Tara walked out of the Principal's office, talking to Coach Giles, followed by the rest of the team. The University champions had been called by the school head, who had wanted to personally congratulate them on their brilliant performance. They'd all sat around for 15 minutes, making polite conversation with Mrs. Williams, and were now out, making their way to the sports department, to collect their prize money.
Momens later another student with a football jacket walked upto Coach Giles, and began to talk to him, but not before he threw a flirtatious grin Tara's way. The blonde merely nodded her head his way, before telling the Coach that she'd be with the rest of the team in his office.
"I'll be there in a moment" Coach Giles had said, as Tara had walked off, without so much as looking in the football players direction again.
If she'd turned back she'd have seen him staring after her, as the Coach tried to get his attention. "Yes, what were you saying Joey?" No response. Coach Giles cleared his throat, before trying again, a little louder this time "Joey? You were saying????" That got the jock's attention, and looking at Tara's retreating figure one last time, he gave Coach Giles his full attention. "Yeah Coach..."
Anya, Cordelia and Buffy, who had been a few steps behind Tara and Coach Giles, had seen exactly what had happened. They watched the cute football player give Tara a total 'come on' signal, her polite nod, excuse to leave, and the football player's interest in his retreating form. Seeing her on her own now, the three quickened their pace to catch up with their friend.
"Yo, Tara, wait up!" Cordelia said, as she, Anya and Buffy neared the blonde.
Tara didn't seem to hear them, and coninued walking towards the sports office, seemingly lost in her own world.
Getting within an arms disance, Anya reached out to rest her hand on Tara's arm. "Tara?"
Startled, Tara looked up to see three very concerned faces looking right at her. She atempted to give them a reassuring smile, but knew it probably looked like anything but that! "Hi guys" she said weakly.
Anya and Cordelia were Tara's best friends, and had known her for years now, but even Buffy could see that something was wrong with Tara. Not wanting to invade Tara's privacy, Buffy tried to cheer her up. "So... did you NOT see the cute jock checking you out back there?"
"Huh?" Tara said, not understanding what the petite blonde was saying.
"Tara! Look... back there!" Cordelia said, pointing at the football player, who was still in conversation with Coach Giles. The guy kept looking in their direcion, and when he saw that Tara was looking his way, he threw them another smile.
Tara realized what they were saying, and watched the good-looking guy send a smile their way. Without returning the smile, she looked back at her friends, who were staring at her, watching her reacion. "Hmm... yeah... good looking guy..." she said, shrugging her shoulders.
Buffy, Anya and Cordelia looked at her like she was crazy. "That's it? 'Hmm yeah, good-looking guy'????" Anya practically yelled. "I'll tell ya this Tara Maclay... if I didn't have Xander, I'd think you were crazy!!"
The other two girls nodded their heads, agreeing with Anya. "Zak..." Buffy said simply, telling them why she wasn't going for the football player.
"He's not looking at ME" Cordelia added, "Or I'd be right there, by his side right now!"
The three looked at Tara again, watching her lack of reaction. She still didn't look interested, and finally Anya couldn't take it any more. "Ok Maclay... spill!" she commanded.
"Spill what exactly?" Tara asked, trying o play stupid.
"Don't be smart with us!" Cordelia joined in. "Something's up with you, and I'd like to know just what the problem is... You've barely smiled, or said a word all day..."
"I should probably go..." Buffy said, starting to walk away, thinking that the three friends probably needed some alone time, but she was stopped by Tara's voice.
"No Buffy, don't go. There's nothing wrong with me. I just didn't sleep too well last night, that's all." 'Well, it's not a complete lie' Tara thought.
After Willow and Oz had left, Tara had cleared up and washed the dishes, before going to her bedroom, and trying to read a book. Unable to concentrate on the story, she closed it, and switched on the television set in her room. 15 minutes later she realized that she was just staring at the screen blankly, and switching it off she headed to the balcony, armed with a full packet of cigarettes.
She sat outside, smoking cigarette after cigarette, trying to think of anything but a certain redhead, who had gone off with her boyfriend, but found that she couldn't seem to get her out of her head. Everytime she thought of Willow leaving, she felt her heart sink, and when she walked back into her bedroom an hour later, the enire packet of cigarettes was over. After that she made herself lie down in bed, and spent the whole night tossing and turning, and was awake when the sun was making it's first appearnce of the day. Realising that it was pointless trying to sleep, she woke and went downstairs for a swim. Coming back up, she's made herself breakfast, read the morning papers, had a bath, and left for university, where she attended her morning lecures, before leaving for the meet in the Principals office...
Which brings us back to now.
Anya, Cordelia and Buffy were staring at her with expressions that said "Yeah right!" but none of them pushed the subject. Anya and Cordelia knew that Tara rarely, if ever, spoke about her problems, and Buffy still didn't feel that it was her place to push the subject.
At that very moment Coach Giles came over, and looking at the four girls said "Shall we?"
Nodding, they followed him into the sports deparment.
Outside, Willow sat on the grass, surrounded by Oz and his musician friends. Buffy had said that she had a meeting with the Principal, where the whole handball team had been called, and Willow wished that she could go too... Tara would be there! Willow had been having a great time the previous night, before Oz had come and taken her to The Bronze. She'd honesly been quite peeved at the fact that he hadn't asked her if she wanted to go, and had just presumed that she'd want to. It wasn't like she would say no... 'I mean, he IS my boyfriend, and I hadn't seen him for so long... ' Then why did she feel like she'd rather have stayed with Tara then have caught up with her boyfriend?
Xander was in class too, which left Willow just sitting there, lost, as Oz figured out how to play something on his guitar. Although his friends were nice to her, Tara didn't feel like she belonged where she was, and suspected that the only reason the musicians were nice to her was because she was Oz's girlfriend. So there she was, looking around, when she saw Buffy walk out of the building. Looking around, the blonde spotted her friend, and started to walk her way.
"How did it go?" Willow asked, rising as Buffy came up to her.
"I'm rich!" Buffy said, patting her pockets.
"Good for you!" Willow said, giving the blonde a small smile.
"Not you too!" Buffy said, sounding exasperated.
"Huh?" Willow said, not understanding what her friend meant.
"What's with the sad face?" Buffy asked.
"I just smiled at you!" Willow said.
"Yeah, if you call that a smile! I saw you looking down in the morning, and I figured it was just because of the lack of sleep and stuff... but why do you look down now?" Buffy tried again.
"Me? Down? Nah, I'm fine Buff!" Willow said, trying to give her best friend a wider, and hopefully more convincing smile.
"Eep!" Buffy practically shrunk away from Willow. "What the hell was THAT? It's better when you don't try!"
"Fine!" Willow said, huffing, and after a second said "What did you mean by 'not you too'?"
"Tara looks like the world's ending too!" Buffy exclaimed, and with that one sentence she had Willow's complete, undivided attention.
"What happened?" Willow asked, her brow creasing with worry lines.
"I don't know... Anya and Cordelia asked her too, but she just said that she hasn't slept well last night, or some silly excuse like that, and then she tried to give us a reassuring smile, and I gotta tell ya... . it's a coin toss between you two for who's got the less-convincing-hopefully convincing smile!" Buffy said, with a smirk on her face.
Willow was about to press on with questions about Tara, when she was surprised to see Anya and Xander standing right next to them. The couple had quietly come up to them, and been standing there, listening to the last part of the conversation. When Buffy ended, Anya nodded her head, and that's when Willow noticed her.
"Hey..." she said.
"Yup... Tara sure does look bad..." Anya said, obviously worried about her best friend. "But she'll be ok... like always. I just wish she'd alk to Cordy and me sometimes, you know?" she said, and leaned into Xander as he put her arm around her. There was silence for a few minutes, and then Buffy said "Zak!" as she felt her boyfriend come up behind her and put his arms around her.
"Hey sweetie" he said, and kissed his girlfriend when she turned in his arms.
Willow watched the two couples discuss their plans for the day, and turned to see Oz still surrounded by his friends as he learnt the chords of the song. Looking back, she felt a pang of jealousy at the relationships her best friends were in. 'I am happy for them... I just wish I had something like that too... ' she thought.
A few minutes later, her friends were saying their byes. Zak had another class to, Buffy had to get to work, where Zak would see her later, and Anya and Xander were going to watch a movie. They were about to leave, when Xander turned around and pulled Buffy into a tight hug. Anya and Zak just watched on with amused expressions, as the two ended the hug, and a grinning Buffy asked her friend "What was that for???"
"Thank you... if you hadn't joined the handball team, I would have never met Anya..." Xander said, his affection for his best friend showing in his eyes.
Buffy's grin spread, and before she knew it, Willow had pulled her into a hug too. "You too? Now what???" Buffy said, smiling at Willow.
"Nothing... just didn't wanna be left out" Willow lied, all the while thinking 'Thanks Buffy... if you hadn't joined the team, I would never have met Tara...'