Feedback: Please leave feedback on the Bedtime Stories thread on the Kitten Board.
Disclaimer: Joss / ME / etc. owns these characters. This story is just for fun and not for profit.
So this one might not make a whole lot of sense, since it's a continuation of a story I started telling several chapters ago, but the first few were lost to the Internet. The first chapter of this story is what started the whole bedtime story idea...wish I could share it. >_<
The short, short version of what came before this:
* Middle-school aged Willow was getting on the school bus for her first day of a new school year. She was scared, because she was often picked on at school. Nobody would sit with her, until Tara showed up and did so.
* Tara said she was new to the school district, and asked if Willow could show her around. Willow at once admired her. She was pretty, friendly, fearless--all the things Willow wished she could be.
* After spending much of the day together, they sat at a table in the cafeteria, where Xander Harris approached. Willow and Xander began talking, Willow said something to Tara, and Xander asked, "Who are you talking to?" Tara was gone.
* The story jumps a few years ahead. Tara has never reappeared. Willow is now in high school, and--thanks to that one day where she had a friend and wasn't so scared of everything, she's now got a small group of friends, and she is much more sure of herself. She is convinced that Tara was an imaginary friend, made up because she was so lonely. Willow believes she might be a little bit crazy, and that scares her.
* Her Junior year, Willow has the Worst Day Ever. Her fish die, for starters, then her parents get into an accident while carpooling from work. They die in the hospital. Willow is now at home with her aunt (mom's sister), Millie.
Like all in the bedtime story thread, this is not planned ahead of time, not proofread, and not edited.
Me: Willow was curled up in bed, clutching her pillow to her front like a lifeline. The room was pitch black; she'd even tugged the cord of her alarm clock out of the wall.
Me: She hadn't cried in an hour, which was a record for the night. Her emotions swung from despair and hopelessness to an eerie sense of calm--as thought she would at any moment wake from a dream and smell the thick aroma of coffee curling up from the kitchen. Her parents always drank coffee--black, which Willow could never understand--in the morning, before work.
Me: But Millie was not a coffee drinker. Millie was the type to steep tea in the fridge overnight to make homemade iced tea, straining it slowly through cheesecloth. When Willow would visit Millie's home, with her parents, she rather liked the beverages available, but right now anything other than coffee seemed like an outrage. Irrational pulses of anger were seeping into her thoughts.
Me: It was in this utter blackness, this bleak, soul-crumbling darkness, that Willow at last heard Tara's melodic voice.
Me: It started as a humming, at first indistinguishable from the jingles that get stuck in your head and implant themselves so deeply in your brain that they can not be dislodged for weeks at a time. She recognized the notes, but couldn't recall the title.
Mel: Yankee doodle?
Me: When Tara's slender fingers eased their way under her arm and snaked around her hip to splay across Willow's tummy, she realized that the tune was not hers.
Mel: Yay! Tara is real again!
Me: And without words, Willow allowed herself to lean backward. Tara folded around her, contacting her body from toe to whispered breath. Willow felt it brush the back of her neck.
Me: She released a sigh that spoke volumes--of sore joints and aching feet, from the endless pacing of hospital hallways; of shuddering sobs racking her body; of heavy eyelids, held aloft to bear witness to her mother's closing one last time.
Me: And Tara breathed hope. But to Willow, it was hope laced with bitter cloves, for she knew Tara to be nothing more than a figment of her mind losing its tentative grasp on reality.
Mel: *Cry* Tara needs to be real
Me: But this figment was holding her. The weight of her arm pressed gently into Willow's side. Tara's toes tickled the back of Willow's heels. Tara's body, heavy on the mattress behind her, caused a shallow slope which Willow's relaxed into.
Me: And Willow begged, "Tara...stay?"
Mel: Doooo it!
Me: And Tara whispered against the soft hairs on the back of Willow's neck, "I'll stay."
Me: And Willow pleaded, "Be here in the morning?"
Mel: Doooo it!
Me: And Tara pressed her lips against the pocket between Willow's vertebrae, then again, one lower.
Mel: Is that a yes?
Me: "I." *kiss* "promise." *kiss*
Me: And Willow implored, "Hold me til I fall asleep?"
Mel: Once again, doooo it!
Me: And Tara scooted up as Willow rolled over and nestled into the hollow next to her shoulder, and she wrapped her arm around the poor girl, anchoring her, and she captured Willow's foot between her own, and she promised, "I will."
Me: And Willow tumbled toward slumber, and her lids drooped, and her muscles released their week's backordered tension, and she murmured, "Don't be make-believe..."
Mel: That's it, I want a sweet Tara in my story now
Me: And Tara ran her fingers through Willow's mane, and felt the girl sink into her. And long after Willow's breathing had settled, and came in a slow, even rhythm, Tara breathed to the empty room, "I never was."
Mel: I forgot about the people who can disappear! Silly me
Me: Willow was parched. She felt individual bristles on her tongue sticking to the top of her mouth.
Me: Water. It pulled her from a quasi-dream state. Her body felt like lead. She had really needed the sleep.
Me: She was sore. She hated to admit it, but the days in the hospital had required more physical motion that she was used to...in short, Willow was out of shape.
Me: She flexed her fingers, and could hardly move them. Huh. Guess I'm sleepier than I thought. She tried again, but they seemed stuck.
Me: As the final layers of slumber lifted their veil, clarity offered an explanation--another set of fingers were fit between her own, holding them still.
Me: Something is different.
Mel: Hot blonde wrapped around you? I think so
Me: She craned her neck and peered into the near-perfect darkness. If I say it, will it all stop?
Me: It was just a squeak of a question, all her fears dribbling it past her lips.
Me: Willow felt a gentle squeeze of her hand. "Mm?"
Me: Even a monosyllabic throat-noise sounded beautiful when shaped by Tara's mouth.
Me: "Am I...crazy?"
Me: "Pr'bly a li'l," Tara's voice mumbled through the darkness.
Me: "Like really, certifiably, should be in an institution crazy?"
Me: "Oh." The body beside her shimmied a little bit, and Willow felt blood rush back to her right foot. "No."
Me: "Even though I make up...uh...well, not exactly best friends...something...uh...else?"
Me: There was a long pause. Willow knew that her imaginary...Tara...was calculating the metric of Willow's sanity, using her own presence as an input. It struck Willow as an oddly existential equation.
Me: "Willow," cooed Tara, "you didn't make me up."
Mel: Ooooh I wanna know what Tara is!
Me: "But real people can't, uh...you know...magically appear on a school bus, then fade from existence for three years, then ... poof! In bed. You know?"
Me: "...not that I am complaining, mind you," she added as an afterthought.
Mel: I swear that if you leave this off without telling me what Tara is I will come to Maryland and beat you...
Mel: Ill change that to "Ill cry"
Me: "I'm not a person," Tara whispered. She brushed aside a stray strand of Willow's hair, her aim startling precise in the darkened room. "I'm your angel."
Me: And the word slid through Willow, straight to her heart, and it coated it with warmth and love and infinite tenderness. What power a single word could have.