Willow's mouth opened, then closed.
"Where-where did you get that, Faith?"
Faith took a deep drag on her cigarette and leant backwards on the couch. Willow could almost swear her eyes were red rimmed.
"I went back to your meet, met up with Spike." Faith stubbed the cigarette out and stared Willow down. "He backed up your story at least."
Willow slowly sank down to the floor. She sat cross legged, her eyes now glued to the baggies on the floor. There was about 10 000 dollars worth there. She felt bile rise up in her throat.
"We're in together, Red. Gotta have 'em sold by next week. Have Rack's cut in like normal. Then pick up the next stash."
Willow nodded, here face not really showing comprehension to what Faith was saying.
"So we'll sell it like usual then, Red?" Faith lit another cigarette, toying with the lighter in her lap. "We'll have to sell before our shifts. Unless you wanna quit Chalk, and we'll go back to this like before. The cash was ok, just juvy was a bit shit; and soon we're going to be too old for Juvy."
Silence floated around the room as Willow stared sightlessly at the bags on the floor, and Faith stared thoughtfully at Willow. She barely blinked as Willow's head shot up.
"I don't want them, Faith. I don't want in, so you don't need to come in with me." Willow paused, almost looking panic struck. "Un-unless you're in? Then I'll be in. Then we can get out of it together. Unless you don't want to be out. So we'll be in together. We'll stay in. We'll go in and out of jail together, and we'll meet Spike together, and cut Racks share together. We'll be the grandma's selling crack in the Aged Care Home."
Faith cocked her head to one side, looking at Willow intently. "That's about the saddest thing I ever heard, Red."
They both cracked up laughing.
Not long after, they were leaning out the one window in the lounge, smoke floating around them. Faith had her head resting on her folded arms, as Willow leant on her elbows.
"I just panicked, Faith."
"I was just so scared we'd land on our feet, then end up falling through the thin floor into another giant pile of, you know...crap."
"I'm sick of the crap too, ya know."
"I just don't want to end up back there. I wanted to cover us."
Faith flicked her cigarette and watched its red glowing decent to the footpath below.
"You got no faith in the two of us, Red."
"Funny. You're a complete comedian."
"I thought so."
Faith took the junk back to Rack, who chucked a fit and would've come down hard on Faith if he didn't know she'd kick his arse. The fact that they didn't run off with bags or keep his cash kept their heads attached to their bodies. Rack liked a clean operation, and he liked his 'employee's', as he insisted on calling them, to be clean with him and how they sold their stuff. No one ever ran off with Rack's junk, nor did they not cut him his share. This way he didn't really lose any cash, and he didn't want to push the two fiery girls too hard. He was hoping they'd come back to him again, soon.
The lure of it all had already bought the redhead crawling back. He knew it would only be so long before they both turned up at his door, begging to be selling again.
Willow knew she had a lot of making up to do to Faith, but she also knew that Faith would deck her if she tried to apologize again. So Willow was slowly starting to put some of her wage aside for something for Faith.
Something that she knew she'd love, and something Willow knew would take awhile to save up for.
They started pulling doubles at Chalk on Ice. Lou started trusting them a bit more, leaving them to close up on Mondays and Tuesdays, the quietest nights. They settled into their routine, something they'd never had until this moment in time. They worked, they went home (Willow still found a grin on her face at that word), they went shopping. Of course, they had to avoid some of the centres. They'd been kicked out on many occasions for many different things in a lot of them.
The most memorable was when Faith had shoved jackets under her shirt and tried to claim she was pregnant to the security guard. That had lead to a very amusing chase through a food court. Faith had ended up pretending to go into Labour, screams and all, thrown the jackets at the security guard and ran like hell. Willow had watched the whole thing, laughing harder then she ever had, leather gloves stuffed in her pocket, the real prize that night.
Willow had discovered she loved grocery shopping. She bought a pad and a pen that had several colours, all in the one pen. She made lists, for food and toiletries; for anything else she could think of that could go into list form. Everything had its own separate column and corresponding colours indicating how much they needed some items-for example, bread, beer, tampons and cigarettes-compared to other things-chocolate, vegetables and meat.
It was looking at those lists that made Willow realise they should probably, at some point, make some changes to their diets.
At some point.
Faith abided by Willow's one rule: she only bought girls, and the odd guy home when she had the bedroom that week. Willow would sleep with the pillow over her head, or play the old beaten up TV as loud as she could. She loved that TV. They'd found it in a dumpster, and it worked just fine. So what if the glass was cracked?
Willow was amazed at Faith's ability to lure women home. Faith could string them along and have them wrapped around her little finger (and more, Willow presumed) by the end of her shift. They were putty in her hands.
It was a week and a half since Willow had admitted her lack of, well, faith that it happened.
It was a Monday night, and they were closing up without Lou for the third time. It was early, maybe six-ish, when a crowd of boys they'd never seen around before showed up. Mick, the burly guy kept around for trouble makers, gave them a warning scowl when they strode in, cocky and arrogant.
Faith caught Willow's eye and rolled her own. She flicked Willow with a tea towel, "Any strike your fancy there, Red? It's your turn with the bedroom this week."
Willow shuddered, "One, ew. Those boys look like arrogant twats. And two, ew. They're boys."
Faith smirked, "You know, that's the first time you've admitted you bat for the right team."
Willow rolled her eyes and started filling a jug for one of the aforementioned boys.
It had started out like a regular night. The regulars floated in and out, some of whom Willow gave discounts too when she recognized victims of their thieving days. The arrogant boys from earlier played pool, getting rowdier and rowdier.
One of them kept dropping his cue and falling over. At one point the same guy was the start of what would have become a brawl, his fist coming back to throw a punch at someone, who, five minutes earlier had been what seemed like a friend. His dark haired mate, the one who kept pulling him off the ground stepped in and somehow calmed him down.
Mick kept a close eye on them after that.
Faith had slipped out for a cigarette break, and Willow stood behind the bar, cleaning up in preparation for what she hoped would be an early night. She almost jumped when she heard a thump come from the bar top. She looked up to see one of the drunken boys leaning all over it, holding an empty jug out. At closer look she realised it was the aggressive guy from earlier.
"Refill, thanks there, Redhead."
Willow didn't like him from the get go. He was slurring, and had an awful attempt at a goatee.
"Yeah sure, same as earlier?"
She walked up and leant forward to take the jug off him, but as she held on, he pulled it forward, making her lose her balance and fall forward towards him.
"Now, now, Redhead, yous be getting a bit wobbly on your feet," he slurred as he smiled what he must have thought was a charming grin. He went to reach his hand forward and grab her arm. Willow pushed herself back and glared at him.
"Hand me the jug, or I'm cutting you off."
"Well, we wouldn't be wanting that now would we?"
He handed her the jug and watched as she tapped the beer into it.
"Don't over do the head there," he smirked.
Willow turned the tap off. One thing Faith had taught: kick out the ones who make sexual innuendo's early. Actually, Faith had said: Kick the slimy fuckers out on there arse. However you put it, the point was there.
"Mick!" She called.
Mick was there in a second.
"What's up, Willow." Willow had always found his deep baritone comforting.
"This guy's had enough. I think it's time he left."
The drunken boys eyebrows raised, "Hey now, we were just having a friendly conversation."
Willow was fairly sure 'conversation' should not come out 'confershazion".
"Come on dude, out you go." Mick grabbed the guys arm.
He wrenched his arm away, scowling, "You don't fucking touch me, nigger."
Willow now hated him. Mick just looked amused, as if the idea that this piece of trash could insult him was entertaining.
Out of no where, the drunk guys friend appeared.
"Hey now, what's going on? Donny, you're not causing problems now, are you?"
"These fuckers are. I was just trying to have a conversation."
"Donny," Willow said, "Conversation does not have an 'f'. Learn to speak."
Mick smirked and went to grab Donny's arm again, "Come on, its time for you to leave. We don't need any trouble."
"I don't need a damn escort. Fucking bitches talking to me like they're smarter then..." With that Donny attempted to sit down on a bar stool, missing entirely and landing on his backside. He then slumped against the bar, seemingly half asleep.
Donny's friend shook his head. "I'm really sorry about this. I'll pay for anything he broke."
"He didn't break anything," Willow sighed. "Except, hopefully, his tailbone."
Mick stood next to the now snoring Donny, saying "You and your mates need to leave now, pal. Get this piece of shit out, too."
The boy nodded. "Of course, I just need to call someone to come get him. I can't take him home is all."
Willow sighed again, "Make it quick, will you? We want to close and this dipshit has kind of ruined the night."
"Of course, again, I'm sorry. He doesn't mean it." Willow didn't think even the boy believed those words.
He pulled out a cell phone, "Hey, it's me again."
Willow tuned him out as Faith came back in. She took in the snoring guy on the floor and looked from Mick to Willow. "Okay, who lay the guy flat and why did you have to do it when I wasn't around to watch, huh?"
It had been a week since Tara had had to drag Donny home drunk. She didn't see him for two days afterwards. The first one she knew he was sleeping it off, and the second one she didn't know where he was, nor did she care. She had gotten behind on an assignment, and had three tests to study for. Her brothers' arrival had put a halt in her school work, and she needed to get her act together.
Not just because her father would not tolerate a drop in grades, but because college was her future ticket away from all of this.
Tara longed to go to college. She longed for a college so far away her father wouldn't want to visit. One far enough away so that when she broke up with Graham, the resulting lecture would be via phone rather than fists.
A college where she could explore herself. She would do art, she knew that much. She wouldn't tell her father that until she was enrolled.
Art was not an acceptable thing to major in.
Law or medicine, they were acceptable. Nursing even. She could probably get away with writing. But not Art. No, Art held too much of Tara's mother. Art was for hippies. Art didn't get you money or introduce you nice husband like boys. Art got you no where but drugs and vegetarianism.
The next few days, Donny was at breakfast. He would sit in silence, staring her down. He would drink only coffee and wouldn't talk even if she spoke. He liked to torture her in that manner, gazing at her all too intensely, keeping an eerie quiet.
She didn't manage to eat much those mornings.
She spent the weekend at Anya's and Buffy's houses. They had an assignment together, so it worked well. Donny wouldn't be allowed to hold her back from something that was academic related, even he knew he couldn't keep her home then.
Her two best friends worked to keep Tara smiling. For once they left the topic of Graham alone. They both knew of the last years occurrence, and while they knew it had torn up Tara inside, they thought she'd gone out with Graham because she actually liked him. Tara tried not to give any indication to anything else. Even to her best friends, she had to prove she'd put last year behind her.
Yet she was grateful they left him out of their weekend.
Sunday night, she had to go home. She held it off as late as she could, spending the day at the beach with Buffy.
She had attended Sunday morning mass and glimpsed Donny, but he was busy and barely paid her attention. She knew he would take note of the attention she paid to the service to report to her father, so she followed mass particularly, making sure to say her Amen's and bow her head.
She got home late, dreading her brothers presence. Yet Donny wasn't there.
Sophie then told her he had had to attend to some of her Father's church business and would be gone until late.
Relieved, yet disconcerted, Tara had crawled into bed. The first week with Donny home was normally the loudest. It had started that way, with his anger the first night and his drunkenness the next. This unnatural calm unsettled her.
Tara slept fitfully and eventually gave up. She got up with the sun and swam laps in their pool. She swam until her legs refused to kick anymore and her arms felt like led. She had heaved herself out of the pool, gasping, and lay on the cold tile until it was chilly enough to motivate her to face breakfast.
Donny wasn't at breakfast that morning.
School passed in a daze; not helping was the fact that Tara was exhausted after her lack of sleep and long swim. Buffy and Anya presented their assignment, Tara getting out on the fact that only two were required for the Verbal part.
She barely recalled Mr Giles' class, which was unusual for her.
She just couldn't shake the feeling that the past week had been far too quiet.
She got home right after school, her diary teaming with notes on the hours of homework she had that night.
Stepping through the front door, she found her brother standing there, a mirror of himself just last week. The same grin was on his face.
"Hi, Donny." Tara thought if nothing else, at least she hadn't stuttered just then. She was prepared, wasn't she? She had known. The past week had been far to calm.
Donny cocked his head, staring at her, his grin grew. "Big Tara, n-not stuttering. Y-you must b-b-be proud."
She thought it was sad, really, that he acted like a child, mimicking her stutter, one of the only weapons he had.
"I found a letter today Tara. Hidden under your mattress. Not too imaginative, are you?"
Tara swallowed hard and closed her eyes. Maybe not the only weapon then. He'd found Grace's letter, the one that had almost destroyed her.
"Even she rejects you, Tara." Donny took a step forward, the smile never leaving his face. "God rejects you, your family rejects you and now her. The girl you lost the others over, she rejects you, too. Funny, isn't it."
Tara looked up and caught his eye, "D-do you mean 'ironic', Donny?"
The backhand caught her off guard, sending her flying backwards. Her ears were ringing and she didn't hear what he said as he stepped closer. All she could think was that he was breaking the rules, hitting her in the face like that.
He grabbed her by the shoulders, and she heard what he said next, "Fucking dyke, always thinking you were smarter then me."
He backhanded her again, hard enough to have her fall to the floor.
She was glad she'd landed on the floor, she was too dizzy, really, to stand up. She waited for the next blow. Two was never enough for Donny.
She didn't know how long she waited before she felt gentle hands on her. She blinked groggily and looked up to see Sophie's concerned face.
Hours later, she sat on her bed warm from her shower. She had a text book open in front of her, but she was struggling to focus on it. She was tired, and her head still ached even after the pain killers Sophie had insisted she take.
She heard the phone ringing and knew what it was about even before Sophie appeared at her door way, her face apologetic.
"Miz Tara, I would tell him no, but..."
"It's fine, Sophie. Thankyou."
The woman handed her the phone and Tara smiled at her. She brought the phone up to her ear.
"Hey, it's me again."
"Hi, Jake, where are you?"
"Tara, I'm sorry, I wouldn't ask, but-"
"Where are you, Jake?"
"This bar, Chalk on Ice."
"Okay, I'll f-find it. Thank, Jake."
"I'm sorry, Tara."
Tara hung up the phone and got ready to leave. She looked up the bar, Chalk on Ice, on google maps and got directions easily. It was about a half hour drive away.
Here we go again.