Willow grabbed her coffee cup and briefcase and stopped at the foot of the stairs. "Buffy!" Willow yelled, like she did every morning at 7:30, "Get your butt down here!" Willow Rosenberg hated being late, and she was not about to break her perfect track record because of a sleepy friend. Buffy trudged down the stairs in a pants suit holding a similar briefcase. She went to the kitchen and grabbed a cup of coffee before heading towards the front door where a very peeved red-head was standing, tapping her foot impatiently. Willow gave her a look but Buffy shook it off with a wave of her hand. Waking up in the morning was not a talent Buffy had, and the blonde didn't need her best friend reminding her of that fact, as she had for the past 10 years. The two women walked out the door and got into the small SUV parked in the driveway. After situating their coffee cups, Willow started the car and drove towards Sunnydale High School, where Buffy worked as a counselor.
After a drive that involved very few words and many disapproving glances, Willow dropped Buffy off at the front of the school, arranging to meet at 5:00 to head home. Willow started the car again and turned in the direction of UC Sunnydale. With nearly eight years at the college, the campus was almost like a second home. After graduating from Sunnydale High with Buffy, they had both started college at UC Sunnydale. Buffy had majored in psychology and Willow had double majored in Chemistry and Computer Science. At the age of 24, both women had graduated with master's degrees; Buffy's in psychology and Willow's in her double major. Now at 26 years old, Willow was about to teach a class alone for the first time; and she was scared. It didn't matter that she had spent all summer going over her lesson plans for at least four hours every day. Nor did it matter that Willow had practiced with Buffy until the blonde had gotten so tired of it that she had hidden the lesson plans until Willow had promised to stop. And it certainly didn't matter that she was arriving at her classroom an obsessive, bordering on insane, two hours early. No, she was nervous and that was how it had to be.
Willow Rosenberg parked the car in her spot right outside the Chemistry building and gathered up her teaching materials and her coffee. Taking a big breath to center herself, Willow squared her shoulders and confidently walked up to the double doors of the building where she had spent so many hours as a student and a teaching assistant. She stepped into her office and put her briefcase on the floor next to her immaculately clean desk. After checking her email on her laptop, Willow left to ensure that her experiments in the lab were going well. At the moment, she was working on digitally graphing a molecule in order to better understand the structures of the more complex chemical compounds. The work was meticulous and taxing, but Willow probably wouldn't have it any other way. As it was, she had already taken over work that she could have had graduate students do, but her perfectionist personality refused to believe that anyone could do her experiments better than herself.
Ha, Willow mused, and all this time I thought my parents were crazy.
As a child, Willow had grown up in a secure but lonely home. Her parents were usually missing, touring the world on a lecture circuit or promoting a new theory. Of course, now that Willow had gotten a taste of sophisticated academia, she was quickly becoming just like them. After checking on her various experiments, Willow left the lab and jogged back to her office. With only an hour before her class, she wanted to go over her lesson plan one more time, even though by now she had memorized every word. Finally the moment arrived. With fifteen minutes to spare, Willow left her office and walked to her classroom with a determined look in her eyes.
This will go well, I can do this, this will go well, I can do this.
Her mantra repeated in her head until she reached the classroom. Already seeing a couple of students getting situated in their seats, Willow strode towards the podium at the front of the class. She loaded her lecture into the computer and waited for the rest of the students to show up. At exactly ten o'clock, Willow opened up her lecture and waited for the class to quiet down.
"Hello everyone, my name is Willow Rosenberg and this is Organic Chemistry." Willow took a deep breath and continued, determined not to let her nervousness shine through. "You all can call me Willow or Ms. Rosenberg, whichever you prefer. Now in this class we will be studying the organic component of chemistry which is all about Carbon and its attraction to other elements..."
At 5:00 pm exactly, Willow pulled up to the front of Sunnydale High, taking a quick look around for Buffy. The blonde in question was standing at the front, waiting for the red-head, having apparently shaken off her aptitude for lateness this morning.
Buffy gave Willow a huge smile. "Hey Will! How'd the class go?"
Willow turned towards her friend, a huge smile plastered on her face. "It went amazing Buffy! I went into class and I did my lecture and they didn't talk throughout the whole class! Unless, they were supposed to talk..." Willow's smile quickly fell and a worried look took over her face. "Oh, God! I bet they were supposed to talk and ask questions! I did horrible. I probably had all of the wrong information and the wrong slides and they probably hated me. How am I ever going to show my face in school again? I should just drop out now and save the dean the trouble of firing me and then..."
"Will!" Buffy yelled, startling the red-head out of her worried rant. "I'm sure you were great. You know I love you and your babble, but sometimes you have to give it a rest."
Willow looked at Buffy and realized she may have been acting slightly irrational. Her smile returned and she turned the car towards home. The pair arrived at the house and immediately went to work preparing dinner. As Willow was putting the finishing touches on the baked chicken, the phone rang. She quickly washed her hands and picked up the phone.
"Hello?" Willow answered.
"Hello. Am I speaking to Willow Rosenberg?" the voice on the phone asked.
"Yes," she answered slowly. "Who is this?"
"My name is Robert Cohen. I was David Rosenberg's attorney."
"Was?" Willow asked.
"I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but your uncle passed away yesterday."
Willow stood perfectly still for a moment before realizing what the attorney had just said. She had loved her uncle very much, but in the last few years they had drifted apart. Even though, she was shocked that her family hadn't called to inform her of this.
"As I was saying, Miss Rosenberg, I was your uncle's attorney. It seems that there is mention of you in his will. You were aware of your uncle's holdings?"
"Yes," Willow answered robotically, still in shock. "He owned a farm about an hour outside of Sunnydale."
"Yes, that's correct. It seems that you are now the owner of the property, along with all of the assets that are contained at the farm."
"Yes. There is some livestock, a dog, and of course the horses."
"I would have to take the horses?!" Willow yelped. Willow was not a fan of horses. In fact, it could be said by the people that knew her well that she had an emphatic phobia of the creatures, and it would probably remain for the rest of her life.
"Actually, Miss Rosenberg, it was your uncle's wishes that the farm either be kept by you or sold to a Miss Tara Maclay, the horse trainer that lives close to the property. Apparently, the horses and the other livestock and animals would also go to Miss Maclay if you do decide to sell the property at a price prearranged by your uncle."
"Oh. Um, alright. Would it be possible for me to meet this woman before I make a decision? I know, or well, I knew my uncle, and I know he would want to make sure that the farm and the animals would be well taken care of."
"Of course Miss Rosenberg. I'll just give you the address and the phone number of Miss Maclay. Please just give me a call when you've made your decision." The attorney proceeded to give Willow the contact information and the two bade each other a good night. Willow stood next to the table with the phone in her hand, looking at it like it didn't belong on this planet. In the space of about fifteen minutes, Willow had learned that her uncle had died, she had inherited a farm, with horses of all things, and that someone named Tara was willing to buy it all. Willow didn't even know who this Tara was. Her uncle had certainly never mentioned her, and that made Willow even more nervous. Willow took a deep breath and put the phone back into the charger. She walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table, clasping her hands together, while Buffy looked at her oddly.
"Hey Will, who was that?" the blonde asked, thoroughly confused with her best friend's behavior. It was only then that Buffy noticed the tears quickly forming in Willow's eyes. She rushed towards her and engulfed the red-head in her arms. "Shh, what happened?" she asked in a soft whisper. Willow slowly stopped crying and dried her eyes. She explained what had happened in broken words and then started to talk about her uncle. The two friends talked for hours, with Willow reminiscing about her late uncle, all the while wondering in her mind what she was going to do about the farm and Tara Maclay.
The week passed by quickly for Willow as she buried herself under mountains of work. The class could not have been going better for her and her experiments were thriving as well. Near the end of the week, Willow decided to give Tara a call in order to set up a time when they could meet and talk about her uncle's holdings. Willow picked up the phone and dialed Tara's number.
Ring. For some reason, she was slightly nervous. Perhaps it was because this was the woman who had made such an impression on her uncle.
Ring. What was this woman like? Was she older? Younger? Would Willow even like her?
Ring. She knew the only way she would find out the answers to any of the questions floating around in her brain was to call Tara and meet with her.
Rin- "H-Hello?" a voice on the phone answered. Willow immediately came to the conclusion that Tara was not an older woman.
"Erm, hi. Is this Tara Maclay?" Willow asked in an apprehensive voice.
"This is she," Tara answered. "W-Who is this?" Tara asked back, in an equally unsure tone.
"Oh! I'm so rude. I called you up and I didn't even tell you my name." Willow suddenly became flustered and mentally slapped herself on the forehead. "I'm Willow Rosenberg. I, um, I was David's niece."
Ten minutes later Willow hung up the phone. Tara had known about her uncle and the arrangement outlined in the will, which had made the conversation go as smoothly as possible. The two had agreed to meet Friday afternoon at her uncle's farm to discuss what should be done. Although neither girl would admit it, they were both interested to meet that weekend. Willow thought the woman on the phone had a cute way of stuttering and Tara loved the way that Willow babbled her way through a sentence, eventually reaching some semblance of a point. All both women could think was that this weekend was going to be interesting.
Friday finally came after a long week of work. Willow had decided to wear a pair of blue jeans with red converse sneakers and a long sleeved green shirt, going for a casual look. She drove towards her uncle's farm, a slight nervous feeling creeping into her chest. Willow knew she shouldn't be nervous though. Her uncle had liked this woman enough to leave her the farm at Willow's discretion. Willow hoped that she could be friends with this woman. Their phone conversation had been enjoyable and Willow could only hope that their meeting in person would go as smoothly. For the rest of the ride, Willow mused inside her own head, and was pleasantly surprised when she reached the farm much quicker than she had expected. Willow drove up a dirt road and stopped the car in front of a quaint looking two-story house. There was a flourishing garden in the front and a porch with a swing and two rocking chairs on it. She briefly recalled sitting on the porch swing the last time she was here with her uncle.
Willow stepped out of the car with the intention of going to sit on the swing and wait for Tara, but a movement registered in the corner of her eye. Quickly whipping her head around towards the distraction, Willow realized that she should be running away. However, the best she could do was to stand there frozen while the thing moved closer to her. Finally, the idea to move reached her brain and her legs started moving backwards, until something blocked her progress any further. Reaching behind her, Willow felt the rough bark of a tree and without a moment's hesitation, she turned and started to climb. Behind her, the thing was coming closer, and it was all Willow could do to not scream. The bark under Willow's hands stung slightly, the calluses that had been the product of years of climbing trees having worn off with childhood. When Willow finally reached a point in her climbing that she felt was a safe enough distance away from the beast, she chanced a look downwards.
There, about ten feet below her, stood a jet black horse. The animal was munching on some grass at the base of the tree, and as he looked upwards he gave her a bored look. This just fueled Willow's fear more, imagining that at any moment the horse would sprout wings and fly up the tree to gnaw her arms off. The terror finally flooded her body and Willow started hyperventilating. Slowly losing the strength in her limbs to hold her to the tree, Willow's grasp slipped and she briefly wondered if the ground would hurt when she hit it. However, the expected impact never came as Willow felt herself being held up by a pair of strong arms. The last thing Willow saw before the world slipped away was a goddess with blonde hair and blue eyes.
Looking out her bedroom window, Tara decided it was going to be a good day. The morning sun peeked through the drapes and refreshed Tara almost more than a morning cup of coffee, but the beautiful weather wasn't Tara's only cause for excitement. She had to admit, she was looking forward to meeting with David's niece and maybe adding a friend to her exceedingly small social circle. As it was, Tara mostly only had casual acquaintances, usually from her visits to the stores in town. She only had two real friends, and now she didn't even have David anymore. Tara let her mind drift back to several years earlier, when she had just moved to the small town outside of Sunnydale from an even smaller town in Oregon.
Tara had been making the rounds to her neighbor's homes, bearing brownies and a friendly face. She was hoping that her introductions would lead her to a new friend, or at the very least some new clients. Tara was a horse trainer, one of the best if you asked any of her past clients. She knew that with all of the farms in this town, there had to be at least a couple of people who needed a trainer, either now or in the future. As she rang the doorbell of a blue, two- story farmhouse, she quickly checked her appearance. The blue jeans and white button down shirt were respectable enough, although the sneakers she wore were more for their comfort than their style. The door opened to reveal a man around fifty years old with short, red hair.
"H-Hello, I'm Tara Maclay and I'm just here to i-i-introduce myself. I just moved in..."
"Into the old Finn place." The man interrupted. He shrugged and said, "It's a small town," as if that explained everything. "By the way, I'm David Rosenberg."
"It's n-nice to meet you, sir," Tara replied with sincerity that David hadn't expected.
"Well, I can tell already that I'm gonna like you much more than the man that used to live in your new house." Then, lowering his voice to a whisper as if the house would suddenly grow ears and listen to his secrets, he said, "That guy was sort of a jerk."
As it turns out, Tara and David had formed a very fast friendship. Not only did they become friends, but David was also Tara's best client. He was constantly buying new horses and so Tara had been a godsend. She was always willing to train the new animals and she always did an amazing job. Her only other good friend was Nathan Whitley. Nate ran the feed store that Tara frequented, and after visiting so many times the two started talking about more than just the weather and became friends, best friends even. Nate had an interest in horses as well and owned a colt that Tara had trained for him, free of charge, as a birthday present two years ago. Nate, Tara, and David had formed a tight nit circle, bonding over mutual interests. Thinking about David left a sad smile on her face, so before she could further reminisce she left her bed and went to the dresser across the room. Throwing on a pair of hip hugger jeans and a blue short-sleeved shirt, Tara went down the stairs to start making herself breakfast. As soon as she opened the door to the kitchen, a black blur darted forwards and landed on top of her, pushing her back into the hallway.
"Sparks!" the blonde yelled, trying to reprimand the black German Sheppard, but laughing instead. "You know you're not supposed to jump on people." As the blonde stopped giggling, the dog got off of Tara and sat at the entrance to the kitchen. At 95 pounds, the dog looked like it could eat any attacker, but in actuality he was a big baby. The German Sheppard had belonged to David, and after knowing him for so long, Tara had thought it was only natural that she take care of Sparks. Finally regaining her breath, Tara entered the kitchen, with Sparks trailing behind her, eager to receive his breakfast.
After a small meal of toast, scrambled eggs, and coffee for Tara and a big bowl of dog food for Sparks, Tara went around the house doing the morning chores. An hour later, she left the house and went outside to the stables. They were modest, but as soon as Tara could save up enough money, they would be extended in order to accommodate more horses. Of course, if Willow agreed to sell her David's property, then the money she had already saved would be used to purchase the farm instead.
A couple of hours later, with all of the chores finished and Sparks sleeping peacefully in a pile of hay, Tara left the stables and went back to the house. She grabbed her keys off the kitchen table and got into her blue pick-up truck. The drive to David's house was less than five minutes away and Tara felt a fluttering in her chest, knowing that she would be meeting Willow very soon. As she pulled up to the house, Tara saw that another car was already there. Checking her watch, she realized that Willow must have come a little early. Tara stopped her car next to Willow's and opened the door. Looking around quickly, Tara noticed one of the horses standing near the base of a large tree near the front of the house. Briefly wondering how the animal had gotten out of its stall, she walked over to the horse, intending to bring him back to the stables. As she reached the horse, she felt the sudden urge to look up into the tree and gasped at what she saw. There, about ten feet up the tree, was a woman with red hair clinging to the branches for dear life. At least she was, until a split second later when the woman released her grip and started to fall. Before Tara had the time to think, she had stretched out her arms and had gracefully caught the girl. Tara stumbled back a little with the impact, but somehow was able to remain standing. Looking down, she saw dark green eyes stare up at her before they closed and the woman went limp.