Fate. Destiny. The unshakable, inevitable necessity that even the gods cannot defy. No matter how long or how twisted a road may take, the outcome has already been preordained.
Of course, fate and destiny had different meanings for a fourteen year old and a twenty-four year old.
The first time Sheila Rosenberg drove her daughter to senior high, when Willow started 9th grade, was also her last. It was too much of a bother, the slow crunch of tires across the tarmac, cars bumper to bumper, kids yelling and screaming and running out into the road. Her rising impatience and temper matched the commotion outside. All in the name of a perceived parental responsibility to personally bring their kids to school, when her research showed that most kids would prefer not to suffer the embarrassment of mixing school with home.
She paid for Willow's school bus fee immediately after dropping the fourteen year old off. Her only child was very capable and independent, and she convinced herself that Willow would prefer to travel to school by bus anyway.
She was not far wrong. Willow Rosenberg closed the door of her Mom's sedan after the short, silent journey from their house and even as she was waving her goodbyes Sheila's cellphone was already ringing. She sighed and made her way to class.
As she settled into her first class, she noted the same familiar faces. She nodded to Xander and Jesse, her best friends. Avoided the critical eye of Cordelia and Harmony, her mortal enemies. Then there were the new faces, in her neat mind she, perhaps unfairly, compartmentalized them into their potential cliques.
She barely noticed the seat next to her had been occupied, so intent was she on the other people around the classroom. She laid out her books, notebook and pencil case neatly on her desk and only became aware of her neighbor when one of her different colored pencils rolled onto the adjoining desk.
"Oh sorry," she apologized.
"T-t-that's okay," said her neighbor, a small, awkward girl whose shyness exuded from behind blonde hair falling over her eyes.
Willow picked up the offending pencil and put it back in its proper place.
"Hey, you're new. Just started here? " she asked.
The other girl nodded.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"Oh, Tara," the girl said.
"Nice, Willow." she said, pointing to herself. "Do you know anyone here?"
Tara shook her head.
"No worries, I can show you round, is that okay? I mean, me showing you round?" Willow enthused.
And so began their friendship. Tara quickly integrated into the group that was Willow, Xander and Jesse, the nothing specials, outsiders usually ignored by the cliques and the athletes, occasionally derided by the cheerleaders. But happy in their little group. Xander and Jesse had their boys' thing with their model planes and burgeoning wonder at things to do with girls. Willow and Tara had their girls' own space, talking about everything and anything, normally while comfortably sprawled out in Willow's large bed in her large, empty house.
"You think we'll ever not be friends anymore? Cos if we do, it'll just be too sad," Willow said whimsically one day.
"Of course not. Even if we fight over something, we'll always make up, won't we. Promise?" Tara replied, with more emotion than she expected. A mood that quickly infected Willow too.
"Yes I promise. We'll have our tiffs but we'll always be friends, no matter what," Willow solemnly declared.
And in the true tradition of teenagers, they sealed their promise by blowing in their palms and shaking hands vigorously, a handshake that soon led to giggles and tickles.
They became known as the quirky twins, joined at the hips. They did everything together, spending most of their spare time in Willow's room.
Tara's father was in the army and traveled around the world. She hardly ever saw him, perhaps once a year, briefly for half a day, when he took her for milkshakes and burgers. He left her with his wife's cousin, who agreed to take in the shy wisp of a girl when Tara's mother died.
That was nearly 6 years ago.
Her aunt (they tried to figure out the exact relationship, but gave up, Tara always thought of the kind lady as her aunt) tried to raise young Tara as one of her own, they were not well off so all the children lived in the same room and clothes were firmly of the hand-me-down, thrift store, variety. Tara never felt she was treated badly, but somehow she found no common interests with her cousins and tended to be quiet as a mouse at home.
When Willow visited the small cramped apartment for the first time, walking up the narrow dark staircase with the blinking fluorescent lighting and peeling wallpaper and gingerly knocking on the grease-covered front door, she had to try very hard to hide her discomfort.
Tara had very few personal possessions, just enough to fill a shoebox sitting snugly at the side of the one drawer allocated to her. The little space she called her own consisted of the small converted sewing table and stool by the window where she did her homework by the light of a tiny table lamp. She kept a few pots at the windowsill, a mint plant, a small cactus, which she took care of everyday.
The window overlooked a narrow alleyway, Willow felt she could almost reach out and touch the rusty railings of the fire escape. Everyday at 3pm the owner of the bakery opposite would bring out trays of freshly baked bread and Tara introduced Willow to the pleasure of enjoyment through smell. To the end of her days Willow would never forget the smell of fresh bread, in such great contrast with the smell of poverty that permeated that tiny apartment.
She said nothing like that to Tara of course, even at that age she was well aware of the difference in their family circumstances, though she did not feel she was necessarily the richer party.
"My aunt treats me well cos my Dad sends her money, I know that," Tara stated matter-of-factly.
"Someone's nice to someone else, there's always a reason," Willow agreed.
"Your mother loves you unconditionally though," Tara pointed out.
Willow smiled sadly, "That's because I do well at school and never cause trouble."
"So I should be thankful I have people who are nice to me, regardless of reason?" Tara argued.
"Of course, otherwise you end up thinking about people's motives for everything they do," Willow said.
"I like your family, it's how it should be, you live with your parents, not someone else's, in your own home. It's all so normal," Tara said after a while.
Willow was silent.
Later, when they were having ice cream at the mall, she asked Tara, "Why do you think I have so much pocket money?"
"I never thought about it, why?" Tara responded.
"My Mom gives me money whenever she goes away on one of her seminars, my Dad does the same. Sometimes they both give me money, and sometimes they forget they've already given me some, then they give me some more," Willow said.
"Most people would die to be so rich," Tara said flatly.
"Yeah, but when all you do is wander alone in your big house, communicating with your parents by way of notes on the fridge door or email or voicemail, all you want is to have a family meal together for once," Willow sighed.
"I'll be your family," Tara offered brightly.
"Really?" Willow asked with an equally big smile.
"Oh yes. We can get our own house when we graduate, with a big yard and cats and dogs and horses," Tara dreamed.
Willow blanched. "Horses?"
"Uh huh, horses that graze on the grass and we can go riding and - what?" Tara stopped at the her friend's horrified expression.
"I don't like horses, don't want to go near them, they bite arms," Willow pouted.
Tara laughed. "Okay, I'll take care of the horses. But you can have fish. You want fish?"
"Yeah, fish. Fish I'll accept, we can have a fish pond," Willow said.
"And, and we'll have our own big bedrooms and a big kitchen that always have flowers and a fireplace in the living room where we can toast marshmallows," Tara said.
"I'll invent a machine that does all the cooking and cleaning and dispenses candy and chocolate whenever we want," Willow continued.
"Don't think we want candy to be available so freely, not good for the children's teeth," Tara said sternly.
"Well I can build in some controls, like only so many per day and - whoa, where did children come from?" Willow did a double take.
"Huh? Oh, um," Tara frowned at her friend. "I don't know, hmmm, I was imagining the house and all of a sudden I saw young children running around. I have no idea."
"Oh well, may be they're our neighbor's kids? Or, your cousin's?" Willow explained.
"I don't know, t-t-they felt like they belong there. But, may be you're right..." Tara agreed, though not altogether convinced.
Willow shrugged it off. Too deep for her young mind. "Can I have some of your ice cream?" she asked.
The young teens dug into each other's sundaes and the puzzling unknown thought was discarded.
The summer continued with more ice cream, swimming, music & movie nights and more hanging out, either just the two of them or with the boys.
Willow was as usual free with her money, often buying surprise gifts for Tara, or treating them both to mountains of ice cream. In turn Tara invited her for dinner with her aunt's family, simple meals of meatloaf, pumpkin mash and big bowls of buttered peas from Aunt Marie's garden.
Willow had never had anything so delicious.