Willow announced she accepted the offer from UC Sunnydale, to everyone's surprise, including her own. Sheila and Ira were initially disappointed, but quickly changed their tune when Willow demonstrated to them how financially advantageous her decision was, the sum total of the scholarships she received were the highest out of any university, even the rich ones.
UCS had figured that she was a talent worth keeping locally, since she would most likely develop into an academic powerhouse and was someone they emphatically wanted as an alumni. They told her she could design her own curriculum, take as many or as few courses during the year, and they were even opening up graduate level courses to her.
Tara was counting the days. Two months till graduation, may be two more to find a job and a home to call her own, then she would be an independent woman.
She felt at home at the Rosenberg's. Sheila and Ira were out of town, again, and were more than happy to welcome her into their home.
"Have you talked to your aunt?" Willow asked one day while they were studying for their finals.
"No," Tara answered, her tone short.
"Won't they come and try to take you back? Or sue my parents for kidnapping?" Willow asked.
Tara laughed at the impossibility. "They're not my real parents, they can't do that. I mean, in the scheme of things, I'm not related to either family."
"Not close family, but surely they've treated you well, so they want you back?" Willow prodded.
"No question that they've done everything for me. I know that I won't be here without them, I'd be in a foster home, or an orphanage. This debt I'll always owe Aunt Marie," Tara conceded. "But they're not my family, never. I don't have family."
"Remember what you said to me once? That you'll be my family? I'll be yours," Willow said softly.
Tara was sitting across the table from Willow, but at that moment, she had a huge urge to run over and envelope her best friend in the biggest hug. What's more, the redhead looked so cute, her lips so enticing, her eyes so beautiful, she ached to touch those lips, so run her fingers down that elfin face ... she shook her head as strange feelings invading places she knew was wrong.
She changed the subject. "So, what's up with Oz nowadays?"
Willow's shoulders dropped. "It goes. Looks like he's staying at Sunnydale too, Devon's not sure what he wants to do, so the future of the band hangs in balance. They want to find money for studio time, so they can cut a demo."
"What about you and Oz, away from band business?" Tara inquired gently.
"Sometimes I feel like he lives for the band only, they've got tours and gigs planned all over, he's busy," Willow said with a shrug of her shoulders and a sigh.
"I'm sure things will be fine," Tara consoled.
"I'm not sure I want to continue. We're too different, we have no common interests and it's hard to maintain conversation with him. Lately when we go out, I don't enjoy it and I make excuses to come home early, especially if I know you're gonna be here," Willow said distractedly.
"Have you talked to him about it?" Tara asked, her heart unexpectedly doing a little dance. She frowned.
"He's never around. I'm not sure what to say to him anyway," Willow complained.
"Do you love him?" Tara asked pointedly.
Willow considered this for a moment. "Nooo. I don't think I do. I like him very much, he's a nice guy and it's cool to be with a guitarist. But if love's supposed to be this heart thumping, bone melting trip, then I don't feel it." Sometimes I feel it, only not with him.
"You're gonna break up with him?" Tara pushed, though she was sorry she sounded so bold.
"I think I might do, I don't know," Willow said indecisively.
She managed to talk to Oz a week later, in between her computer labs and his band practice. He wasn't taken aback at what she said. They left each other's company sad, but oddly relieved.
Finals spread out over 5 days, the entire school took on a different atmosphere. Conversations were hushed, students rushed to their exam rooms, all the quiet places were full of lone student, or small groups trying to cram in last minute studying.
Only Willow Rosenberg appeared nonplussed, she was even seen entering and leaving an exam room with a broad smile on her face and a light swing to her shoulders. She was expected to come first in her year, her school district, even the whole of Sunnydale, she had already snagged the honor of achieving the best SATs ever at Sunnydale High.
For the senior class, it was end of an era.
Those going off to college were quietly looking forward to four years when they could raise as much hell as they wanted, finally out of their parents' clutch. Those without college prospects were faced with the first hurdle in their entry to the real world. The Job Search.
Willow helped Tara with her search, searching online for vacancies, helping her format her resumé, and looking for tips on how to impress interviewers.
Though she wholeheartedly didn't want to, Tara started looking for places for rent. She was comfortable at Willow's and was sure she was welcome to stay as long as she needed. But she felt she had imposed herself long enough, that all her life she had been indebted to other people's kindness, she couldn't wait to be freed of that obligation.
Willow saw Tara scanning the classifieds but decided to stay silent, she wished her friend could stay longer, but understood Tara's need for independence. She herself was busy getting ready for college, Buffy having also accepted a place at UCS, she was excited to have someone she knew.
In between finals came the planning for Prom. Dates were shyly requested, accepted or rejected. Dresses and tuxes bought, borrowed or begged.
The Scoobies were all dateless for the event (the last one with a relationship, Xander, was unceremoniously dumped by Cordelia a few weeks back), so they decided to go together as a group. This made Xander very happy, he spent many of his studying hours fantasizing about entering the hall with 3 sexy women on his arms.
Sheila let Willow and Tara have free run of her closet and they had hours of fun trying out different outfits. Eventually both decided that simplicity was the key and chose dresses that, to the other, were stunningly breathtaking. However they were too embarrassed to say so out loud.
Prom night arrived and though Xander did enter the dance hall with 3 beautiful girls, he received little or no attention from other people, much to his disappointment, and the amusement of his "consorts".
All was not lost, from deep within himself he found courage and asked the new girl, Anya, to dance and they spent the evening getting to know each other.
Buffy, still smarting from Angel's abrupt departure, found solace in the arms of an undeserving dweeb by the name of Scott Hope, but she didn't care, all she cared was to forget the source of her misery for a night.
Willow and Tara were left to their own devices.
"You don't want to join in the group dance?" Tara asked as they sat at the edge of the floor.
"Nah, let's stay here, we're fine by ourselves," Willow tried to sound convincing.
"We're so pathetic," Tara laughed.
Willow joined in and soon they were shaking their heads at their lameness.
"Come on, let's just enjoy the dancing," she said, jumping up and motioning for Tara to follow her.
"Why bother about others when I have the smartest girl in the history of the world wanting to dance with me?" Tara smiled as she followed Willow's lead. And the most beautiful, she thought to herself.
They danced all night together, not realizing they had excluded the entire student body that was at the prom and were monopolizing each other. It felt so right. What's more, as they unconsciously inched slowly closer, they felt the gradual build up of an anticipation and awareness that caught them unawares. When the slow music came on, they found themselves cheek-to-cheek with hands on hips and seemingly breathing the same air.
Tara turned to look at Willow, only to see the redhead staring at her with an expectant expression. She knew their closeness had crossed over the boundary of acceptable proximity, even for friends as intimate as them. It was a different kind of intimacy.
She didn't move away, but felt Willow stiffen a little. Her heart was pounding so fiercely as she dreaded the moment when Willow would pull away, but that moment never came.
Willow moved a fraction of an inch towards her, their bodies slid and locked into place.
An unseen force propelled them to squish even tighter and she heard a buzz in the air as she leant in and placed a feathery kiss on Willow's lips. A kiss so soft, so brief, and so very tender.