A busy shopping street in the late afternoon. Just another ordinary day.
"... with this, you're instantly transformed into a professional chef. Look at how it slices through the onion, no more tears ever." The sales pitch of the sidewalk salesman intermingled with the "ooooh's and aaaah's" from his appreciative audience. He expertly sliced through the onion and moved to demonstrate the mandolin slicer's other functions.
He had the crowd in his hands. It was time to close the sales. He looked around him and spied the perfect target.
"Young lady!" he called out to a twenty-something redhead in embarrassingly (un)co-ordinated clothing and currently with her nose buried in a games console. Needless to say, she didn't hear him.
"Hey! Geek girl!" he tried again, louder this time.
Willow Rosenberg was immersed in navigating Lara Croft through a complex puzzle grid while simultaneously battling giant spiders that spit out poison from all its arms. She was too busy imagining herself as the intrepid adventurer, the shout from the salesman jolted her from the world of artifacts, gadgets and an incredibly hot woman with impossible figure in a drop dead gorgeous outfit.
"This is perfect for someone as unhealthy-looking as you," the salesman continued. "Come, come here." He grabbed Willow's arms and propelled her next to his demonstration table.
Willow resisted his pull, but was no match for his determination. She glanced down at the screen of her PSP, where Lara was getting ready to swing from a narrow ledge; the next move would need a series of precise button sequence. She was never going to make it with the distraction of the salesman.
"Now, take a look at this! You can grate, slice, dice ... you can do anything. Pay attention to the cutting action, isn't it smooth? Now you can make a salad in no time," the rattle of the sales pitch continued.
Willow started inching away, unsure of what was expected from her and desperate to get back to the game ... the whistles and the upping of the music tempo hinted that Lara was in danger of falling off the ledge. But the salesman was too fast for her, he shoved the PSP aside and the mandolin into her hands. "Now you try it out!" he barked.
"But, but ... I ..." she stammered.
"Just push the knob like this," he demonstrated. "What do you think of it?"
"It's, erm, useful," Willow offered.
"Only 'useful'?" the salesman challenged.
"Um, it's great," she said, not really interested in the state of the kitchen gadget. "But ..."
"I have no use for it."
"Then give it to your parents! Grandparents! Room-mate. They'll love it."
"But I'm saving up for some more games," she waved her PSP timidly.
"Phooey! These games are unhealthy for you. Do you know what you'll become if you sit in front of a computer all day? Do you have any idea how unhealthy it is? Young lady, the choice is yours ... a body that rots away into oblivion or one that is fit and healthy. Now, what will you do?"
Willow was caught, and started panicking. She had no choice.
"Did you see that?" said a dark-haired young man in a gray t-shirt with sleeves rolled up so they bunched up untidily over his shoulders.
"Yes! Must be only for one microsecond, but I saw it!" said a second young man, he was blonde and his scruffy shirt was partially untucked from his jeans.
They had their noses pressed up against the glass window of an electronics store.
"Did you see what color?"
"We're such pervs."
"I'm sorry I'm late," Willow puffed as she ran up to her two best friends. "What are you watching?"
"Boys' stuff," said the first young man.
"Xander Harris, don't feed me that line. Now, who were you two drooling over?"
Xander rolled his eyes and turned to the second young man. "You tell her."
"Because, Andrew, it was your idea."
The young man known as Andrew looked back at his friend Xander forlornly, but Xander wasn't giving him any help at all.
"Well?" Willow tapped her foot impatiently.
"Minaspantiescough," Andrew mumbled.
"Mina's what? Mina’s panties?" Willow exclaimed.
"Shhhhh!" Xander tried to put his hand to Willow's mouth, but only succeeding in flapping his arm about. "People will hear!"
"This is geek street, no one will care, especially when most of them also lust after Mina," Willow pointed out.
"Why are you late anyway?" Andrew decided to divert the topic of conversation away from his and Xander's obsession with an anime character's underwear.
"Well ..." Willow glanced embarrassingly at the carrier bags in her hands.
"So what kind of evil did we give into today?" Xander asked as he motioned for Willow to hand over the bags for his inspection.
She complied and Xander proceeded to take precise inventory of the bags' contents. "A heart-rate monitor," he said, cocking one eyebrow at Willow.
"It takes the heart-rate and measures distances when you're jogging. It has an alarm and even shows the time in six different timezones," Willow said.
"You don't jog, Will," Xander deadpanned, fishing out the next gadget. "A salad slicer. See previous observation but re: cooking."
"I'll give it to my Dad," Willow defended.
"A self-study CD," Andrew interjected, having retrieved the next 'treasure' from the carrier bag. "Hypnosis: Unleashing Your Inner Zen. What the cheese?"
Willow by this time had given up explaining. She shrugged.
But the piéce de résistance, as unearthed by Xander, was enough to send the three friends into unending giggles.
"Will, you've lost your mind. What do you intend to do with a giant toy fork?" Xander asked while watching the fork twirl around on the bright red handle.
"Excellent self control," Andrew muttered.
"What did you say?" Willow challenged.
"Excellent, we have to go," he said.
She wanted to throw a witty comeback at him, but couldn't think of one. She grabbed the boxes and stuffed them back inside her carrier bags.
"Let's go then," she huffed.
The three friends walked the short distance into a shop stacked full of action figures, DVDs, comics and electronic toys. At the back of the shop was a platform where a table was set up for a book signing. The line had already snaked around the shelves in the shop and they meekly took their place at the end.
"Look at her. She's so beautiful," Xander swooned.
"I wonder what she wears when she goes to bed," Andrew said dreamily.
"Stop having disgusting thoughts, Wells," Willow shot Andrew a 'I don't know you' look.
"Heh, like you've never fantasized about the gorgeousness of Mina," Andrew smirked.
"The hotness of her personality, and yes okay, her outfits too. But no naughty thoughts. Is that your one allowed question?" she asked pointedly.
"I'm ignoring you. Disconnecting audio line-in now," Andrew pouted.
"Fine," Willow snorted. "Does he know the difference between Karin the actress and Mina the character?" she turned and asked Xander.
Xander shrugged, too intent on the action figures he had picked up and were examining closely.
The line inched forward and soon they were at the signing table where they handed over comics and photographs for her autograph. They couldn’t linger long, soon they were shepherded out of the shop.
"I need to go, otherwise my brother will do nasty things to my Boba Fett action figure collection," Andrew said.
"Yeah, my parents are home too, someone is needed to keep the peace," Xander added.
The three friends headed toward the subway station, still discussing their encounter with their idol.
"I like Mina's ankles, just imagining her ankles ..." Xander was almost drooling.
"Her legs make me all sweaty," Andrew added. "Her face is like a goddess' too. Willow?"
"Um, I, I like her lips," Willow blushed.
"If I had a wish now, I'd wish for the pre-release DVD of the newest Mina movie to land as if by magic in my hands right now," Xander sighed.
"Oh me too. May be Willow can find it for us?" Andrew hinted.
"I'm not going to torrent the latest Mina movie for you, they track IP addresses you know," Willow retorted.
"You don't want the Mina movie? What sort of Mina otaku are you? What's your wish then?" Andrew challenged.
Willow walked a few steps before she answered. "I wish for someone to call my own, someone who can see me for who I am," she mused.
"Oh my god, off-topic! Look who's turning soft on us!" Xander exclaimed.
Willow endured her friends' teasing silently. She didn't know why she had told them something so intimate; she was sure neither Xander nor Andrew would understand. She knew who would though.
Out in the harbor, light jazz music filtered from the deck of a 90 foot luxury yacht, where a cocktail party was in full swing. White-coated waiters weaved inconspicuously around well-dressed party-goers, serving Cristal in crystal and dainty canapés on silver platters.
"That was an amazing speech by the Chairman, and did you see how Aura tried to suck up to the new Wealth Management head?" a bottle blonde said to her companion, a tall brunette with a wide smile and big hair.
"That little black dress of hers doesn't hide much does it? Got his attention though," the brunette replied.
"You're pretty well dressed up yourself, Cordy," the blonde remarked.
"Oh really?" Cordelia Chase waved her hand lightly, as if dressing up was the least of her intentions and she looked sexy and gorgeous by accident. "You're not too bad yourself, Anya."
"Well, just because we're not giddy teenagers anymore doesn't mean --"
"Oh look!" Cordy interrupted.
"What? Where, where?" Anya snapped her head round to the direction her companion was pointing.
"Over there," Cordy pointed at a dapper gentleman in tuxedo. "The Colin Firth look-alike, he even sips champagne with style."
"He has all the girls swooning over him for sure," Anya laughed.
"I'm going in. Those girls are no match for me. Watch," Cordy took one last gulp of her champagne and took the full glass that was in Anya's hand.
"Have you seen Tara?" Anya asked.
"Probably somewhere getting all the other men's attention," Cordy said over her shoulder as she confidently strutted over to where her target was. When she was just the right distance from him, she quite deliberately tripped and her champagne spilled over the man's dress pants. With a concerned gasp, she immediately started wiping the offending liquid off while loudly apologizing and chastising herself.
Anya frowned at her friend's antics, but decided that if Cordy wanted to humiliate herself for the sake of landing a man, she was more than welcome to.
She took off on a mission to find her other friend, soon locating her on the upper deck looking serenely out at the night sky. Tara was in a flowing silk dress, elegant yet understated. A single-strand silver chain at her neck accentuating the diamond pendant nestled at the hollow of her throat. Her blonde hair was intricately arranged up, with stray strands tastefully framing her face.
"I'm surprised you're out here on your own. Cordy thinks you're surrounded by male type admirers," Anya said as she walked up to Tara.
Tara glanced at a small cluster of men discreetly watching them and sighed. "I wish they wouldn't. I'll never get used to it."
"What were you looking at?"
"Nothing. Just the night sky and the lights."
"And look, there's a shooting star. Quick, wish for something."
"That's not a shooting star, it looks like a plane."
"Whatever. I'm going to say it’s a shooting star. What would you wish for if you had a wish?"
Tara stopped to think for a small second.
"Someone to call my own, someone who can see me for who I am, beyond this tiresome glitter," she said softly.
"You have your pick of anyone you want, why are you still looking for the One? Look around us, any single person on this boat is a catch. Why do you want something different?" Anya asked, casting her arms around the occupants of the yacht.
"Everyone's so fake. I can't stand it, Anya," Tara sighed.
"Then you better face up to reality, because this is our world. Beyond us, it's nothing but banality," Anya stated. "Look at us, Tara, can you see ourselves as some little wife, tending our small village shop while our carpenter husbands go out and work at a construction site? Well, for me anyway. We go out into that world, and we'd drown."
A discreet announcement circulated, that it was time for the Chairman's presentation. Before she went inside with Anya, Tara cast her eye back to the busy city, as if searching for something, someone, she knew was out there, but didn't know how to find them.