Buffy slept with Angel and was found out by her Mom. Angel disappeared to LA, leaving a distraught, grounded Buffy.
Xander and Cordelia were found kissing and holding hands, sending shockwaves of disbelief to all their friends and followers.
Willow met someone who was her match in intellect but her complete opposite in application. Oz frustrated her, he was as laid back as she was wound up. But he was a nice boy, and he was lead guitarist in a band, which when you were sixteen in a small town, was the nearest thing to cool for miles.
Boys asked Tara for dates, not many, but she always politely refused. Someone started a whispering campaign, that she was illegitimate, unwanted by her father, and on top of that, a frigid, freaky cow that no one was interested in. Or worse, she was a man-hating lesbo who burnt secret curses to people in her path. Willow strenuously defended her friend, and got roped into the "frigid freak" class as well.
It bothered her a lot, since she cared what other people thought of her. As for Tara, she never talked about it, not even to Willow. And that bothered Willow even more.
Tara was frantic. She could not concentrate on school, or her chores, or anything at all.
Her father had not written or called in months. Naturally that included not sending money to Aunt Marie.
"She treating you different?" asked a concerned Willow.
"No, no, no. She's not like that, she never mentions it," Tara replied, she didn't know whether she was consoling Willow or herself.
"That's alright then," Willow concluded.
"Of course it's not alright!" Tara exclaimed, then her face softened as she saw Willow stiffen. "It's just, I'll have to repay her somehow, eventually. How am I going to do that? I have to find a job first."
"At least wait till you graduate," Willow tried to reason with her friend. "If things get worse, the offer to stay with me is still open."
Truth was, Tara secretly thought, she might have to take up Willow's offer of accommodation, she knew in her heart of hearts that she could not stay long at her aunt's.
The reason? Donny, her aunt's elder son. Although Tara thought of him as her cousin, they were further removed than that, as far as family relations went. He was 3 years older and worked as a junior clerk at the Sunnydale Bank. Not much of an intellectual, not a very interesting personality, but not malicious either.
But showing gradual interest in her, Tara. Hadn't made any moves yet, but she could feel him staring at her when he thought she wasn't aware. The kind of stare that sent shivers of fear down her spine. She didn't feel anything negative toward him, but nothing positive either. Apart from exchanges of "good morning" and "nice weather" she wanted nothing to do with him.
Trouble was, it was giving her aunt ideas. If she wasn't careful, she'd end up living with them forever, being the dutiful daughter-in-law, and producing a brood of pesky babies, one after another. Eventually, she would become Aunt Marie.
She did not, emphatically, did not want to spend the rest of her life living in the dumps.
"I can't, I've had enough. The creaky bed springs, the moldy walls. Look at my clothes, they hardly fit me, but I'm stuck there," she cried.
Willow placed a sympathetic arm round her shoulders. "Soon, you'll have the biggest bed you can imagine, the most decadent wallpaper, more clothes than you can imagine."
"Always the optimist, how can you do that?" Tara wondered.
"Never been wanting all my young life," Willow answered with a straight face.
"Will, you have to understand, I want to leave home, but it's not because I'm looking for fame and fortune or glamour, I just need to get out of there desperately," Tara insisted.
"Don't be so desperate that you let your guard down and succumb to bad influences," Willow pleaded.
"What bad influences?" asked Tara.
"The sort that lead you down roads you'll never recover from, where the signposts all say shame and degradation," Willow explained. "You know, bad things that lead to getting into trouble, prison."
"Bad is a relative term," Tara tossed in.
"Bad is bad," a resolute Willow answered.
"Like what exactly?"
"Stealing, breaking and entering, assault," Willow answered without hesitation.
"Stealing what, breaking into where, assaulting who?" Tara shot back.
"You know what I mean," Willow sighed exasperatedly.
"What if I stole a cookie from Donny's stash cos I was starving, or broke into Xander's parents' house to take away the alcohol, or fought against every one of those airheads who call you a queer duck? How bad am I?" Tara countered.
Willow was speechless, surprised at Tara's venomous tone.
"Not bad as in getting arrest bad, just a little bit outside the confines of rules, right?" Tara pointed out.
"Still bad. Rules are there so we can observe them, so we have to, uh, observe them," Willow said.
"God, you're not going to get through life being Obedient Will all the time, life's not so black and white, it's full of gray areas," Tara said.
"I know. But I want to stay innocent a while longer," said Willow wistfully. After a second she took Tara's hand in hers, "Promise me you won't get into trouble, whatever happens promise you'll retain your integrity, please?"
"Hey, what do you take me for? A master criminal?" Tara said gently, tracing Willow's jawline tenderly her other hand. A feeling she never felt before, never occurred to her, suddenly presented itself and made its presence known. She swallowed hard and changed the topic.
A month later, Tara's father came in from the cold. He had obtained a honorable discharge from the army and gotten married to a Thai lady he met in Germany. He brought his new young wife to meet everyone in the US before flying off to their new life in Asia. She was an heiress in her family's machinery business, the prospects were looking good and this was his chance to strike it rich.
For a split second there Tara thought, hoped, yearned, that he was here to tell her to pack her bags and come with him. But instead he and Aunt Marie stepped into the kitchen for a private conference.
Later he gave Tara an awkward hug, "You've grown so tall, my daughter. And so beautiful. Soon you'll spread your wings and fly high in the sky."
She'd never pegged her father as the eloquent type and was surprised. The meaning of his words, however, were not lost on Tara. Her heart sank.
"Tara's virtually part of my family now, she's welcome to stay with me as long as she wants, Robert," said Aunt Marie. What she didn't say was, what as. Tara had no doubt what her well meaning aunt had in mind.
She could already sense her Dad's impatience, the way he regarded the furniture and the surroundings with disdain, he couldn't wait to leave this life and start a new one. He stroked his daughter's hair stiffly and gave her a large envelope, "Tara, this is for you. Some of your mother's things are inside, I think you should have them. You take care."
She tried to memorize his face, but already it was fading. She may never see him again, but she felt nothing.
She bit her lips and held her tears all the way through the 12 minute run to Willow's house.
Her father had given some money to her aunt, but Tara felt a change in her status at her aunt's household after his departure. Aunt Marie started asking her to accompany her on errands, favoring Tara over Donny's sister Beth.
Donny also started coming into the room without knocking. Several times she was brushing her hair and was startled out of her skin when she suddenly saw his reflection in the mirror.
Things came to a head one night, when she was studying for her Chemistry test, she felt a hand on her shoulders. She jumped up violently and retreated until her back was against the wall, arms hugging herself protectively as she stared at him in shock.
He had the good sense to blush and leave.
The next day, she quietly told Aunt Marie that she was going over to Willow's for a sleepover, because she had problems with her Chemistry that she wanted Willow's help on.
Her aunt wasn't aware of what had happened in her room, and was happily encouraging Tara on her school work.
"Quite an ambitious girl you are, Tara," she commented.
Tara quietly nodded, what else could she say.
"That's good. You should be able to find a part time job easily, with your qualifications. Don't worry about the children, I'll look after them for you," Aunt Marie continued, oblivious.
Tara packed the contents of her shoebox into her backpack and made sure she wrapped her mother's things carefully before placing them at the bottom.
She knew she still owed her aunt money, what her Dad left behind wasn't enough.
One day, she vowed, she would pay her dues.
Donny was home already when she left, he said nothing as she closed the door behind her. The whiff of baking bread was her last memory as she walked down the street.
It was the only home she had known, and now, she was on her own.