the diner?”

“Meh.” The boy shrugged. “It’s not too bad; you know: waiting tables is waiting tables. I will say it’s nice to have extra spending money, though. You like the food there?”

“It’s really good, actually. Excellent spanikopita. Oh, that reminds me: we were talking about the paintings, today. You know, the ones on the wall, there? I was wondering if you knew where the owner bought them?”

“He didn’t. One of the waitresses made them. Tara Maclay. She brought them in a couple days ago.”

Willow gaped. “Tara painted those?” Even Buffy looked impressed.

“Yup. She said she brought ‘em from home, and didn’t have room for them in her apartment or something.”

“That’s…wow. Does she paint often?”

“I really don’t know,” Andrew replied apologetically. “She just started working there a week ago, a couple days after me, in fact. I’m pretty sure she just moved here.”

“Oh, right, she mentioned that. Wait, is she a student at College Park, too?” Willow frowned. “You know, I didn’t even think to ask her, when we mentioned that we were. That would have been polite.”

Andrew shook his head. “She’s not. Her dad got a job somewhere in the area, I think, so they moved here.”

Willow added this tidbit of information to her mental list of Things Tara, which she hadn’t even realized she was keeping. She was still dazzled by the notion that the marvelous paintings had been created by their bashful, stuttering waitress. 'Of course!’ she thought, as the piece of a puzzle that’d been bothering her fell easily into place. ‘That smile.’ Remembering how Tara had given her a crooked smile when she’d made the lemonade joke, Willow now realized that the woman in the painting had the same quirky expression. ‘The same crystal blue eyes, too. There is so much genuine caring in those eyes—‘ She paused in her thoughts. ‘Huh. I guess I remember what her eyes look like.’

“You think she’d sell any of her paintings?” Buffy asked.

Willow snapped out of her internal monologue. “Buffy!” she sputtered, clearly shocked at the suggestion.

“What?” the blonde asked. “I was just asking; you said you wanted some paintings, and now we know a painter.”

Willow was stuck. She couldn’t very well argue with Buffy’s logic, yet she couldn’t explain her feelings, either. Somehow, she just knew that anything Tara painted would be special; it would hold some kind of sentimental value to the girl, some piece of her heart. The thought of anybody asking to purchase them, as though they were nothing more than merchandise, felt…cheap.

“I couldn’t say,” Andrew responded. “Honestly, we haven’t talked much; it’s been really busy at the diner with all the students moving in, and Tara…” He shrugged. “Well, she’s pretty quiet. She kind of keeps to herself, most of the time.”

“Well, of course she does,” Willow exclaimed, as a thought dawned upon her. “She just moved here, and she probably doesn’t know anyone at all. Buffy, we should ask her to come to the Magic Box with us!”

“Aww,” Andrew cooed. “Um, I don’t really know anyone here, either,” he hinted.

Buffy, noting her friend’s enthusiasm, reminded her, “We were going to go Tuesday morning; she might have to work, then.”

“She does work Tuesday, until four, I think,” Andrew acknowledged. “Although, I’ve got Tuesday morning off…”

“So, we can plan to go in the evening, then,” Willow decided.

“Sounds like a plan,” Buffy agreed. Andrew sighed in disappointment.

“Well, now that I’m not about to detonate in a burst of ice cream and sprinkles, maybe we should head back to the dorms? My clothes smell like chlorine, and it’s gonna start making me dizzy if I don’t hop in the shower.”

“Yeah, good call,” Buffy said. “I’m just about pooled out. Really nice to meet you, Andrew.”

The three said their good-byes, and the two girls departed, following the sidewalk around the recreation center, then the dining hall. When the reached the south side of the quad, they split to return to their respective dormitories.

Alone at last, Willow reflected upon her suggestion to invite Tara along to the shop. She hadn’t really given it much thought; the idea had appeared in her head, and she’d just blurted it out. But now that she had the time to consider it, she wondered whether it had been a good idea. After all, Buffy had known her long enough to read Willow’s deepest secrets like an open book, and Willow was certain she wasn’t ready for Buffy to know what she was having trouble admitting even to herself: that she kind of sort of maybe had a crush on Tara Maclay.

~*~

“Tare. Hey, Tara.” Donny nudged his sister’s shoulder, and her eyes fluttered open. “Welcome back to the world of the living,” he quipped.

Tara opened her mouth to reply, but all that came out was an unexpected yawn. She covered it with the back of her hand, sitting up straight and stretching her back, as well. “Mrr. Whattimesit?” she murmured, still groggy from her nap.

“It’s not even eight thirty,” her brother answered. “You’re tired today, huh?”

“I didn’t sleep well,” Tara explained. “Uh, actually, I hardly slept at all, just an hour or so.”

“Guh. Go to bed,” Donny instructed, appalled. Tara stood unsteadily, and took a step toward the kitchen to turn off the lights, but her brother blocked her way. “I’ll get ‘em. Go, go, go.” He began to usher her down the hallway, but Tara held up her hand.

“I’ll actually sleep out here, if you don’t mind me taking over the common room,” she said. “It’s where I finally fell asleep last night, so…maybe it’ll work, again.”

“Okay, that’s fine. I was gonna read for a bit, so it’s all yours.” Donny shut off the TV and the moved about the apartment, turning off all the lights. “G’night, Tare,” he said, before shuffling down the hallway to the bedroom.

“Goodnight, Donny. Sweet dreams.”

Unlike the previous night, sleep came swiftly for Tara. One moment she was listening to click of the floor lamp in the bedroom she shared with Donny, and the rustling of the covers as he crawled into bed, and the next moment she was roused from a deep slumber by the jangle of keys in the apartment door’s lock. The handle shook, and she heard the keys clatter to the ground outside the door. Muffled curses wafted in from the outer hallway. On the second attempt, the door swung open. With her eyes still closed, but her body suddenly very alert, Tara listened to her father mutter to himself as he plodded into the apartment. Usually, he’d stumble down the hallway and collapse into bed; sometimes, he’d beeline for the bathroom. Today, he did neither. After closing the door behind him, Tara hadn’t heard him move but three steps from the entryway, eight feet away from where she lay. She was afraid to look; an acrid taste pooled in her mouth when she realized he was standing there watching her sleep.

Her heart thudded painfully when he took the first step toward the couch, his feet dragging over the carpet. She could hear his labored breath, undoubtedly smelling of salt and liquor. He paused again when he reached the sofa, while Tara’s mind screamed, ‘Go to bed! Go!’ Her fingernails dug into her palms, leaving a series of crescent indentations. She couldn’t restrain a whimper when his weight on the cushion tipped her head back against his leg. She stiffened when his fingers brushed strands of hair from her damp forehead. He leaned over her, the rank scent of spirits and loneliness heavy in his voice. “You’re so beautiful…” ‘Goddess, no—‘ “…Help me, Helen.” By the time his rough, callused fingers skimmed the sun-kissed skin at the hem of her shorts, Tara was elsewhere, breathing in the scents of crisp lavender and pungent wormwood in her flower garden.


Last edited by jasmydae on Sun Nov 16, 2008 11:33 am, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: Sep 18, 2008
PostPosted: Wed Sep 17, 2008 10:59 pm 
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32. Kisses and Gay Love
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Ok so up 'till the end this was a really great update, I mean we got Willow realising her crush, or sort of, her thinking of asking Tara to come to the magic box with buffy and her, then Donnie and Tara actually having a talk and all... (by the way I love probability)

But in the end? Wow. I mean it is good for the plot and stuff (have been there myself héhéhé), but poor Tara. She has to be her mother for her brother's sanity and all, but now her father mistakes her for her mother and it is awful. Stupid drunk man.

Now I can't wait to read the next chapter! :-D


Friendly,

Julia.

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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: Sep 18, 2008
PostPosted: Thu Sep 18, 2008 5:31 am 
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Yay for good update-y goodness... Good that Willow realized that she has some feelings for Tara and got the information that Tara is indeed a painter... I really really hope that Tara's dad very soon realises that it's Tara not her mother he's feeling... and it doesn't happen ever again...

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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: Sep 18, 2008
PostPosted: Thu Sep 18, 2008 1:20 pm 
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crush..crush...crush... :blush :blush

more please..can't wait for W/T :wtkiss

:kgeek RC


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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: Sep 18, 2008
PostPosted: Sun Sep 21, 2008 1:28 am 
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Wow!

There are just so many levels being introduced in this update, no wonder it was a long chapter.

Again, I'm enthralled by the amount of detail you put in without it ever detracting from the flow of the narrative. Andrew, for instance, more than likely a minor character in your tale, has been fleshed out to the point that after his interaction with Willow and Buffy, that I felt a little sorry for him.

I also loved the glimpse of what drives Willow in the sense of being the protector of all those whom Buffy rejects.

Then there is Tara. I find myself more intrigued by her and her situation as each update arrives.

I find myself concentrating on the events at the end of the chapter, not surprising really, as it overshadows everything else that went before. If there was any doubt about Tara's reaction to Father's touch earlier, then things are very clear now.

This subject matter has been alluded to before, in that it was part of her past, but I don't remember any fic that addresses it as part of the ongoing story, so I'm very interested to see how you handle it.

Fabulous update, I loved every word.

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People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built. Eleanor Roosevelt


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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: Sep 18, 2008
PostPosted: Sun Sep 21, 2008 4:09 pm 
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Wow, did this chapter pack a wallop. I like what you've revealed about both characters. The setup for Willow and Oz's eventual breakup is setting up well. I loved the revelation of her crush. Nice to see she isn't as clueless to her own feelings as she seemed to be on the show. Her feelings about buying Tara's paintings was also very deep. I'll be interested to see how this part of the story will unfold.

The end was very sad and disturbing. I'm hopeful with the others that he will either realize his mistake, or else pass out. Poor Tara. Way too much to carry for someone so young.

I've enjoyed this story very much so far and continue to be impressed by your attention to detail.


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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: Sep 18, 2008
PostPosted: Sun Sep 28, 2008 11:44 pm 
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I just wanted to say that I think this fic is ace!
You've got the charactors pegged and the story line's wonderful.
Poor Tara, I was sacred for her!
Please update soon. Can't wait to read it.
Xx Rachel Xx

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Be safe. Be happy. XxXxXx

Wishing Peace, light and love to everyone.
Tara: 'Can we just skip it? Can, can you just be kissing me now?'
Tara: 'I am you know' Willow: 'What?' Tara 'yours'


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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: Sep 18, 2008
PostPosted: Mon Sep 29, 2008 3:49 am 
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This fic Rocks, You've captured the charicters well They have the same personalitys as on the show. I also like Donnie he's so much nicer than he is depicted in the original and Tara seems like the big sister type.
hope to see more fic soon

:peace -Me


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 Post subject: Constants - Chapter 6 Feedback
PostPosted: Mon Sep 29, 2008 8:25 am 
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JujuDeRoussie: yeah, believe it or not, the teacher's inability to comprehend probability? Really happened. My eight grade teacher just didn't get it. She tried to teach it one day, and half of the class argued with her the whole period, and then the next day we were on to the next chapter. What an awful class that was! Be warned: if you found the end of chapter 6 hard to read, chapter 7 will be even worse. :( The good news? I've crammed all the pre-meeting scenes into this chapter, which means chapter *eight* will be the beginning of Tara and Willow hanging out a lot more :)

Zampsa1975: Firstly, thanks for commenting on every chapter I've posted; your words are wonderful fuel for the creative fire. This next chapter is the longest yet, and I'm still thinking about the story pretty much every waking moment, thanks in large part to the terrific feedback. Sadly, the abuse Tara is enduring from her father is--as is often the case--not a result of the drinking, although that surely doesn't help. I'll give you the same warning as Juju: there's some rather difficult scenes in chapter seven.

arsyadriani: Oh, hi! Thanks for the feedback. Aren't crushes just the awesomest things? Um, well, particularly mutual crushes. Of the lesbian variety. *le sigh* Believe me, I can't wait for them to get together, either, but it's a pretty slow moving story (this means it'll be a long one, though!!). I can promise there will be lots of Willowy Tara goodness in chapters eight and nine, when I get around to writing them.

Paint the Sky: Yeah, the chapters do seem to be getting longer, don't they? Sorry for the long delay on this one; I've had it sketched out on paper for the last week, but haven't had much time in front of the compy. I work for one of the American mortgage GSEs that just went into conservatorship, so my work hours have increased substantially. I promise my heart's totally in the story, though, and that I won't disappear and leave the story hanging for months at a time. One of the first things I did when planning the story was to write down all the Buffy characters I wanted to include, and to give each of them something relevant to the story arc, so that they wouldn't be throw-away characters. I'm glad you were able to read into what was going on with Tara and her father; I feared, at first that I'd made the scene sound like it was just a drunken mistake, and not a long-running pattern of abuse. It is definitely the latter, and yes, this is why Tara is to uncomfortable with her father's touch in earlier chapters. Fabulous comments, I loved every word. ;)

ophelia11: Love the icon! Scary! Lots more of everything in this next chapter: more wallop, more character revelations, more willow and oz interactions, more crushing, and more paintings. :) And, unfortunately, more sad and disturbing Mr Maclay passages. I also promise that the next chapter will actually have Tara and Willow together, for a change!! Just needed to get all the prelude written out, first. Thanks so much for the feedback; I love you guys.

Yours: I like the username. ;) Oooh, ace? I'm not sure, but that sounds good. Aces are high, right? Thanks for the feedback. I'm glad you feel I'm sticking to the characters; aside from writer's block, this is my biggest fear for attempting fan fiction. I will update soon! Right now, actually.

EvilKittycatofdoom: Yeah, I kind of figured...why have a jackass father *and* a jackass brother? I can get all the necessary plot elements from one, and use the other to show a more motherly side of Tara which we're used to seeing in the show by her comforting the demon fighters through their always-crazy conflicts. Besides, everyone should have at least one family member who they don't absolutely loathe. Thanks for the feedback, and enjoy the next chapter!

~ Megan


Last edited by jasmydae on Sun Nov 16, 2008 11:33 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Constants - Chapter 7
PostPosted: Mon Sep 29, 2008 8:31 am 
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***
Part 7
***

“Comfrey,” Tara stated, after examining a bell of purple petals, which dangled underneath a curved stem with fuzzy leaves. “For…athsma?”

Helen Maclay smiled proudly. “And splints, strains, and sprains—very good, sweetheart.” She saw her daughter reaching for the flower, and gently grasped her hand. “Oh, be careful, Tara—not without gloves; this one can give you a rash.” The woman loosened the knotted cord of the big straw hat she wore to readjust it upon her head, then wiped a handkerchief across her brow. “My little medicine girl,” she cooed, ruffling Tara’s hair. “You’re going to know more than me, one of these days, you know. Then, you’ll be the one giving me tests!”

“Can I have a really hard one?” Tara asked, bounding to her feet and reaching out to help her mother up.

Helen struggled to stand, flexing her back and ineffectually brushing at the backside of her light blue cotton skirt, which had become caked with dirt. “Goodness, child, what a joy it must be to have such energy.” Still holding Tara’s hand, she walked to the end of the row. “So, it’s a challenge, you want, hm? Well, then, how about these?” She swept her other hand before her, indicating a low bush covered by symmetrical white flowers with bright yellow florets.

“Why, Momma, that’s easy,” Tara frowned. “They’re just daisies!”

“Oh, yes, they look very much like daisies, don’t they? But here, close your eyes,” Helen instructed. She moved behind Tara, who came up only to her breast, and wrapped her arms tenderly around the young girl’s shoulders, pressing a kiss at the very top of her head. Together they stood, mother and daughter, with their eyes closed and swaying gently. “Now, take a deep breath,” Helen said, doing so herself. “What do you smell?”

Tara drew in a lungful of air. “I smell…lemons?” she replied uncertainly. She felt her mother nod, the woman’s chin tickling her hair. “Oh! I see,” she said excitedly, “they smell better than daisies! But what are they, Momma?”

“It’s feverfew,” her mother answered. “Remember sachets we made, last spring? The ones you loved to smell? That citris scent was from the feverfew.”

“What do you grow it for?” Tara inquired. “What does it do?”

“Oh, it’s for headaches, I suppose. But really, I just love the aroma,” Helen admitted with a laugh. Tara loved her mother’s laughter; it always sounded so full of life, so carefree, as though she was putting her whole heart behind it, and holding nothing back. She’d never heard anyone else laugh like that. It seemed such a shame, Tara thought, that the world would never again hear such joy.

“Do you still talk with her?” Willow asked. The two girls were holding hands, standing before a marble headstone. A brisk wind whipped through the cemetery, tugging at their hair and rustling their clothes. It was chilly, and Tara nestled up against Willow to share her warmth, resting her head on the girl’s shoulder.

“Sometimes,” she answered. “I used to, every night. I’d sit on my bed and look out the window at the stars, remembering how we’d lie down out in the yard on old blankets, making up constellations and watching for shooting stars. I wasn’t sure where she was, anymore, whether she was up there with stars, or—or somewhere else.” Tara sighed, tucking her cold fingers into the pockets of Willow’s heavy pea coat. “It got harder to hear her, though, you know? After a while, it—it started to feel like I was just making up her replies. Just talking to myself. It was—it was kind of scary, like I was alone.”

Willow reached an arm around Tara’s waist and gave her a comforting squeeze. “You’re not alone.”

Tara closed her eyes and whispered her thanks, content to be snuggled by the redhead. When the wind picked up again, Willow sheltered Tara under her arm, and they moved with it, retreating behind a massive oak tree.

“Are you guys coming up or not?” Hannah asked impatiently from one of the middle branches. “We’re going to miss the movie.”

“Oh, sorry,” Tara apologized. “Willow, do you need a boost?” She turned, but saw only her brother playing in the sandbox, building a magnificent sandcastle; otherwise, the yard was empty.

“Tara, I’m up here. Hurry!” Willow’s voice came from high above, and Tara craned her head back, peering up to the very top of the tree, where the slender branches swayed dangerously with the wind. The redhead was perched precariously on one of the limbs next to Buffy, who had a length of string wrapped intricately around her fingers. Willow hooked the sides strings with her pinkies and pinched something in the center, then stretched her hands apart, expecting a new pattern but ending up with a tangled knot. She frowned.

The rough bark dug into Tara’s bare feet as she climbed, frantically trying to reach Willow. She winced when a splinter dug into her palm, and she halted her ascent to dig it out. It was hard to see the tiny sliver of wood in the dim light, and she chastised herself for not thinking to bring a pair of tweezers. Tara almost had a grasp on the splinter when the lights went out entirely and the previews began. She crawled out further onto the branch, keeping her weight off the injured hand, and took the seat next to Hannah. On the screen, a cheerful employee in a white lab coat stood behind a counter and helped an elderly man with his prescription. “I can’t believe they have commercials before movies, now,” Hannah whispered. “What’s the world coming to?”

When the commercials were over, a message instructed everybody to note where the theater exits were located, in case of a fire. Moments later, a shrill ringing pealed through the room. “Shit!” Hannah cursed, fitting her soda into her seat’s cupholder. “Come on, Tare. Somebody pulled the fire alarm.” The siren repeated its warning. Tara fumbled with her seatbelt, but something was jammed; she couldn’t get the catch to release. Hannah was in the aisle, waiting, but the tide of panicked moviegoers carried her quickly toward the exit. Once more, the alarm rang, and Tara thought it didn’t sound like any fire alarm she’d ever heard.


~*~

“Nobody’s picking up,” Faith shrugged, returning the phone to its cradle on the wall.

Richard was hunched over a large skillet, thrashing a whisk through a floury mixture. On the stovetop were three pots of various sizes, all begging desperately for the cook’s immediate attention. He paused just long enough to take the pan off of the heat and reach for a carton of eggs. “Hm?” he grunted, breaking one egg after the other into the skillet and continuing to blend the concoction.

“Nobody’s answering the phone at T’s.” Faith watched her boss check the gauge on a candy thermometer, which was poking out from a saucepan full of cooking oil. When he dropped a dollop of the mixture into the oil, it sizzled and snapped. Faith eyed the other pots, one of which was in danger of boiling over. “Are you sure you don’t need any help with those?”

“No, thanks. I need you to cover Tara’s tables until we can reach her or find somebody else who can come in.” Richard wiped a dishtowel across his brow and checked the clock. “Try her again in ten minutes, and see if you can reach Amy, in the meanwhile.”

The morning Route One traffic blared across the restaurant as the diner’s door swung open, and Faith dashed out of the kitchen to greet the newcomers. It was just one customer, a skinny redhead in khaki shorts and a red ‘Fear the Turtle’ tee shirt. Faith noticed that one of her sneakers had its laces done up incorrectly, the strings pulled together in a knot and trailing behind. She had an iPod tucked into one of her pockets, and was coiling up a pair of headphones in her hands.

“Hi, welcome to Plato’s,” Faith said, stepping closer. “Just one?”

The girl smiled, but shook her head. “I’m actually, um, looking for Tara Maclay. Is she around?”

Faith smirked. “Heh. You n’ me both; she went missing for her 8am shift.”

“Oh? Is she sick?”

“Hell if I know; she didn’t show, and we haven’t been able to reach her, this morning. Gonna try again in a few minutes, if you wanna stick around n’ see.” Faith extended her arm to an open table. “Grab some coffee, or something?”

The redhead shifted from one foot to the other indecisively. “Um…hm. Thanks, that sounds really nice, but I don’t think I can stay long,” she finally admitted. “Would it be okay to leave a message for her, in case you do reach her?”

Faith tilted her head and removed the pencil she had tucked behind her ear, and produced a notepad. “Okay, shoot.”

“All right, uh, my friend Buffy and I are going to this New Age store on Tuesday, and we wanted to invite Tara along. I mean, because she sounded like she’d enjoy it, and she was the one who told us about it—not a completely random invitation or anything. We’re going after four, ‘cause I think she’s off by then, and—“

Faith’s hand stilled on the paper for a moment. Yesterday, when Tara had come into the kitchen in a state of near panic, asking if anyone knew of any New Age gift shops, she had wondered if perhaps a customer had asked—possibly a cute guy that had made the waitress weak in the knees. She’d even gone so far as to scan Tara’s section, hoping to identify him, but hadn’t had any conclusive findings. Now, the pieces were laid out in front of her—the awkward redhead was indeed with a friend yesterday, and they had both been present when Andrew spilled the water the day before, and Tara had gone the rest of the day with a certain glow and a dreamy smile. The evidence was clear. ‘She must have a thing for that pretty, petite blonde,’ Faith figured. ‘Huh, who’d have thought. Go, T!’

“—not that it wouldn’t be nice or anything, it’s just that, I mean, well, when most people extend an invitation, they—“

“Whoa, whoa,” Faith interrupted, shocked that the girl still hadn’t taken a breath. “Back up a few disclaimers.” She tapped the tip of her pencil on the pad. “Tara’s invited to go shopping at the magic shop on Tuesday at four by Buffy and…who are you?”

“Oh! Sorry, I’m Willow.”

“…Willow?” Faith repeated.

“Uh huh. Like the tree.”

“Okay, cool.” Faith finished writing. “I’ll let her know. I’m Faith, by the way. Are you sure I can’t get you a coffee or anything?”

Willow shook her head. “No, thanks. I’ve got to run. But it was nice to meet you.” She backed up toward the door. “Thanks, again!”

“Later.” Faith saw the girl out, then turned back to her tables, working over this new bit of information in her mind. ‘So T’s got a thing for the ladies. Yeah, it’s got to be that Buffy girl. At least she’s got good taste. Hm, have I ever seen her express interest in anyone else? Oh God, have I ever seen her express interest in me?’ Faith’s eyes widened with the thought, and she rummaged through her small handful of Tara memories. ‘She does always seem kind of nervous and stuttery, but I’m pretty sure she’s like that with everybody.’

One of the many diner customers held up his hand to get Faith’s attention, so she abandoned her thoughts to rush over to the table. She waited tables for the next several minutes, and when she next had a moment to breath, she spun through the kitchen punched a number into the phone. A muffled voice answered. “Hello?”

“Hey, Amy?”

~*~

Tara sat in the back of the now-empty theater, struggling with the buckle of her seatbelt, which still wouldn’t release. The fire alarm had long since stopped, but the rest of the audience hadn’t yet begun to filter back in. She heard the aisle door swing open somewhere below, and she clawed frantically at the catch. One of her nails got wedged between two pieces of metal and a jagged piece tore free. Blood beaded up to the surface and drizzled down her finger, making the buckle slippery and even more difficult to manipulate.

Heavy footsteps clomped up the aisle. Tara made one more desperate attempt at the seatbelt, but one of her hands slipped off of the buckle and slammed into the sharp corner of the armrest. Her entire lower arm went numb, and she examined the skinned knuckles intently. The footsteps came to a halt beside her.

“You’ve gone n’ hurt yerself,” Mr. Maclay slurred, reaching for her injured hand. Tara tried to pull it back, but it only tingled and wouldn’t move. The man lifted her arm, causing a drop of blood to fall from the wound to her knee; she felt it dribble down her shin, and over her entire body her skin crawled.

“N-no, Papa. It’s okay. I’ll just g-get a bandage—“

“Nonsense, nothin’ we can’t take care of, here.” Her father dabbed at the shredded gash with a crumpled tissue, then brought her fingers to his lips, planting a kiss on the wound and taking the very tips into his mouth. Tara winced when the contact made the raw cut burn. “See, ‘sall better,” the man insisted. “Now, whatsa problem with yer belt, hm? Got it stuck?” His breath reeked of liquor; Tara scrunched up her nose in disgust and squirmed in her seat, but the jammed belt held her firmly.

“Lookit, ‘seasy, you jus’ take this li’l bit here, n’ push it through the hole,” Mr. Maclay instructed, demonstrating on his own tattered leather belt. The buckle opened easily, and its weight carried several inches of the belt clattering down into the space between his armrest and the cushion. Tara’s tummy churned queasily when her father carried her hand, still twinging with pins and needles, to his lap, and deftly undid the button of his jeans. His other arm circled her upper back, and he gripped her far shoulder tightly. “C’mere, honey. Help me with th’zipper, hm?” he pleaded.

“P-papa, I—I don’t f-feel so good. I th-think I’m going to b-b-be sick,” Tara whimpered. Her father took her wrist and eased her hand lower, until—


Tara woke with a start, her stomach nearly in her throat. A thin film of sweat coated her skin. She threw back the afghan and tumbled off the sofa, half-scrambling, half-crawling to the bathroom, where she was violently sick. She retched until the contents of her stomach were completely purged, then trembled with every dry heave that continued to rack her body. When the spasms ebbed, Tara collapsed to the cold vinyl floor, panting in shallow, ragged breaths.

~*~

“Hi, are you looking for Willow?”

It took Buffy a second to realize who had answered the phone. “…Cordelia?”

“Yeah, who’s this?”

“This is Buffy Summers,” she replied. “I guess Willow’s not there?”

Cordelia’s voice crackled over the phone line. “No, she took off earlier. Really early for a Saturday, actually. I’ll never understand people who do the early morning thing on weekends. At least she was quiet. Anyway, I think she might have been going for breakfast, or something.”

Buffy considered this. “Oh. Huh. Buffyless breakfast. Well, Will wouldn’t eat alone; she’s probably with Oz, I guess.”

“Oz?”

“Yeah, Willow’s boyfriend; he’s over in Easton Hall.”

After a short pause, Cordelia asked, “Willow has a boyfriend?” Her tone was incredulous.

“Heh. Don’t sound so shocked,” Buffy joked. She understood where Cordelia was coming from. When Oz had first asked Willow out in high school, Buffy could hardly believe it herself; the shy, neurotic bookworm had always seemed light years behind the rest of the class when it came to social confidence and dating. While she loved Willow dearly, it had been hard to picture her so much as kissing a boy, let alone going out with a cool musician type like Oz.

Cordelia must have realized how she sounded. “Oh, right. No, I mean, of course she could be dating somebody. I guess I’m just surprised; we’ve been here three days, and I’ve neither seen nor heard mention of a boyfriend. I guess I haven’t been around the room, much. I’m kind of the phantom roommate.”

“Yeah, how’s stuff going with Tri Delta?” Buffy asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s…okay, I guess,” Cordelia picked her words carefully. “You know, when I was in high school, I had the whole thing planned out. My friend Harmony, who was a grade above me, well, her older sister was in Delta, and it all sounded really appealing to us—the sisterhood, the free introductions to hot college guys, the great parties, the easy social networking, plus getting to give something back to the community, you know? Well, maybe it’s Karma, but they all seem kind of…I don’t know, shallow?”

“Karma?”

Cordelia sighed. “Yeah…I, uh…I wasn’t the nicest person in high school, I guess. I probably could have been the spokeswoman for shallow. You know how high school is: the geeky ones all get lined up like lambs to the slaughter, and Harm and I…well, we owned the slaughterhouse.”

Buffy could only laugh, because she knew exactly how high school was. Her shot at being among the ranks of the stuck-up elite had come to an abrupt end when she’d befriended Xander and Willow. Girls who had been treating her with syrupy sweetness one day had turned into jackals the next. “Well, maybe rooming with Will is supposed to be like your big chance at redemption, ‘cause Willow makes your standard geek look like a total rebel.”

“Yeah, I can kind of see that,” Cordelia admitted. “She seems nice enough, though.”

“Oh, yeah, don’t get me wrong. She’s an absolute sweetheart, and one of the most loyal friends I’ve ever had. Willow’s totally good people.”

“You guys do sound close. That’s cool.”

“Best buds since sophomore year!” Buffy proclaimed proudly.

“Must be really nice,” Cordelia said. “One of the drawbacks to the catty cliques we had in high school? The bonds aren’t exactly the tightest, being based on, well, trying to be better than everyone else, so they end up getting severed when everyone leaves for college. I lost touch with most of my friends over the summer. Now it’s just Harm, and we’re kind of…meh.”

“Well, feel free to hang with Will and I, any time,” Buffy offered. “Actually, what are you up to right now? Wanna grab breakfast or go to the pool or something? Or you could introduce me to some of those hot college boys you mentioned earlier, hm?”

Cordelia’s laughter carried over the phone. “Yeah, thanks, I’d like that a lot.”

~*~

Somewhere between the second and the third ring, Tara decided she needed to answer the phone. Despite her desires, she knew she couldn’t just lock herself in the bathroom all day, and maybe the call was important. What if it was about Donny? What if it was—‘Oh, Goddess!’ she thought. ‘What time is it?’ Tara burst out of the bathroom, rushed down the hall, and lunged for the phone in the kitchen just before its fifth ring.

“H-hello?” she panted.

“…Jesus, T. You sound like death.”

“Faith?” Tara’s heart thudded. The sun was streaming in through the windows, and there were dishes in the sink; clearly her father and brother had already eaten breakfast. “W-what time is it?”

“Almost ten thirty,” Faith chuckled at the other end of the line. “What’s goin’ on? I’ve been tryin’ to reach you for an hour. You really sound awful. You okay?”

“I—I’ve b-been sick. I’m so sorry! Is it v-very busy?” Tara struggled to keep her stutter under control.

“Yeah, it’s hoppin’,” Faith shared, “but don’t worry too much. We got Amy to cover for you when we couldn’t reach you earlier. Just wanted to make sure everything was okay, is all.”

“I’m so sorry I didn’t call,” Tara apologized. “I—I didn’t realize w-what time it was; I’m kind of loopy, still.”

“Well, no problem, happens to us all,” Faith assured her. “Just make sure you’re real nice to Amy next time you see her, hm? And get some rest; get healthy.”

“Thanks…really sorry.”

“Oh, hey, before I forget: some girl was in here before lookin’ for you. The friend of that blonde girl, Buffy?”

Tara’s breath hitched. “Willow?”

“Yeah. She said you were invited to some New Age shopping thing with the two of them, after your Tuesday shift.”

“R-really?” Tara could hardly believe her ears. ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to spend time with Willow!’ Her heart fluttered, and a giddy energy coursed through her body. ‘Wait…I’m going to spend time with Willow! The energy quickly congealed into a nervous lump in her chest.

“See? Only here a week, and you’re already getting’ in with the college crowd,” Faith said. “Already got a Tuesday shopping date and a Friday party! So you better get feeling okay quickly: time’s a’tickin’! Oops, gotta go; Richard’s yellin’ something. Bye!” The call disconnected before Tara could even say goodbye. She stood staring at the phone a minute, as if it held all the answers to her mental whirlwind.

‘What are you doing, Tara,’ she thought to herself. ‘You’re not good with people; you’re just going to make a fool of yourself.’ She closed her eyes, and let the image of the cheerful redhead fill her mind. ‘Yeah, but it’ll be with Willow. And she wants me to come along!’ The thought alone dragged her out of her morning’s queasiness. Maybe she could fit in with the college crowd; she’d certainly rather be there than here. Tara hung up the phone and walked into the common room, eyeing her pair of sneakers, which were discarded haphazardly by the entrance. ‘Okay, time for a walk.’

~*~

Willow hurried to catch the door to Dorchester Hall before it swung closed, and trailed in behind a group of students who were bringing lunch back from the dining hall. Since she didn’t know any of them, she distracted herself by reading the various fliers that peppered the walls in a colorful mosaic while they all waited for the elevator. By the time it came, such a crowd had gathered that Willow instead opted to take the stairs, and she huffed and puffed her way up to the third floor. The door opened out into a hallway that looked similar to her own, except with perhaps a few more years worth of dirt in the hard-to-reach places. She covered her ears and gave a wide berth past a room emitting earth-shaking bass notes, and knocked on the third door from the end of the hall.

“Hang on a sec!” called a high-pitched, nasally voice. Moments later, the door opened a crack, revealing a short, plump girl in striped shorts and an inside-out tee, her hair still damp from a recent shower. “Hi,” she greeted.

“Hey, sorry. Is Buffy here?” Willow asked.

“Uh uh.” The girl shook her head, sending droplets of water flinging everywhere. “She was here like twenty minutes ago, but I think she headed out while I was in the shower.”

“Oh. Do you happen to know where?”

“No idea, sorry.”

“You’re her roomie, I take it?”

“Yeah, hey, I’m Beth.”

Willow smiled. “I’m Willow. Buffy and I went to high school together.”

“Cool. Um, yeah I’ll let her know you stopped by.” Beth seemed uncomfortable standing there with the door open, dripping, so Willow signed off on the conversation.

“Okay, great, thanks. Uh, nice to meet you.”

“You, too.”

Willow noticed after Buffy’s roommate closed it behind her that they’d hung a message board on the door with ‘B & B’ written in huge print. Underneath each letter was the resident’s name, clearly in its owner’s own penmanship. “Well, that’s oh for two,” she grumbled. “I wonder if Oz will be AWOL, too.”

She took her time walking back to North Campus. Although it was almost September, the weather was still unusually warm, and the midday sun did wonders to lighten her mood. She took the scenic route past the Performing Arts Center, avoiding the stadium paths, and cut across the quad to Easton Hall. Once inside, she took the elevator up to the fourth floor.

A sleepy Oz greeted her at the door. “Hey, Will.” He stepped aside to let her into the room. Oz had managed a single through pure luck of the draw, and from the looks of it he’d been living out of half-opened boxes for the past several says. The bed wasn’t even made; a sheet had been thrown over the mattress, but no pillowcases were to be seen. Clothes in various states of unwash littered the floor. It dawned upon Oz that the room was a sty, and he adopted a sheepish look. “Sorry, it’s kind of a mess, I know.”

Willow stepped gingerly over a plastic grocery bag that seemed to be serving as a trash receptacle. “You haven’t unpacked much.”

“Yeah, I haven’t really been in the room too much,” Oz admitted. “I’ve pretty much been living at Greg’s place. How’re things?” He drew the redhead into a hug, and gave her a squeeze.

“Oh, they’re great!” Willow exclaimed, her dispiriting morning all but forgotten. “I can’t wait for Monday, when classes start; I think I’ve got some really interesting ones! And the whole being away from home thing? Getting to plan our own schedules, stay up as late as we want, eat whenever and whatever we want…it’s like a whole new world, you know? Well, yeah, I guess you do know, ‘cause hello, moved out when you were sixteen. But it’s just…the idea of having all this freedom is kind of amazing. And maybe a little bit scary and overwhelming, but mostly the amazing thing. Oh, and speaking of planning our own schedules, this being our first weekend on campus together, we should celebrate! You know, do something special?”

Oz sat on the edge of his bed, and Willow perched beside him. He took her hand in his, and rubbed the pad of his thumb over her knuckles. “I couldn’t agree more.” He leaned in, his face close to hers.

“Great!” Willow gushed, leaping from the bed. “We could go out to eat somewhere nice, tonight?” She cleared the screen saver on Oz’s laptop and fired up a search engine to find the most highly recommended places to eat, nearby. “Or, oh! I saw a flier in Buffy’s dorm that said an improv comedy group called Sketch-Up is performing on the Mall tonight. I thought that sounded neat. I’m pretty sure it’s at nine.”

“Uh, Will?” Oz interjected when she paused for breath, then hesitated. “This audition thing, for the Dingoes singer? It was kind of a two night thing, remember?”

Willow stopped her flurry of typing and looked at Oz. “Shoot, you’re right, I forgot you’d mentioned that.” She sighed. “Sorry for the hyper babbling Willow.”

Oz reached out and laid his hand upon her knee. “Hey, no apologies needed. It’s cool that you’re excited to do something. Look, I’ll tell you what—how about if I bow out of the auditions a little bit early? I could swing by your dorm, and we could catch that nine o’clock show?”

Willow beamed and flung her arms around her boyfriend. “Really? That’d be great! That’d be better than great!”

~*~

What had started as a short walk had turned into a mile-long trek; once Tara’s feet were moving, they drew her toward the campus like a moth to a flame. It was uphill the whole way, and by the time she reached the gallery, her heart was racing and her hair was clinging to the back of her sweaty neck. ‘I guess I need more exercise,’ she thought, ‘the occasional swim isn’t cutting it.’ The air conditioning that met her when she entered the building was a blessing; for a minute she simply stood and let it bring her temperature back to a more tolerable level.

She didn’t bother looking around the building; she knew exactly where she was going: the student art gallery in the large courtyard one level down. As she descended the stairs, she marveled at the pieces that hung suspended from the ceiling. One appeared to be a mobile made mostly of mirrors, which reflected a few colored bulbs with a dazzling effect. Tara’s ultimate destination, however, was the back wall, which always seemed to have a new set of paintings on display. She figured they must rotate in the students’ work on some schedule. Today, most of them were pieces she had seen during her last visit, but there was one new addition, a massive oil painting easily twice her height, which loomed over the room. Its colors were a rich palette of blues, blacks, and purples, with an occasional jagged white streak cutting across the dark, swirling background.

“Tempests.”

Tara was startled from her reverie, unsure of how long she’d been staring at the work. A clean-cut, bespectacled man stood behind her, admiring the painting as well. “I’m sorry, w-what?” she asked.

The man nodded, indicating the composition on the wall. “The name of the painting is ‘Tempests,’” he clarified.

“Oh…d-did you paint these?” Tara asked, a hint of awe in her voice.

“Good heavens, no,” the gentleman laughed, removing his glasses and squinting at the lenses he held up to the light. He exhaled upon them, and produced a handkerchief from his jacket pocket. “This one was painted last semester by a young man in Mr. Windham-Pryce’s studio section.” Using his glasses as a pointer, he directed Tara’s attention to a small, framed card that was clipped into a stand nearby, which held the artist’s name and section as well as the painting’s title.

Tara leaned in to study the tag that she’d missed, for a moment imagining her own name printed on one of the cards, her own works on display in the gallery. ‘Not that I could ever paint something this good,’ she decided. The enormous painting towered over her; she could almost feel the swirling vortex of colors moving on the canvas, drawing her in.

“It’s quite remarkable, really,” the man continued, returning his now spotless lenses to his face. “There are a few standouts every semester in that class. Oh, but where are my manners? I’m Rupert Giles, one of the Classics professors here at the University. I’ll be filling in for an art history class this semester, as well, so I expect I’ll be around this building quite often.”

“I’m Tara. M-Maclay.”

“You’re an art student, I gather?”

“N-no sir. I wish I was.”

“Please: Rupert or Mister Giles. Sadly, I’ve not yet had the pleasure of being knighted,” he said with a wry smile. “You’re undecided in your major, then?”

Tara shook her head. “I—I don’t actually attend the University.”

“Oh, I see. Just visiting?”

“Yes, sir—uh, Mr. Giles. I moved into the high-rises down the street, just last week.”

Giles returned his attention to the paintings. “You enjoy the gallery?”

“I love it!” Tara exclaimed. “I try to visit every few days to see what’s new.”

The professor chuckled. “My dear, it is refreshing to see love for the arts in one so young. If you’d like to follow me, I’ve got a copy of the gallery’s schedule among my effects in the main office.”

The two climbed the stairs, with Giles pausing only to condemn the glittering mobile as a “ghastly thing,” and entered the office. Giles removed a glossy brochure from a briefcase and handed it to Tara. “I highly recommend Wendy Carson’s showing, next month,” he advised. “It was terrific, last semester, and it always has some surprising pieces.”

“T-thank you so much, Mr. Giles; this is so kind of you.”

“Oh, nonsense,” he dismissed with a wave of his hand. “I should be thanking you; it’s a rarity to see true enthusiasm and appreciation. These students work hard on these works; it’s only right that they be viewed by an audience who shares the same passion.”

Tara nodded her head in understanding. “They’re really incredible,” she admitted. “I wish I could paint something halfway as good.”

Giles raised an eyebrow. “You’re a painter, yourself?” he inquired.

“N-no, it’s just a hobby. And it’s—it’s been a while. That’s p-part of the reason I came here; I keep hoping that looking at paintings will b-be motivational.”

“Well, stick with it; you never know when inspiration might strike. As much as I’d love to talk with you the rest of the day, sadly, I’ve got a section in a few minutes.”

“Oh, of course. Thanks again, Mr. Giles! M-maybe I’ll see you around the building.”

~*~

The sun had long since set, and the room was as dark as a college dorm room ever really could be; pale light filtered in through a warped blind and mixed with the flickering LEDs on the myriad gadgets connected to the computers in an eerie chartreuse glow. Voices in the hallway grew closer, coming to a halt outside, then a jingle of keys was followed by the door swinging open amidst a tumbling tower of shopping bags.

“Oh my gosh,” Cordelia gasped, trying to force her words out through peals of laughter as she entered her room, “and when he tried to run, he forgot all about the scarf, and it set off the store’s alarm, so he’s—he’s—“ she dabbed at her eyes, which had begun to tear up from hysterical laughter, “—he’s running across the courtyard with mall security in hot pursuit, screaming at the top of his lungs for—“

Buffy, who had been laughing along with her new friend, stepped into the room and flipped on the lightswitch. She dropped her bags and approached one of the beds, her expression shifting from mirth to concern. “—Will?”

Willow squinted at the light, which flooded the room. She groaned and pulled a pillow over her eyes, her muffled voice greeting, “Hey, Buffy.”

“You’re in bed at nine thirty on a Saturday?”

“Uh huh.”

“You feeling okay?”

“Yup. Fine,” Willow replied in a monotone.

Buffy plopped down on the redhead’s bed and addressed the talking pillow. “You’ve got the lines memorized just fine, but the delivery could use some work. C’mon, spill; what’s up?”

Watching the awkward exchange from across the room, Cordelia piped up, “Uh, so I’m gonna go hop in the shower; don’t mind me.” She gathered up her bathroom tote, a change of clothes, and a towel, and crept quietly out of the room when Buffy nodded gratefully in her direction. The blonde then focused back on the lump under the covers.

“So?”

“Mmm,” came the muted reply.

“Willow Rosenberg, you know I can get you to talk,” Buffy threatened. “I have my ways, and they are both swift and merciless.”

Willow pushed the pillow away from her, revealing a rather glum face. “It’s just…been kind of a bad day,” she shared.

“What happened?”

“Well, I stopped by the diner to invite Tara along on our Tuesday trip, but she was out sick. Then I went looking for you for breakfast, and couldn’t find you—“

“—yeah, sorry about that,” Buffy broke in. “I called to see what you were up to, and Cordy answered, and we…oh, sorry, I’m being Interrupto-girl. Go ahead.”

“No, no, it’s not even that,” Willow reassured her. “I—I stopped by Oz’s—he hasn’t even really moved in yet, by the way—and he said he’d be back by nine so we could go to this show on the Mall, and then fifteen minutes ago, he sent a text message saying he was really tired and going to sleep over at Greg’s. I don’t want to be the neurotic girlfriend, Buffy, and—and I’m glad his band’s doing well, but…I mean, I’ve hardly seen him since we moved in. He used to drop everything at the opportunity to hang out, when we were in high school. I don’t know, maybe I’ve just gotten used to being spoiled. Anyway, things weren’t going to hot today, so I thought I’d just give tomorrow a try.”

Buffy considered this, then made a decision and shook her head. “Nuh uh. Get up.”

“…what?”

“Up,” the blonde insisted. “You’ve got work to do.”

“Buffy, I don’t—“

“Cordelia wants to make a try for that stuffed turtle, and the guys in the last room are playing that earthquake game.”

“You mean Quake III Arena?”

“We need a distraction,” Buffy explained, “and nothing distracts nerdy boys like cute, technologically savvy girls who can reduce their video game characters into tiny electronic giblets. Will, you’re crucial to the success of the mission!”

Willow pouted. “Can’t I just stay in bed and be mopey?”

“Up!” Buffy repeated, throwing back the sheets.

~*~

Tara read over the gallery brochure for the hundredth time since she’d returned to her apartment. A loud knock rang out at the apartment door, and she rose from the kitchen stool to answer it. ‘Who could that be?’ she wondered. Donny was listening to music in their room, and her father never forgot his keys. ‘Maybe the music’s too loud,’ she worried, ‘I hope it’s not a neighbor complaining.’ When she looked through the peephole and didn’t see anybody, she furrowed her brow in consternation. ‘Am I hearing things, now? They don’t deliver packages at this hour, do they?’ She swung the door open and stuck her head out into the hallway.

“Surprise!” said a snickering Faith. She held out a heavy grocery bag. “Everything a sick coworker could possibly need: chicken noodle soup, Pepto and antacids, Sudafed, ice cream, and, uh,” she coughed. “Ferrisbuellersdayoff. I hope I’m not seriously overstepping, here, you just sounded really awful this morning, and I thought you could use a pick-me-up. Besides, you mentioned yesterday that you didn’t know many people—“

“Faith, it’s…wow.” Tara was at a loss for words, and took a second to gather her thoughts. “Y-you shouldn’t have. I mean, you didn’t n-need to. This is so nice of you. Um, oh, please come in.” She stepped aside and let the leather-clad brunette into the apartment. “Can I take your coat?”


Last edited by jasmydae on Sun Nov 16, 2008 11:33 am, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: Sep 18, 2008
PostPosted: Mon Sep 29, 2008 8:56 am 
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Yay for great update-y goodness... I really really hope that Tara very very soon is able to move out of his fathers house.... maybe Giles is able get her a room... Oz sure is drifting away from Willow, is Veruca going to be the new singer for Dingoes?

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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: Sep 29, 2008
PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2008 8:34 pm 
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you are amazing and beautiful


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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: Sep 29, 2008
PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2008 9:24 am 
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Hello,

It was stillvery nice and intriguing.
Quote:
Be warned: if you found the end of chapter 6 hard to read, chapter 7 will be even worse.

oh don't worry, one of my fic is like that.. Well it is implicit in several others I have never posted but mayeb will someday if I go to work on them one day again. Lol.

Poor Tara. :)

And your math teacher? just weird. Ok so I know many people have trouble with probabilities, but I don't know, it seems so easy for me.

Anyway, can't wait to read more!

Friendly,

Julia

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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: Sep 29, 2008
PostPosted: Sat Oct 04, 2008 5:17 am 
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I think you handled Tara's situation sensitively. Using her dream to show us that hidden part of her life was nicely done. We got a sense of her happiness with her Mother, and moving through those confusing elements that dreams have to then confront us with the true nature of her Father's twisted idea of love was, for me, very powerful.

It was a nice balance between what you should tell us explicitly, and firing the imagination enough that we can fill in the rest for ourselves.

I found myself becoming more uncomfortable as Tara's dream went on, and that is a very much a compliment to your writing.

Good to see another 'nice' Faith. I'm a big fan of fic's where Faith's better character aspects come to the fore, her impromptu arrival at Tara's place just came across as a very natural part of her being.

Buffy and Cordelia are bonding nicely, too. I'm glad you've gone with the more mature and less self-centred version of Cordy. It makes for a more interesting character.

It wasn't a good day for our favourite redhead. Willow has lost a little bit of bounce, but hopefully a victorious turtle hunt will put the spring back in her step.

I'm looking forward to the next update, so I hope work and the credit crunch don't interfere too much with your creativity.

Thanks for another very interesting update.

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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: Sep 29, 2008
PostPosted: Sat Oct 04, 2008 9:24 am 
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Great story! I like the pace you're setting in introducing the characters, T&W meeting each other, getting to know each other better (soon?) etc. It doesn't feel rushed and it's all very realistic that way... I love it! :)

Looking forward to the next update!!

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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: Sep 29, 2008
PostPosted: Sat Oct 04, 2008 4:59 pm 
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Very well written. Poor sunburned Willow. At least nobody slapped her sunburn.


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 Post subject: Constants - Chapter 7 Feedback
PostPosted: Sat Oct 11, 2008 7:45 pm 
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Zampsa1975: Thanks for the feedback after every chapter. It's such a wonderful feeling, to know that there's an audience for this stuff. Yeah, Oz isn't being such an attentive boyfriend, huh? There's a reason, which will be fleshed out in future chapters; he's not just being a jerk. You know, I actually considered introducing Veruca as the lead singer, kind of just as one more nod toward the show, but I decided against it; I don't want to pull in characters from the show unless I'm going to do something with them (the mention of Wesley's art section may be an exception; I'm not sure if I'll have the desire to add in the arc I was going to write for his character). Besides, Veruca's role in the show was as a wolfy temptation for Oz, and since Oz isn't a werewolf in my story, and he's not the kind of guy that'd cheat on his girlfriend, there wasn't really the need to add the character.

anony_mouse: You'll probably not read this, since I know who you are and all, but thanks so much for posting something to make me feel better. ;) For those who are wondering, mouse is one of my offline friends, who was posting feedback to my story to try and cheer me up, last week.

JujuDeRoussie: Thanks for the feedback, Julia. I love love love it! I'm happy that you're enjoying the story. I can't *wait* to get into the chapters where Willow and Tara are actually doing all sorts of stuff together, instead of writing them in separate scenes all the time.

Paint the Sky: Ah, moving on the penguin section of the audience... I'd like to say that I adore your feedback; I appreciate that you take the time to really point out the parts of the chapter that you enjoyed. This is crucial; I am, after all, writing the story for you all! I tend to have really compelling, bizarre and surreal dreams, particularly since my mom's death last year. So finding dream fodder for the story is easy. My favorite dream sequences of all have to be those in 'Neverland', however. Good gravy, I hope that fic gets completed! As far as the, um, situation with Tara's father: I don't think I *could* write a more graphic scene out. I think sexual abuse has got to be one of the most difficult topics to write. It's easier on my stomach to let the reader's imagination fill in the gaps. I like 'nice' Faiths, too, particularly because I don't see any reason why she'd be 'evil'. I get rebellious, I get closed off, I get snark and defiant and even law-breaking. But what I don't get is why the show let Faith just...get off on being evil, like she enjoyed it. It didn't fit the rest of the character they showed us. I like Cordy this way, too. I'm basing her character much more off of the middle eps of Angel than on the early eps of Buffy, because I found her much more tolerable by that point. Work is definitely eating into writing time, and I'm sad to say that I didn't get everything I wanted to into this next chapter, but at least I've pretty much got the next one all planned out, so it shouldn't be as long of a wait.

sadie: Hi! Thanks so much for dropping me a line. :) Yeah, Willow and Tara will be getting to know each other soon. I wanted it to be in this chapter (8), but unfortunately, it's getting pushed to 9 or else it'll be another week before I post this one. *sigh* I wish I could write faster. I can't fathom these authors that post several times a day. I wish the words came that easily to me! I have to do the 'in my head copy' --> 'rough draft on paper' --> 'play script on paper' --> 'rough draft on computer' --> 'revised draft on computer' --> 'final draft on computer' full process for each chapter. :/ I agree with you about the pace: one of the best things about stories that build slowly? They tend to be much longer. ;) Unfortunately, this also means they tend to get abandoned more often than not. I want to finish this fic!

Taralover: Hey, thanks! And, it was nice chatting with you in the KB chat room the other day. I hope you're able to continue your story. Just...write. Even if it's awful. You can always go back and edit, later! If you can't figure out a plot hole, skip it and write a scene that will happen later, and come back to the tricky part at a later date.

Everyone: Thanks so much for all the wonderful feedback. I had planned for this next chapter to include the girls' trip to the Magic Box, but it took twice as long to write as I thought, and I've hardly had a minute in front of my computer. Plus, I kept thinking up scenes I wanted to throw in there, including a lot of Andrew stuff that I felt needed to be developed before the W/T scenes...so unfortunately that means the Magic Box trip is being pushed to chapter 9. But! I promise that in chapter 9, I'll be including an after-trip scene, as well, where they'll be hanging out on campus together. :) So hopefully it'll be worth the wait. And now, without further ago, chapter 8 of Constants.

<3 you all.

~ Megan


Last edited by jasmydae on Sun Nov 16, 2008 11:33 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Constants - Chapter 8
PostPosted: Sat Oct 11, 2008 7:46 pm 
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***
PART 8
***

“Well, here goes,” Willow said to herself, drawing in a deep breath. She swung open the door to the lecture hall that would be the home for the first class of her college career. The room was enormous—much bigger than any of the rooms in high school had been. She wondered momentarily whether she’d accidentally wandered into a movie theater. The seats were small and packed tightly together into three sections, with two narrow aisles beginning in the back of the room and converging at a low platform in front, behind which a chalkboard commanded the entirety of the wall space. Willow imagined how the room would look with a student in every chair, and a wave of claustrophobic nervousness halted her. ‘Should I sit in the back, where I’ll be lost behind a sea of people? Nobody would see me, but it’d be harder to hear the professor and read anything on the board, not to mention that the teacher might think I’m a slacker. Should I sit in the front? Maybe if I couldn’t see all of the other students, I wouldn’t feel as much anxiety. But I’d be able to hear them; I’d know they’re there, and wouldn’t know whether they were all staring at me!’ She compromised, taking a seat in the second row, but all the way toward one side of the room. There, her bookbag could stick out a little bit into the side aisle, without being underfoot to anyone next to her. She fished a notebook and a plastic case out of the bag, and popped the latter open to reveal a carefully selected assortment of writing implements, from which she chose a dark blue ballpoint-tip pen. In meticulous print, she wrote across the top line of a page, ‘PHYS161: General Physics ~ Mechanics and Particle Dynamics.’ Satisfied with her preparation, she leaned back in her seat and stole a glance at the clock. It was eight twenty-three. ‘Oh, gods! Only thirty-seven more minutes!’

Willow wondered how Buffy’s first class was going. The blonde had signed up for an eight o’clock session, in order to avoid having any Friday classes, despite Willow’s warnings that she was anything but a morning person. She imagined Buffy in the very back of her psychology class, her eyelids gradually sweeping down, her head slipping gently from her hands to the desk, lulled to sleep by the professor endlessly droning on. The image brought a smile to her face. Buffy wasn’t a bad student, Willow knew; she might not be as prepared, alert, or passionate about learning as Willow was, but she had an uncanny knack for turning out excellent work during the states of last-minute panic she inevitably found herself in. Willow would tease Buffy about her study habits, but she never doubted her ability to succeed.

Oz was a different story entirely. Willow’s parents were right about one thing: since she’d met him, Oz hadn’t ever displayed that he cared about his schooling. He’d always been a bright boy, and had been able to sail through his early school years on brains alone, without ever needing to study. In high school, when natural talent without effort hadn’t been enough, Oz had faltered. He’d failed several classes his senior year—Willow’s junior year—and he had been forced to repeat the grade. It got worse, after that; since most of his musician friends had graduated, they were no longer bound to operate on the school’s schedule, and Oz had found himself with parties and practice sessions at all hours. When he’d begun to skip classes, Willow had put her foot down, sitting down for a talk with him, stressing the importance of an education, and noting that if he didn’t graduate, she’d be going off to college without him. To Oz’s credit, he had listened. He redoubled his efforts, put in extra hours studying with Willow, and had even graduated with a respectable GPA.

‘Was that when he stopped caring?’ she wondered. ‘No, wait, that’s not true; Oz cares a lot about me, it’s just that…he’s gotten a little lazy about it, as though he’s taking it for granted.’ Willow frowned. ‘I guess we’re well past the shiny new relationship phase, by this point.’ The weekend had served to highlight this point. After Oz had bailed on her Saturday evening—his only communication had been a text message saying he’d be crashing at his drummer’s house—he’d gone missing for most of Sunday. He finally had made an appearance at Willow’s dorm just as the sun was setting, and apologized for his absence both days. Still carrying a grudge from being stood up, the two had shared an awkward silence for a short while, but she decided it wasn’t worth bringing up—he was there now, after all. They’d gone to grab some nachos and shakes at the late night dining hall hours, then returned to the dorm for a movie. By the time it had finished, they were snuggled up to each other on the bed, Willow’s bitterness over the weekend all but forgotten. ‘But I guess not quite,’ she amended, while sitting in the empty classroom, ‘because I’m remembering it now.’ She recognized that Oz’s seeming indifference of late wasn’t out of the ordinary for the musician; he had always drifted through life with a cool, detached demeanor that had nicely complemented her overly-analytical, spastic one. What worried Willow was that this conduct was more frequently being directed toward her—toward their relationship. In fact, she had fallen for the boy in part because his obvious excitement over Willow was so out of character: she thought that there must be a passionate, jubilant Oz hidden beneath his surface. Willow still believed this—it had percolated through his stolid exterior on a few rare occasions—but she was beginning to question whether she was the right one to bring it out. ‘Maybe I’m just not his spark, after all.’

Not wanting to linger on the negative, Willow actively forced her thoughts away from Oz. There were good things going on: she was sitting in a college classroom for the first time; tomorrow, she was going shopping with Buffy; best of all, she was meeting new people. She had been on campus less than a week, and already she had met three people who had the potential to be good friends. She definitely got along with Andrew, Cordelia seemed friendly even though they had contrasting interests, and Tara—well, she didn’t know exactly what to make of Tara, so she merely included her in the ‘potential to be good friends’ category. She recognized that she had liked the waitress instantly, but they hadn’t hung out yet, and in fact she hadn’t even heard back from her regarding tomorrow’s plans. ‘Wow, though. Three people already. That’s—that’s three fifths of a friend, every day. Including weekends! If I keep that rate up, I’ll be the most friended person on campus by the end of the year!’

“Hey, Willow.”

“Hm? Oh, Andrew! Hi.” Willow hadn’t even noticed the boy approaching her. She looked around the room, and realized that a few students had begun to filter into the classroom. Andrew was standing in the aisle, still shouldering his bookbag.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” he asked, indicating the seat next to her own.

Willow swiveled the desktop up so that she could stand out of the way. “No, not at all. Here.” She tucked her bag under her chair while Andrew squeezed past. “So how was your weekend?”

“Fine. I had to go home to grab a few things I’d forgotten, and to do some last-minute school shopping. You?”

Willow shrugged. “It was okay. Oh, I went to the diner on Saturday.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Uh huh. I was looking for Tara, but there was a new girl there.”

Andrew nodded. “Yeah, Mr. Wilkins has been hiring a bunch of people since the semester’s starting. Who was she?”

“Hm. I can’t remember her name. She had brown hair, kinda wavy and about this long,” Willow described, holding her hand about shoulder level. “She was pretty, but looked like she could break me in half if I made her angry. Oh, and she was wearing a shirt that said something I, uh, can’t exactly repeat, but that didn’t seem very appropriate for a waitress.”

“Oh! That’s Faith. Isn’t she the coolest?” Andrew gushed, his cheeks tinged with pink. “She’s not new, though. She’s one of the cooks; I’m pretty sure she’s been there for a few years, at least. Come on, what’d the shirt say? You’ve got to tell me,” he whined.

“No way. Ask her yourself,” Willow laughed, shaking her head adamantly.

“Darn it.” The boy pouted, and grudgingly changed the topic. “So what are you taking this course for?”

“Physics fills one of the requirements for both chemistry and computer science. I’m double majoring. What about you—physics major?”

“Math,” Andrew replied. “But there’s a lot of overlap. I’m taking a comp sci class, too: CMSC131. Are you in that one?”

“Nope.” Willow pulled her class schedule out of the front pocket of her folder and slid it onto Andrew’s desk. “I ended up in 212 because of the college placement exams.” She pointed out the boxes on the page.

The boy looked over her schedule. “Wow, heavy course load,” he noted, impressed. “Hey, GEMS100! I’m in that section, too. I didn’t know you were in Gemstone.”

“Yup! I don’t know if it’ll be any good; a couple of the returning students on my floor were grumbling about it.”

“You’ve got to be in Ellicott Hall, though, right?”

“Hey, yeah, I didn’t even think about that! All the Gemstone students are there, aren’t they? So we’re in the same dorm! What floor are you on? I’m on seven.”

“Four,” Andrew laughed. “I guess we’re neighbors.”

The two new friends stood to let a pair of students past, then settled back into their seats and conversation. “So,” Andrew began hesitantly, “you’ll probably think I’m a real nerd for asking, but, um…have you ever played role playing games? Like, uh, Dungeons & Dragons? There’s a couple guys on my floor who are starting a game.”

“Yeah, I used to play with my friend Xander. And, actually, Buffy a few times,” Willow giggled, “although she’d never admit it, now, I’ll bet! She always played the warrior classes, because she couldn’t ever remember the rules for the more complicated ones.” The image of Buffy cackling maniacally whenever she rolled particularly well in combat flitted to the front of Willow’s mind, and she found herself smiling broadly at the memory. “It was really fun, when we first met. We stopped once we, you know, started dating people. Well, Xander kept bugging us to play, but we’d always come up with excuses, but maybe we shouldn’t have. Oz could have been a great bard, now that I think about it—he’s my boyfriend, and plays guitar in a band. I was a sorceress.”

“You are just about the coolest person ever,” Andrew stated, clearly in awe. “You’ve got to join our game.”

“Okay,” Willow agreed.

~*~

“Hey, guys!” Buffy greeted, approaching a table in the dining hall, where Willow and Andrew were both sitting.

“Hey, Buffy. Andrew was in my physics section this morning, so I invited him to meet us for lunch.”

“Cool.” Buffy set her tray down on the table, then pulled out a chair and plopped down. “I actually asked Cordy if she wanted to join us, too, but she said she might be a no-show. We had a psych class together, today. At way-too-early o’clock, I might add,” she grimaced.

Willow peered at her friend. “You know I hate to say I—“

“You love to say ‘I told you so,’” Buffy interjected, “so go ahead. Let’s hear it.” She waved her hands invitingly in a ‘bring it on’ gesture.

“Nope, not going to happen,” Willow harrumphed, turning up her nose in indignance. She wasn’t going to give her the pleasure of being correct. Buffy chuckled at her friend’s airs, then dug into her burger and fries.

Andrew chose to ignore the exchange. “How was psych class?” he asked the blonde.

She shrugged noncommittally. “Eh. Seems like it’s going to be right out of the book, so kind of boring. I sense lots of reading, memorizing, and regurgitating,” she sighed. “How about yours?”

“I had an honors calculus class that ruled,” Andrew stated. “The professor seems like he’s really into the subject; I’ve never seen a teacher get so excited about math. It’ll probably be great. Physics was okay. I think I like the smaller classes better, though.”

“Me, too,” Willow agreed through a bite of tuna salad. “The whole lecture hall full of people kind of leads to the teacher just reading things off up front, and everyone taking notes. There’s not a lot of chance for discussion.”

“Are you still going to work at the diner, now that classes have started?” Buffy asked the boy, reaching for the ketchup.

“Yeah,” Andrew answered. “Not nearly as many hours, of course. Mostly evening and weekend shifts.”

“Guh. I can’t imagine adding a job to be load. And I’m sure you’re both probably taking double my credits, already.”

“Eighteen,” Willow and Andrew replied in unison. Realizing their similar answers, they grinned and offered high-fives to each other.

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Where’s Cordelia when I need her?” she muttered, feeling alone next to the two overachievers.

“Speaking of missing people, did Tara ever show up to work?” Willow inquired.

Andrew didn’t follow. “Hm? When?”

“She was sick, or missing, or something. On Saturday morning.”

“Oh, I’m not sure. I didn’t work either day this weekend. They didn’t call me to fill in on Sunday, though, so I expect she was there.”

“We still haven’t heard from her about our shopping trip, tomorrow,” Willow explained.

“Do you think she got the message?” Buffy asked.

Willow considered this. “I really don’t know.” She turned to Andrew. “Is, uh—is Faith likely to remember to pass along an invite?”

“Definitely!” Andrew insisted, jumping to his coworker’s defense. “Faith’s awesome. I think she’d be really excited about it, actually. Faith I mean. She seems intent upon getting Tara to socialize more. She’s really cool like that.” Andrew shoveled a forkful of salad into his mouth, missing the glance that Buffy and Willow exchanged, as well as the blonde’s subsequent smirk.

“Well, we could always stop by the diner and see,” Buffy suggested, “but it would have to be tomorrow; I told Cordy that I’d hang out with her at Delta after classes. Will, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you wanted to come along.”

“Maybe,” Willow said. “I might go to Oz’s, though. I think he’s trying to make up for his vanishing act this weekend by staying on campus all week.”

“Okay, well, give my cell a ring if you change your mind.”

“Hey, are either of you entering the PanUM Games, next weekend?” Andrew asked while folding the sleeve from his straw into a tiny paper accordion.

“The what?” Buffy looked up from her burger, confused.

Willow perked up. “Oh, yeah! E7 is putting together a team.”

Buffy shifted her attention to her friend, even more lost. “Huh?”

“It’s like Field Day,” Willow explained. “You enter a team and compete in all of these events, like a wheelbarrow race, or a balloon toss, you know?”

“Each floor from each dormitory can enter a team,” Andrew clarified. “And the ones that do the best get Terp Dollars, which they can use to buy things for their whole floor, like a vending machine, or a Ping-Pong table, or something like that. There are a few events throughout the semester at which you can earn them.”

“This thing is this weekend?”

“Next weekend,” Andrew corrected.

Buffy frowned. “Huh. No, I haven’t heard about it. I think my dorm’s kind of boring and disinterested in all things fun.”

“You could be an official Ellicott Seven ringer, if you wanted,” Willow offered. “We need more people, and you wouldn’t be the first; one of Cordelia’s friends is already on the team, and she doesn’t even live on campus.”

“Hey, that’s against the rules!” Andrew complained.

“Maybe,” Willow admitted. “But you’d never tell on us.”

“Oh, yeah? Why’s that?” the boy challenged.

The redhead grinned wickedly. “Because…if you don’t mention that Buffy’s not from E7, we’ll be sure not to mention to Faith that you’ve got a big ol’ crush on her.”

Willow’s words were followed by a heartbeat of shocked silence, before Andrew sputtered, “W-what? I don’t have a crush on Faith!”

“I’m sure she’ll be quite happy to know that,” Buffy grinned, catching on to her friend’s ploy.

Andrew shifted tactics. “You wouldn’t actually tell her,” he gulped.

Willow looked at Buffy. “We’re stopping by the diner tomorrow, right, Buff? I wonder if Faith will be there, too.”

The boy opened and closed his mouth several times without a word, carp-like, before hanging his head in defeat. “Fine,” he grumbled, “I won’t tell. But—but just know that if you win, it will only be through trickery and deceit!”

Buffy grinned at her friend. “We can live with that,” they both said.

~*~

After lunch, the girls headed off to their next class in Marie Mount Hall. Willow toted a bag nearly bursting with her day’s texts, notebooks, and school supplies, while Buffy carried only a pad of paper and a pen. They walked side by side along one of the footpaths that ran diagonally across the Mall. On the grass, a number of students had sprawled out, eager to make the most of summer’s last breath, before autumn began in earnest. It looked so relaxing that even Willow wished for a moment that she didn’t have a class to attend.

“So,” she commented, “you’re really getting along well with Cordelia.”

“Yeah, actually. We do kind of click. I hope you didn’t feel left out on Saturday,” Buffy said, worried that her best friend might be feeling like a third wheel due to the amount of time Buffy was spending with her roommate. “We really wanted you to hang with us. Cordy keeps saying she needs a chance to get to meet you for more than five minutes at a time.”

“No, it’s okay, really,” Willow assured her friend. “It was an all around bad day, not a ‘gee my friend isn’t around’ day. It’s neat that you’re making campus-y friends, really. And we’ll all hang, definitely. Besides, that was a whole two days ago. Ancient history!” She waved her hand, dismissing the notion that she might still be upset.

“Speaking of ancient history, are you ready for Boredom 101 with Mr. Jeeves?”

Willow laughed. “It’s Giles. And I’m not certain it will be boring. Ancient civilizations were fascinating, Buffy. You’ll see.” The girls took the steps up to the building and tried to get their bearings once inside.

“Hm. I guess,” Buffy offered, not sounding at all convinced. “All I know is that I’ve been promised Internet hotness in the professor department, and I expect to be wowed.”

“Well, you know, they say hotness scales differently on the Internet,” Willow joked. She located the directory. “Here we are.”

Buffy was reading a series of fliers that were stuck to a large bulletin board in the hallway. “Linguistics…Family Studies…University Senate? Guh, politics.” She moved over to Willow, and scanned the list. “Hey, there’s a computer lab on this floor. Huh. LGBT Studies on the second floor? They have classes for that?” she asked in disbelief.

“They have classes for everything,” Willow declared. “There was a course in the catalog called ‘Family and Social Roles in Daytime Serials.’ Oh, and ‘European Witchcraft.’ College is so great!”

Buffy simply shook her head. “Come on, we’re in 1400, so it’s somewhere on this floor.”

They wandered down a few corridors. Luckily, signs were posted at all the intersections, and they didn’t have any trouble finding their classroom. “I got lost in the psych building, this morning,” Buffy confessed as they walked. “Somebody told me that it was built purposefully to be confusing, sort of as an homage to the rat in the maze thing, I guess. This isn’t nearly as bad.”

“Nope! 1400, here it is.” They poked their heads through the doorway and saw an empty classroom save for one other student and the professor, a man in his mid-forties who was wearing a sharp twill weave suit and tie. He held a pair of glasses in one hand, and was busy rummaging through the contents of a leather briefcase.

“Oh, bloody hell,” he cursed quietly, but the acoustics of the room carried the oath to the girls’ ears. He closed the case with a sigh and hurried to the door, acknowledging them with a tight-lipped smile as he rushed past, then doubled back. “Pardon me, but you’re here for Mythology of Ancient World Civilizations, I presume?”

“Yup!” Buffy replied.

“Very good,” he nodded curtly. “I must go fetch something from my office. If I have not returned by the start of class, would you be so kind as to inform them that I’ll be along shortly?”

“Sure thing.”

“Thank you.” With that, the professor took off running down the hallway toward the main entrance, and both girls held back fits of giggles at the image of the man in a neatly pressed suit awkwardly dashing away. The moment he turned the corner and disappeared from their sight, Buffy spun on Willow.

“You promised hot teacher! He’s not hot, he’s—old!”

Willow shrugged lamely. “I guess you can’t trust everything you read online,” she agreed, not willing to admit to her friend that she thought Professor Giles was sort of cute.

~*~

The dorm room door swung open then nearly closed again, colliding into an unseen body with an audible “oomph!” A single pale hand, clutching a slender bottle of soda, nudged it back open, and was followed by the rest of Willow. She carried dining hall takeout balanced on one arm, had her school supplies in the other, several napkins tucked under her chin, and her keys dangling precariously from her mouth. Teetering across the room, she dumped all but the food onto her bed. Free of her burden at last, Willow flipped on her desk lamp and pressed the play button on the answering machine, whose message indicator was blinking the number three. She grabbed one of the napkins and began wiping some marinara sauce off the edge of the Styrofoam container while she listened to the recording. The first two were blank; she heard only the sound of the phone hanging up.

“Hi, is this—is this Willow’s answering machine?”

Willow’s hand stilled at the sound of the voice. She crept closer to the machine as the message continued.

“I, uh, I hope so. Um, if you’re not Willow, s-sorry for the call. If you are Willow, hi, this is Tara from the diner. Remember me?”

“Of course I remember you,” Willow said to the empty room.

“I’m sorry it took me so long to call you. I, um, I kind of didn’t know how to get in touch with you? I think you forgot to leave your phone number…uh, or your address…or, well, r-really anything other than your name with Faith. But, um, well I got the number there. You p-probably shouldn’t ask how. Anyway, yes, I’d love to go to the Magic Box with you tomorrow after my shift.”

Willow let out a breath she didn’t even realize she’d been holding.

“I’m done at four o’clock. If—if you want to reach me before then, my n-number is three—“

The redhead dove for her desk, tearing through the contents of her drawers to find a pen, then hastily wrote down the digits as they were read off.

“—ive seven four. If I d-don’t hear from you, then I’ll see you tomorrow! Um, oh, but where? And when? I guess—“ The rest of the message was cut off, and Willow gaped in disbelief. She glowered at the offending piece of machinery that prevented her from hearing the remainder of Tara’s thoughts. Willow played the message once more—‘I’d better make sure I got the number right,’ she justified, although she was certain she’d written it down correctly—and immediately programmed the information into her cell phone. She then leveled her gaze at the buttons with a look of sheer determination. “Willow Rosenberg,” she demanded, “you will dial this number on the first try.”

~*~

Tara was startled when the phone rang, interrupting her meal with Donny. The two were eating dinner alone for the third night in a row. Their father had made some excuse about having to work late, but Tara knew the pattern: he would stay out late—at the bar, she supposed—for about a week after he—‘after coming home too drunk,’ her mind filled in. He wouldn’t speak with his children but for a few words sprinkled here and there, and then, after his week of self-imposed isolation, he’d slowly begin to integrate himself into the family, again. He’d pick up his effort at work, and would even ease back on the alcohol for a few weeks. For several days, he’d even help out in the kitchen, with the errands, and clean up around the house. Then the cycle would repeat.

“You want me to get that?” Donny asked, raising an eyebrow to his sister, who was within arm’s reach of the phone, now on its third ring. His sister looked suitably embarrassed and grabbed the receiver.

“H-hello?”

“Hi, I’m looking for Tara Maclay,” piped a voice, just a bit too loudly.

“This is Tara.” She saw Donny look up from his plate, curious about the conversation now that he knew the call was for his sister.

“Hey, Tara! This is Willow. You know, from the diner? Um, I mean, of course from the diner; you probably don’t know any Willows from anywhere else, huh? And you left a message here today, so it’s probably a safe bet that you know who I am—“

Tara giggled. “Hi, Willow,” she greeted. Donny’s interest was more than piqued, since he didn’t recognize the name. ‘Who’s Willow?’ he mouthed, but his sister shook her head to shush him, and carried the phone around the corner, stretching the cord. Donny craned his neck to hear better.

“So I got your message. Well, the first part of it anyway; the machine kind of ate the second part. The nerve! Computer hard drives can store over a terabyte of data; you’d think your run of the mill answering machine would be able to hold a five minute long message, you know? But, right, I got the message, and by the way I’m so sorry I forgot to leave my phone number. I don’t know what I was thinking. I probably deserve the Idiot of the Year award or something, like, ‘Hey! Give me a call!’ but you can’t. I’m dying to know how you got my phone number, even though you said I shouldn’t ask, so let the record show that this isn’t me asking, more…just stating my curiosity in a general way. Anyway, I hope you didn’t think I was being mean, inviting you and then not giving you any way to reach me. I wasn’t; I’m just kind of a doofus when it comes to remember some things. Important, heart of the message type things—“

“W-Willow?”

She heard a deep inhalation, as the girl on the other end of the phone refilled her deflated lungs. “Yeah?” Willow’s voice asked, meekly.

“Breathe, okay?” Tara instructed, smiling at the girl’s ability to spout out words apparently without running out of oxygen.

“Right, sorry. So you want to come with me tomorrow? And Buffy? To the New Age shop? Is it called the Magic Box? That was up in the air, the last time we talked.”

“I—I think so, yes. Faith said she was certain that was the name. I mean, I think that’s the name; I definitely would like to go with you. When are you going, and w-where would I meet you?”

“First of all: woo! And secondly: we were planning on stopping by the diner around four, and waiting for you to get off of your shift, then walking to the bus stop just up the road and taking the bus up to East/West Highway. Would that be okay? Neither of us has a car,” Willow admitted.

“Me, neither,” Tara confessed. “That sounds perfect. Thanks so much for inviting me; it’ll be so nice to have s-something to do.”

“Of course! I mean, you said you really loved those kinds of stores, and it was your suggestion in the first place, so it only seemed fair. And anyway, you seem nice, and Andrew said you just moved here, and we kind of just moved here too, so, you know, we’re just a bunch of people who don’t know anybody, right? And, well, now we will know each other! I mean, I’m assuming you don’t know anybody, already, which could be completely wrong, and I guess kind of insulting if in fact you do have lots of friends already, as though I think you wouldn’t, which isn’t true at all.”

“I don’t know many people,” Tara jumped in when the other girl paused for a quick breath. “It was v-very sweet of you to invite me. Thanks again. I’ve g-got to go, though; I’m eating dinner with my brother.”

“Oh! I’m sorry, I’ll let you go, then. Hey, see? I didn’t even know you had a brother. It’s like I know you a little more now than I did five seconds ago. But, going now, so you can eat. Have a nice meal. And good night! I’ll see you tomorrow, four o’clock.”

“Good night, Willow,” Tara said, and the line disconnected. “Willow,” she whispered again, very conscious of how the word felt flowing past her lips. ‘It’s such a beautiful name,’ she thought. ‘So soft, all rolling tongue and rounded edges, like it was meant to be breathed, instead of spoken.’

When she reentered the kitchen to hang up the receiver and return to her meal, Donny had a smug expression plastered across his face.

“What?” Tara asked, dismayed.

“Tara’s got a da-ate! Tara’s got a da-ate!” he half-sung, doing a little dance in his seat.

“W-what?” her eyes widened. “I don’t have a date. I have a—an outing, with a friend. With friends, actually. Two friends of the girl variety.”

“Oh,” Donny frowned, halting his impromptu dance. “You sure?” he narrowed his eyes at his sister, making sure she wasn’t holding back any information.

Tara nodded.

“Well, that’s still good,” he decided, giving her two thumbs up. “Good job, there.”


Last edited by jasmydae on Wed Mar 11, 2009 2:43 am, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: October 11, 2008
PostPosted: Sun Oct 12, 2008 1:15 am 
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Yay for great update-y goodness... Good that Willow is finding studying interesting... Very good for Tara to find courage to call Willow about their Magic Box date... I really hope that Tara's dad will stop drinking and abusing Tara...

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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: October 11, 2008
PostPosted: Sun Oct 12, 2008 9:35 am 
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As good as allways. Your stories are allways interesting.


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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: October 11, 2008
PostPosted: Sun Oct 12, 2008 3:40 pm 
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I like that Willow is making all these friends and getting into college. She also seems to be kind of a step from on the verge of realizing there's something about Tara. I bet it takes her a while to get there.

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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: October 11, 2008
PostPosted: Sun Oct 12, 2008 11:30 pm 
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Hello :)

Well once again I liked this update.
Much lighter. Except I fear for when Tara's father will go back to the beginning of his cycle. :(

I loved Tara's message, but even more Willow's call. Lol. I love babble-y Willow. :)

When will she break up? Soon right? Right? I mean I like Oz, I do. But not with Willow :-D (even though it seems I meet only Willoz fans lately, at College... They all love Willow, but all regrets she chose Tara over Oz... Crazy people they are aren't they? One even said the B word about Tara! Well don't worry I *growls* talked to her, and then she said she was sorry.. lol),

Anyway, I hope to read more soon, and you're totally welcome for the feedbacks. It is addictive isn't it? ;-)

Friendly

Julia.

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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: October 11, 2008
PostPosted: Mon Oct 13, 2008 7:25 am 
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Really enjoyed the last two updates. I like the depth you're giving Faith's character. I was surprised (pleasantly) when she showed up at Tara's after she was sick.

Your version of Willow seems more comfortable in her skin, if that makes sense. I'm sure some of the same insecurities exist, but she seems more open and able to make new friends and is fitting in well. I like that the separation between Oz and Willow is gradual even though it prolongs the separation of W/T. The way you've written it is far closer to reality. Excellent!

Also love how you've brought Andrew in to this story. He adds charm and humor to all of the conversations.

Thanks for sharing!


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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: October 11, 2008
PostPosted: Mon Oct 13, 2008 11:47 am 
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I think it is hilarious that Andrew is crushing on Faith - good god, she would chew him up and spit him out for breakfast - lol. I don't blame him though ;-)

I loved all the Willow bits in this update. She was just so Willow-y with turning up 37 minutes early for class and the babble when talking to Tara was just so spot on. Even the bonding with Andrew came across as so natural to her character.

I like the 'slow burn' you have going with her in relation to Tara and I can't help wondering how Willow is going to react when the reality of what she is beginning to feel sinks in. She already realises that Oz may not be the one for her - or that she is the one for Oz - it's just a matter of transition now - are we going to have an angsty period of denial or will she embrace it all with enthusiasm and open arms?

Either way, I'll lap up every word.

It's still hard not to dwell on parts of Tara's life. It is like the normal everyday parts of her life are the surreal ones instead of the periods of abuse. To live with the knowledge that after a few weeks of denial and remorse that the cycle will begin again, yet remain optimistic, just adds to the surrealness that I feel.

At some point she will have to deal with the reality of her situation, but it was lovely to see that despite the 'dark side' of some aspects of her life that she reacts so positively to Willow, and recognises her attraction.

Quote:
‘It’s such a beautiful name,’ she thought. ‘So soft, all rolling tongue and rounded edges, like it was meant to be breathed, instead of spoken.’


That line is just so gorgeous I felt I had to quote it :)

I'm looking forward to the next update - I can't wait to see Willow and Tara together in a more social context.

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 Post subject: Constants - Chapter 8 Feedback
PostPosted: Mon Oct 20, 2008 8:12 pm 
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Zampsa1975: I kind of like the idea of Willow's confidence being brought out by college. In the show, she started out as this shy character, but became more self-assured through her friendship with Buffy; by the time she reached college, she had shed at least the outward facing indicators of her anxiety. In this story, there was no demon-slaying and witchery, so I wrote Willow's first chapter character as being still very reliant on others for reassuring feedback. But now that they're at college, Willow's totally in her element. Geeks thrive at college. Unfortunately, I expect Mr. Maclay will be in the story for a long while, but...well, I never really know where my stories are going to end up.

Taralover: Thanks so much. Sorry I'm so darned impossible to get in touch with.

JustSkipIt: Yeah, I love college Willow. It's so great to see her in her element, and able to be proud of her intelligence (I probably spelled that wrong). She is aware that there's something about Tara, but will it take her a long time for the awareness to really sink in? You might be right, there. ;) Especially at the pace I tend to write--my goodness, it's like...I'll have a simple three-line exchange between two characters, and by the time I'm done with the first draft, it's been transmuted into two full pages. Thanks so much for the comments; I've always admired your writing, and getting feedback from one of my favorite authors is *makes up a word* giddifying.

JujuDeRoussie: "Sweaty and Kinda Gay"?...I want that title! #^_^# I love Willow babble, too. Actually, I kind of do that in real life, and it's been a struggle to keep it from creeping into the *other* characters' dialog. For instance, Faith's doorstep babbling when she shows up at Tara's apartment? Believe me, I did not intend for that to sound so Willowy. What will happen with Oz and Willow? I've got ideas. It's rough; early Oz (like, high school Oz) was one of my favorite characters on the show. The writers had a very obvious means to cause problems in that relationship. In my story, no werewolves means that it's got to be handled differently, but I don't want to demonize the character. After all, Oz was a pretty loyal, courageous, caring character for most of his duration on the show. Of course, everything is eclipsed when Tara *siiiiigh* appears, but...I admit I'm biased.

ophelia11: Yup! The moment I thought of Faith dropping by Tara's place, I knew I had to end a chapter with the visit. I love when scenes practically write themselves. Willow is definitely becoming more comfortable in her own skin, even since the first chapter; I guess that's what being in a nerd-nurturing environment does to a person. I'm so happy you're enjoying the story, and truly appreciate the feedback. Nothing makes a panda sadder than posting a chapter and watching it ooze down to the bottom of the Pens first page. I also love Andrew. ;)

Paint the Sky: Yeah, Andrew likes Faith... *cackle* I was staring at this list of characters, and kind of penciling in lines between them with ideas for plot arcs, and this absolute stroke of...well, not genius, more like...futility. This stroke of sheer, utter, undeniable futility so perfect that I just *had* to add it to the story. :) Nothing makes me happier than readers saying the characters are coming across as, uh...the characters. I know what you mean about dwelling on Tara, even when she's not the focus of a chapter. Always, thank you so much for feedback. <3

All: I wish I had more time to write. I use my daily commute to plan out the chapters and sketch them out on paper. I've got--no kidding--about three chapters worth of material all planned out, but finding the time to sit at the computer and flesh it out into a final draft is...really slow. I keep intending my chapters to be longer than they are. I think I need to stop making promises about what the chapters will contain. Instead, I'll just make the one: I will finish this story, and I'll try to post at least fortnightly, even if it's only half a chapter.


Last edited by jasmydae on Sun Nov 16, 2008 11:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Constants - Chapter 9
PostPosted: Mon Oct 20, 2008 8:14 pm 
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***
PART 9
***

On the wide expanse of lawn that fit snugly between the Memorial Chapel and the constant, frenzied motion of Route One traffic, a dozen students wearing matching jerseys stood in a circle, kicking a pair of soccer balls around in preparation for the intramural season. At the instruction of one of the players, they switched drills, and began practicing their handling; in pairs of two, they dashed between orange cones while keeping the ball underfoot, then passed it to the next teammate. An errant kick sent one of the balls skittering down a hill toward a paved path, which curled around the edge of the grass and ran parallel to the drive that led up the hill to the chapel. Two young women walking along the path stalled their conversation so that the shorter of the two, a tiny girl with a blonde ponytail, could halt the ball with the tip of one of her designer boots. She planted a firm kick, sending the ball sailing over the head of the student who’d trotted over to retrieve it. The kick arced high in the air and traveled forty yards, landing directly in the hands of the player who was waiting next in line. The students looked on in collective awe as the girls continued down the path.

“Showoff,” Willow chastised with a mischievous grin, once they were out of earshot.

Buffy let a smug look flicker across her face, then fell back into the pleading tones of their interrupted conversation. “But, Will, seriously: you’ve got to go! It wouldn’t be the same without you. Besides, it’d be the perfect opportunity for you to get to know Cordy as something outside of the whole living in the same room thing.”

“Yeah,” Willow allowed grudgingly, “that’s true. But, I don’t know, Buffy, it’s—it’s just not me. I mean, a frat party? You know I’m not much for the drinking, since I’m not even supposed to, and I can’t dance worth a—wait, they do still dance at parties, right? Am I expected to dance? And I’m sort of awful with big groups, especially big groups of people I’ve never met before, and I just know I look awful in a toga!”

“Will, it’s not a—“

“—Besides, I’d only know you, and I know you don’t need a fearful, clinging, party-pooper of a friend to hold you back from your own fun-having. You’d do much better without me, with all the meeting of the boys, and plus you get along with Cordelia, who probably knows even more people, so you’d—“

“Willow!”

“Right, sorry. Um, so how’d you hear about this party, anyway? Did Cordelia invite you?”

Buffy nodded. “Yeah. She said one of her friends at Delta was dating one of the KA guys, and I guess there’s a lot of, uh, intermingling between the houses.”

Willow raised an eyebrow, but didn’t ask the question that was forming on her lips. Instead, she reached out and punched the button for the crosswalk. The girls trotted across the road when the cars stopped, and approached the diner. When they reached the door, Buffy spun on her friend.

“So you are going, right?”

Willow frowned. “Can we just…” she waved her hand at the diner’s door, the motion obviously completing her thought.

“I’ll let it go,” Buffy permitted, “for now. But don’t think you’ve escaped!”

The diner was in full swing when they entered—busy, but not operating at the frantic pace they’d seen during previous visits. After standing for a moment near the entrance, a waitress approached, welcoming them with a smile. Mousy brown hair framed her face, and Willow couldn’t help noticing that her eyes had a habit of darting about nervously whenever she stood still.

“Hello. Welcome to Plato’s,” she greeted. “Table for two?”

Willow glanced about the room. “It Tar—oh, there she is,” she remarked, spying the blonde waitress taking the order of an elderly couple across the room. “Uh, we would like a table, actually. Yes.”

“All right, if you’ll follow me, please,” their hostess offered, leading the girls in the other direction, toward a table by the window. Willow lagged behind a step, trying to get Tara’s attention, and when she finally caught her eye, the blonde hurried over.

“Hey, Willow, Buffy,” she said, nodding to each in turn. “I’m off shift just as soon as Mark gets here; it should be j-just a few more minutes, I think.” Tara fought to keep her nerves calm, although her insides were roiling. ‘They actually showed up. Our shopping date is on. That’s—that’s good, right? No reason to panic. Don’t botch this, Tara; don’t you dare. And pay attention; she’s talking.’

“Cool,” the redhead replied. She inclined her head toward the other waitress, who was waiting for them at the empty table. “We were going to grab some food, actually; both of us had a really early lunch, today, so we’re kind of big with the hunger.”

“Would you want to eat with us, by the way?” Buffy asked. “After your shift, I mean. Or is that an awkward thing, eating at the restaurant you work at? I mean, I wouldn’t have been caught dead eating at the Doublemeat Palace, but, well, you know—the food here is actually edible.”

“N-no. Richard suggests it, actually; he says it’s a good practice for the staff to sample everything on the menu, so that they can, um, make better recommendations.”

“Well, good,” Willow chirped, sliding into one of the seats, “we’ll just get some drinks, then, and wait for you to join us.”

~*~

“So magic, huh?”

“W-what?”

Faith could read the deer-in-headlights expression that had taken up residence on Tara’s face since the moment her friends had arrived, and knew her teasing would hit the mark. She moved in for the kill. “You know…you, Buffy—“ She purposefully paused, gauging Tara’s reaction to the girl’s name, but surprisingly saw only confusion. “—and Red. You know, shopping? Magic Box?” ‘Ah, there it is,’ she thought, as a fresh wave of embarrassment brought color to Tara’s cheeks, and forced her eyes to open just a smidgen wider. “You did accept the invite, right? I assume so, after the panic you flew into when you didn’t have a way to reach ‘em.”

“N-no. I mean, yes. I—I accepted th-th—yes, I’m g-going with them.”

“Good! I was starting to get worried that you harbored some pretty serious antisocial tendencies after you threw me out of your apartment on Saturday.”

Halfway between shame and shock, Tara stammered, “Threw you—? N-no, Faith, I didn’t—it was great having you over, r-really. The movie—well, the first hour of the movie was great, too. I just, um…well, I didn’t think m-my father would want me to have anyone over to the apartment without asking first. And I needed an early night; I, uh, I didn’t really sleep very well on Friday.”

By this point, Faith was snickering. “Hey, T, it’s cool, really. I was just teasin’ you. It didn’t bother me at all. Sorry, it’s just…you make it so easy.” She shrugged her arms apologetically, then smiled. Pointing at the diner’s entrance, where a young man was wiping his shoes on the mat, she said, “Hey, here comes the cavalry. You got any tables running?”

“Just one,” Tara answered. “Be right back.” She strode out into the dining area, intent on finishing up her shift without the butterflies in her stomach carrying her away. ‘Don’t look at her,’ she thought. ‘Don’t even glance over into that section. What are you—you’re looking! You’re supposed to be bringing your customers their check, but instead you’re ogling this girl, whom you already know to be straight, might I add—straight and taken, and even if she wasn’t, she probably wouldn’t even—oh my gosh, she’s looking back at you!’ The corners of the redhead’s mouth curled up, and she gave a shy little wave in Tara’s direction. ‘RED ALERT! Watch where you’re going; this is where klutzy Tara stumbles over a chair, or falls sideways into the orchestra pit and sprains the wrist of Mr. Larson’s favorite violinist.’ She managed, much to her relief, to do neither of these things, instead delivering the check to her final table and regrouping in the kitchen, where Faith and Mark had been looking on in amusement. To avoid their snickering a moment longer, she rinsed her hands at one of the many sinks.

“Okay, Tare. I got your section,” Mark said, stepping up behind her. “Go, go: your date awaits you.”

Tara swiveled around, her stunned reaction directed toward Faith instead of the young man. “M-my date?!”

“I said nothing,” the chef insisted, her hands raised defensively as if they could ward off the accusation. “Mark, don’t even bother teasing; she won’t get it. Clearly she’s in Panic Mode.” Even Faith couldn’t continue without a wry, knowing grin spreading across her face.

The waitress frowned at her friend. “I’m not in—It’s not a—you know what?” She thwumped the faucet off with a little more force than was necessary, and slipped her apron up over her head, compressing the fabric into a volleyball-sized wad. “Y-you two are just trying to get a rise out of me, so…I’m just going to go over there,” she finished lamely, firing the apron ball at Faith, who snatched it from the air with practiced ease.

The two coworkers watched her stomp off, and they moved closer together, their voices lowering conspiratorially. “You’re right,” Mark confessed, “that was fun. But what was it all about, anyway?”

“I think T’s got the hots for that blonde over at table three.”

Mark’s eyes bulged, and he tactlessly spun and stared after the waitress, who was indeed approaching a pair of girls at table three. His mouth struggled to keep up with his mind. “The hots for—Tara does?”

Faith followed his gaze to the table. “Sure looks that way,” she verified.

A number of synapses fired simultaneously in the boy’s brain, searching for and landing upon the perfect response. “Huh,” he said. Another few seconds passed as his mental filing system tried to recategorize the waitress into different boxes, then gave up and relocated her to an entirely separate section. That done, he offered a cool, collected assessment of the newfound information. “Good taste,” he decided.

“That’s what I said!”

~*~

Her confidence fueled by the ribbing from her coworkers, Tara strode up to the table where Willow and her friend sipped at sodas. The girls were pointing out tempting appetizers on the menu to each other.

“Hi,” Tara said.

Willow beamed. “Hey, you.”

“Well, fancy meeting you here,” Buffy quipped. She began moving their coats and purses out of the way, but before she could clear any room, Willow scooted over, and Tara eased into the booth beside the redhead.

“I know, what are the odds?” Tara joked along, reaching for a menu despite having most of it memorized from her first week of work.

Willow performed some quick calculations in her head. “Two to one,” she answered. “Well, I mean, historically, anyway.” A pair of blank stares met her. “What? I’m just—fine, I fail at joking.” The redhead adopted a pout, onto which Tara immediately attached a mental tag: ‘Precious.’

“Well, now it’s funny,” Tara giggled, easing the blow of her teasing with the lightest brush of her fingertips upon Willow’s arm. She didn’t know which startled her more: how natural it felt to reach out and touch the girl, or how her hand seemed to navigate by its own impulses. It lit upon Willow’s upper arm such that three fingers and a thumb rested on fabric, while the pinky curled underneath so that it grazed over smooth skin when extended. The hard years of Tara’s life had taught her that hope—a cherished feeling, certainly—could be dangerous when allowed to rise to the surface; it was safer to keep such a treasure buried deeply, where the talons of the world couldn’t tear at it. Such safeguards flew out the window, however, when she felt Willow lean into the touch with the most infinitesimal of movements. ‘It could just as easily have been fidgeting, discomfort, or even just a breath at the right moment,’ she reminded herself hastily, but she was too late; hope had already burst forth from its cocoon, unfurled its wings, and taken flight. A fluttering warmth spread outward from her stomach.

“So, Tara, Andrew tells us you painted those yourself,” Buffy mentioned, indicating the two works on the wall. “They’re really good.”

“Oh, um, th-thank you. They’re pretty old; I brought them here from our old house.”

“Do you still paint?” Willow asked, her voice reduced to a half-whisper.

The corner of Tara’s mouth twitched in something akin to a frown. “Not really,” she sighed. “I’d like to, it’s just been, you know, busy…and I guess the creative winds have been, uh, less windy than usual?”

“That’s too bad,” Buffy remarked, “Willow was hopin’ she could get one for her room.”

Grape soda flooded the redhead’s nasal cavity as she tried to bark her objection. “What?! No—no, I wasn’t—I didn’t say that!” she sputtered. Realizing what she’d just said, Willow began backpedaling immediately. “Not that they’re not amazing, like I wouldn’t want one, because of course I’d—I mean, just, you know, that would be all with the presumption, ‘cause it’s not like we invite you out to go shopping one day, then we’re automatically entitled to make requests of your artistic genius, and—and—“ She trailed off, sensing that she was being humored. “—and you’re laughing at me, again, aren’t you?”

“N-no,” Tara managed between giggles, “you’re just too cute.”

I’m laughing at you,” Buffy admitted.

“You see?” Willow complained in mock exasperation, shaking her head and looking at the girl beside her. “Do you see what great friends I have?”

Their waitress picked that moment to sidle up to the table. “Hey, folks,” she greeted. “Do you all know what you’d like to order?” She lifted her hand to the side of her mouth so that only Buffy could see it, but spoke loud enough for all to hear. “This one is always so indecisive,” she teased, tilting her head in Tara’s direction.

Buffy smirked. “Could I get the moussaka?” she decided.

“Uh, one sec,” Willow pleaded. A minute ago, she’d had her order memorized and was fully prepared to reel it off, but that was before Tara had called her cute. At present, she approximated eighty percent of her total brainpower was actively being used to replay the utterance of those four simple words: ‘you’re just too cute.’ She buried her head in her menu, scrambling to recall her order, but the words weren’t stringing together in anything resembling coherence.

“I’d like the Black Forest ham on rye, with Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard,” Tara ordered, pleased that she’d chosen quickly and confidently, without even a trace of a stutter.

“Ooh, actually, that sounds really good,” Willow agreed. “Could I get that, too? Um, with a chocolate milkshake, please.”

Tara perked up. “Oh, good idea. Make that two.”

“Uh, three?” Buffy added.


Last edited by jasmydae on Sun Nov 16, 2008 11:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Constants (Contemporary AU) Updated: October 21, 2008
PostPosted: Tue Oct 21, 2008 12:37 am 
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Yay for great update-y goodness... I hope Tara paints a special painting just for Willow... I hope their Magic Box date goes well...

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 Post subject: Constants - Chapter 9 Feedback
PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 11:52 am 
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Zampsa1975: Wow, you sneaked feedback in between two quick updates! Thanks for that, and in the next part, you'll see exactly how the Magic Box date goes. :)

Okay, everyone, I finally found time to type up the rest of what was supposed to be chapter nine, but has ended up chapter ten. For this reason, it's fairly short as well, but get this: Willow and Tara are together the entire time (gasp!). Um, so enjoy!

And, always, feedback = love.

Gogogo page 3.

~ Megan


Last edited by jasmydae on Sun Nov 16, 2008 11:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Constants - Chapter 10
PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 11:52 am 
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***
Part 10
***

“Brr! I wish this weather would make up its mind,” Willow remarked, hopping from one foot to the other as a chilly breeze rushed past the girls. They were huddled together inside of the Plexiglas hut that marked the bus stop, but its walls seemed to do little to stop the gusting wind.

“So you two are freshmen at the University—what do you study?” Tara asked, figuring that conversation would distract them from the chill.

“I’m a criminal justice major,” Buffy replied, “and Will’s double majoring in Rocket Science and Overachievement.”

“Chemistry and Computer Science,” Willow clarified. She peered at her friend. “And I’m not the first student to take a heavy course load during their first semester, you know. I mean, Andrew—“

“—Andrew is a freak of nature. Sixteen-year-old brains should not be working through advanced calculus problems,” Buffy declared unequivocally. “They should be, I don’t know, freaking out about sex and generating creative excuses for backing Mom’s car into the garage door.”

Tara laughed at Buffy’s enthusiasm. “I don’t think Andrew’s even got his driver’s license, yet; his brother picked him up last weekend to take him home.”

“Buffy doesn’t have a license, either,” Willow mentioned. “She’s failed the driving test twice.”

“Hey! I didn’t—well, okay, I did, but it’s not like I—look, there were mitigating circumstances, okay?”

Willow grinned at Tara. “Took out three mailboxes and a bird feeder, too.”

“I still can’t believe I didn’t get bonus points for that,” Buffy grumbled.

A Metrobus held up traffic as it slowed to a halt in front of the bus stop, and the girls stood clear when the doors hissed open to let off departing passengers. Buffy hopped up the stairs first and paid her fare, then courteously swiped her card for the other two, as well. Nearly all of the double seats had one vacancy since the passengers tended to spread out, meticulously avoiding sitting next to one another. Finding the only open pair, Buffy plopped down and scooted over toward the window. Tara hesitated in the aisle, considering the seat, then stepped forward and offered it to Willow, who trailed behind.

Willow shook her head. “Go on.”

“N-no, you should take it; she’s your friend.”

“It’s fine. Go ahead, I don’t mind standing,” Willow insisted.

“What? Do I smell or something,” Buffy huffed, trying her best to appear offended.

“Uh-uh. I think w-we’re locked in an endless circle of politeness,” Tara explained, giggling.

“It’s true,” Willow agreed. “We’ve reached a Standing Impasse.”

“You two are both dorks,” Buffy declared. She leaned back in her seat at an angle, sprawling her limbs across both cushions, and released an exaggerated sigh of contentment. “Ooh, it’s so comfortable!” To her dismay—and the delight of the other girls—a severely obese passenger nudged forward and plunked down into the seat, squeezing the blonde up against the window. For the remainder of the ride, Buffy gazed out the cold panel of glass, listening to the raspy wheezing of her seatmate, while Willow and Tara stood wordlessly in relative comfort, sharing a post and rocking gently with the rumbling motion of the bus.

~*~

The girls clambered down the stairs of the bus onto the sidewalk, and headed southward, setting a brisk pace to keep their bodies warm. There was a short, hilly stretch of road before it leveled out into the more welcoming shopping plazas. They walked side by side with Willow in the middle, and the redhead kept her eyes on the sidewalk, carefully skipping over the spaces between the slabs.

“So Buffy,” she said, breaking the silence, “what do you think you might get for Dawnie?”

“I really have no idea,” her friend replied with a mild shrug.

“Dawn’s her sister, right?” Tara asked Willow, ticking the name off on one of her fingers. “Cordelia is your roommate, and Beth is Buffy's?”

“Yup! And Xander’s our friend back home. That just about sums it up.”

“Don’t forget Oz,” Buffy added.

Tara blinked. “Oz?”

“He’s, uh, my boyfriend,” Willow explained, focusing even more intently on the pavement. ‘Huh, that’s new. Aren’t I usually proud and gushing? Since when is having a cool, older, musically-inclined boyfriend something to feel awkward about?’

“Interesting name,” Tara remarked, forcing a smile. ‘Must be that guy I saw her with at the diner,’ she assumed. Her head filled with images of the two redheads locked in an embrace, their lips gliding over each other, and a pang of jealousy shot through her. ‘Uh oh, that’s not good.’

“Well, Oz is an interesting boy,” Buffy teased.

Tara gulped, forcing her mind clear from thoughts of the couple. “Okay. Lots of new names. They’re kind of hard to keep straight; I’m not so good with names, and new people is kind of a big thing for me.”

“Why’s that?” Willow questioned.

“Oh, I’m—I’m kind of, uh, bad at meeting people?”

“I can’t imagine why; I think you’re—I mean, we—you’re doing just fine with us.” Willow finished in a rush, happy to have the total failure of a sentence be over.

Tara grinned, grateful for the reassurance. “Thanks. It’s easier with you guys. I mean, you’re both very, uh…” she trailed off, searching for the right word.

“Quirky?”

“Awesome?” Buffy supplied.

Willow tried again. “Crazy?”

“Warm,” Tara stated. “And approachable. Welcoming. Comfy. Um, yeah, kind of what she said,” she agreed, pointing at Buffy. “But probably those other things, too.”

Willow snickered. “Just you wait.”

“Well, we aim to please,” Buffy joked, coming to a halt just outside their destination. “Madame,” she said to Willow, holding open the door and stepping to the side with a sweeping motion of her hand.

“Why, thank you,” the redhead giggled, reaching for the door herself to hold it for Tara. For a moment, both girls stalled at the door, uncertain who was going where. Thinking fast, Tara slipped by the others and walked backward into the store, chuckling as they untangled themselves. The girls turned as one, and saw the inside of the Magic Box for the first time.

“Huh,” Buffy uttered.

“Wow,” Tara added.

Willow stood speechless, her eyes widening.

The squat dimensions of the building’s exterior were deceptive, for the room before them was massive. Dark mahogany bookshelves with lavish, fluted moldings ran floor to ceiling around the perimeter of the store. The dental trim shelves were beautiful by themselves, but it was their contents that held the girls’ stares. Ancient, leather bound tomes with gold trim; dazzling glassworks; colorful, scented votive candles; and hand-carved soapstone boxes were among the myriad treasures that covered the square block shelving, and similar merchandise filled a number of tables and glass display cases that split the room into smaller sections. A sturdy rolling ladder hooked onto a rail atop the shelf, and ran the length of one wall. Near the back of the room, a short flight of padded stairs ascended to a balcony, which circled the entirety of the store. A closed door, neatly tucked under the stairs, sported a sign, which read ‘Employees only.’

Ducking under the chakra pendulums that were suspended by sterling silver chains from wooden pegs near the entrance, the girls began a slow circuit of the room, their eyes bulging to take in the shop’s many curios. Buffy looked dubiously at a peach moonstone wand, and examined her reflection in a circular mirror with a wooden frame that had what she believed to be a gecko carved into it. Willow pointed out a matching marble mortar and pestle set, and scrunched up her nose while sniffing at several packets of incense. Tara reached out, intending to pluck the metal tine of a instrument that looked strangely like half of a sanded coconut, then seemed to have second thoughts, and instead tucked her hand into her pocket. Finally, they came to the shop’s sales counter, behind which stood a woman several years their elder.

“Hello, welcome to the Magic Box,” she said, welcoming words but delivered with the boredom of one who has uttered them too often. She peered at the shoppers skeptically, unabashedly looking them over head to toe. “You’re not poor college students, are you?”

The girls were taken aback by the brusque greeting, and Tara was the quickest to collect her wits. “Um, I—I’m not. I, uh, can’t speak f-for the others,” she replied.

A broad smile broke out on the cashier’s face, and she quickly circled around the counter and stepped up to Tara’s side. “Well, then,” she chirped, “I’m Anya. Is there anything I can help you find, this cold and bitter day? We offer a wide variety of interesting and reasonably priced merchandise.”

“We’re looking for a gift for Buffy’s sister,” Willow explained. “We’ll just look around, if that’s alright?”

A frown played at the woman’s lips. “Oh, okay.” Her tone shifted, and she spoke as if reading from a script. “Of course you are welcome to browse, touch, and possibly rearrange the merchandise, even if you ultimately decide not to purchase anything.” With the distasteful words out of her mouth, Anya brightened once more. “If you need help selecting the perfect gift, I will be here at the counter where you would bring your purchases.” She returned to her post at the register and turned her attention to a stack of forms, although every few seconds she would glance up to keep tabs on her customers.

“That was abnormal and unsettling,” Buffy stated plainly, once the girls had wandered deeper into the store.

“So w-what kind of things does Dawn like?” Tara asked her new friends.

“Oh, you know, gemstones, jewelry,” Buffy listed, then shrugged. “Basically everything in here. Candles, incense—“

“She’s really been into Tarot cards, lately,” Willow mentioned.

Tara nodded agreeably. “Me, too.”

“You’ve used them? I mean, you’ve done readings?”

“Uh huh. A long time ago, though. I mean, way back in middle school. I—I kind of w-went through a witch phase,” Tara confessed, dropping her gaze to her shoes in embarrassment.

“Hah! So did Will, in high school,” Buffy snitched.

“I did not!”

“She did. She bought a book from this novelty store, gathered all of these weird ingredients, which smelled awful, by the way, and tried to brew a—“

Willow gasped. “If you finish that sentence, you don’t get to copy my Civilizations notes!” She squeaked out the threat hurriedly.

Buffy’s mouth flew closed, and she batted her eyelashes innocently.

“Uh, so,” Willow shifted awkwardly, scanning the shelves for a distraction. “Ooh! Look at these wind chimes!”

The girls began walking again, with Willow in the lead and the others lagging a step behind. When Tara looked at Buffy expectantly, the shorter girl mouthed, “love potion.” Tara stifled a laugh with her hand.

~*~

When the dirt-streaked Metrobus pulled up to the bus stop, Willow boarded first. Since it was rush hour, the bus was even more crowded than their last trip had been. Luckily, a couple departing the bus had vacated a pair of seats, and the redhead darted down the aisle to claim them. Tara offered Buffy the other seat, but Buffy shook her head. “Nah, I’ll stand this time.” The waitress passed her bag—even the bags they gave you at the Magic Box were beautiful, the girls had agreed—to Willow, who stacked it upon the others next to the window beside her. With two girls and a pile of shopping bags squeezed into the already narrow seats, it was a tight fit for Tara to slide onto the cushion, and their elbows bumped against each other until Willow leaned forward to make room for both of their arms.

“This is a good day,” Buffy decreed. “I needed my shopping fix, even if it was for my sister.” She eyed the number of bags she’d deposited in the aisle by her feet, and tacked on, “Well, mostly for my sister, anyway.”

“Yup, I hereby declare this Tuesday a success,” Willow agreed.

“Well, it’s still early. Got any plans for tonight?”

Willow thought a moment. “The boys on the fourth floor of my dorm, Andrew and the others, are playing board games or something. Wanna join us?”

“Sounds positively nerdy,” Buffy joked. “Sure, I’m in.”

“How about you, Tara?” Willow offered. “Up for a campus visit?”

‘Goddess, yes!’ Tara’s mind demanded. “Oh, I probably shouldn’t—well, you know, maybe—uh, I’d have to borrow a phone to call home, to make sure my brother Donny knows how to reach me. But y-yes, okay.” She hoped that her blush wasn’t as noticeable on the outside as it felt on the inside. The bus was rumbling along, now, and Tara was very aware of her proximity to Willow. She could feel the wales of the redhead’s corduroys brushing the thin fabric of her slacks every time the bus hit a bump or ground to a stop. When it lurched into motion, the sleeves of their coats would touch, and after a few stops Willow relaxed back into her seat, causing their arms to be in constant contact. For the most part they avoided eye contact, occasionally stealing glimpses when the other was turned away, and only once did they catch each other looking at the same instant. Willow offered a sheepish smile, and Tara ducked her head, feeling her cheeks burn.

By the time the girls disembarked, the sun was hanging low on the horizon, its lower edge kissing the top of the library, which was just visible beyond the chapel. They immediately missed the warmth of the bus, for the temperature had dropped even lower during their shopping trip. Willow regretted her lack of gloves, since her bags prevented her from tucking her hands into her coat pockets. The girls walked quickly, crossing Regents Drive and setting off diagonally across the Mall. Near the empty fountain that cut through the very center of the grass, a small group of students huddled together, while several others ran about, dodging and weaving past each other.

“Hey, Tag.” Buffy identified the spectacle they were walking past. She noticed that a couple of the players were holding flashlights. “Soon to be Flashlight Tag. You want to ask if we can join in?”

“Hm?” Tara’s teeth chattered, and she glanced down at her work attire. “Oh, no thanks. I don’t think I’m suitably dressed.” She watched the students race up and down the Mall for a minute, then commented, “It does look like fun, though. Have you played?”

Willow adjusted her bags and shook her head. “Not so much. When we were in high school, we didn’t have much in the way of a yard—just a thin strip out front.”

“Yeah. Our folks weren’t too happy with us tearing around in the road when the sun was up,” Buffy added. “Being outside during the night was pretty much off limits.”

“Not that that stopped you,” Willow recalled.

“Why, I haven’t the slightest idea what you mean. I was a paragon of parental obedience.”

“She sneaked out,” Willow explained to Tara.

“A lot,” Buffy boasted proudly, dropping the charade. “My mom’s a little overprotective.”

Tara smirked. “Aren’t they all?”

“Not mine,” Willow admitted. “She didn’t really pay much attention to anything. I probably could have been breeding fighting dogs in my room, and she would have remained completely oblivious.”

Buffy scoffed, “But try getting a C-plus on your Home Economics project—“

“—Conniption Queen,” Willow finished, rolling her eyes.

Tara’s fingers were starting to hurt from both the chill and the rope handle on her shopping bag, which was slowly cutting off her circulation. “Where on campus do you all live?” she asked.

“Well, Buffy’s in Dorchester Hall, which is right over there,” Willow pointed out an L-shaped brick building on the northwest corner of the Mall, tucked behind the enormous library, which they were quickly approaching. “We’ll stop here a sec to drop off Buffy’s bags, but then we’re headed to Ellicott, my dorm on North Campus.”

“Way up at the tippy top of the really big hill,” Buffy added. “It’s a little hike. Oh, hey, did you want to call home?” She shifted her bags to her left hand, then pulled out her cell phone and passed it to Tara before searching through her pockets for her keys. She opened the door for them, and all three gratefully piled into the heated lobby. “You can wait in the lounge there if you want; I’m just going to dash upstairs and drop these off.”

Willow hefted her own bags and trudged into the room, sitting down on the overstuffed sofa with an audible sigh of comfort, but Tara remained in the hallway while she made her call. When finished, she joined the redhead in the lounge. “Hey.”

“Hey. Everything okay?” Willow asked.

“Mm hm. I can stay out a while, but, um, I might have to hurry home for—uh, if my f-father gets home, he’ll probably want me there. I left this phone number with them; I h-hope that’s okay. Sorry, I didn’t think to ask.”

“That’s no prob,” Buffy said as she entered the room, picking up on the last line of the conversation. “Just as long as he’s not a telemarketer. So! Let’s see if we can fit in a game or two of—hey, what are we playing, anyway? It had better not be Trivial Pursuit; with Willow and Andrew playing, it’ll be pursuit, all right, and I’ll be starting a lap behind.”


Last edited by jasmydae on Sun Nov 16, 2008 11:35 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Constants
PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 12:18 pm 
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32. Kisses and Gay Love
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Dear Jasmydae,

Sorry to have not feedbacked before, but I'm still there! Lol.

This was oh so cute. I'm worried about Tara's father though. It often is in that kind of moment that something bad happens. I hope it won't.

The ride in the bus, after their shopping trip, was a nice one. :)

Thanks for the update, I can't wait for the next chapter! :)

Friendly

Julia

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Broken Dolls |The Stadium's Goddesses | Seeds Of Beauty

"Joie est mon caractère, C'est la faute à Voltaire; Misère est mon trousseau, C'est la faute à Rousseau." Gavroche. Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (chap. XV)


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