On any given particularly gorgeous summer's afternoon there are no doubt many people out enjoying the fresh air or simply on their way to their next destination. Most of the people we pass in the street don't warrant much more than a passing glance... maybe a follow up glance if they happen to be especially attractive. If anyone happened to be walking along the street in one of the more upper class sections of New York City that afternoon they would have passed two very excited young ladies. One was petite with long blonde hair that was neatly tied back in a ponytail while the other was a little taller perhaps, but just as slender and with red hair settling on her shoulders that sparkled in the sunlight. Both girls were attired in school formal school uniforms of the sort favoured by private schools. All wool and ties and blazers, sparing no thought for the comfort of the wearers. Those uniforms were now in a state of disarray. Blazers casually flung over shoulders, ties loosened and socks pushed well down around the ankles. They left the street to ascend the steps of a rather magnificent townhouse with an imposing fašade that spoke of taste and breeding without being overly pretentious... but more than anything else, it spoke of wealth.
The two girls were still teenagers in every sense of the word and on this day they had particular reason to be in high spirits. Willow Rosenberg, for was the redhead's name, couldn't quite bring herself to believe it... she was free! All those tedious hours spent studying everything from French verbs to quadratics... such nonsense one didn't actually need to know but was expected to learn all the same. Regardless of the fact she was wearing a long skirt, she fairly leapt up the broad central staircase to a bright cheery room on the first floor. Her friend who went by the unlikely name of Buffy, Buffy Summers to be exact, closely followed her. Willow tugged off her tie and sent it sailing defiantly across the room. It landed and sat in stark contrast to the precise neatness of everything around it. Although it seemed, given the jovial moods of both eighteen year olds, an out of place tie was merely the beginning of the chaos.
"Oh my god, I so cannot believe high school is over... all those years of hell, just like that, finished!" Buffy flopped on Willow's bed, kicking her shoes off.
"Come on, school was never that bad! Want to listen to a record?" Loud music was a good choice for a follow-up act of rebellion after the tie and Willow flipped through her album collection, she selected one and held it up for Buffy to see, "Ricky Nelson?"
"No, put Jerry Lee Louis on, we need some sounds with a bit more hop to 'em!" Buffy was tapping her toes in anticipation of the beat.
With the jazzy sounds cranked up, belting out one of their favourite tunes, it really felt like the beginning of a summer vacation. The fact that school was over forever hadn't quite managed to sink itself in.
"So... Paris for the summer huh Will?" Buffy asked over the music.
"Yeah, my parents said if I did well in all my subjects... which I did... "
"With no effort!" Buffy chipped in, throwing a pillow at her friend.
Willow grinned, "So yeah, Paris for the summer... a whole summer of no parents, only a crazy old aunt who pretty much lets me do whatever I want... it's going to be cool... I can't wait. I wish you were coming, I can't believe your parents didn't trust the two of us enough to let you come!"
"Willow... do you remember last time we were left alone at my parents house for just the weekend?"
"It was only supposed to be a small party... a select group of friends," Willow protested, "I couldn't help it that almost the entire school showed up... and I apologised profusely on more than one occasion... and Daddy paid for the broken window... and I'm sure your dog is almost back to normal again... why should they still be holding that against me?"
"Well, they've forgiven you... not me, just you. I'm sure they love you more than me and I have no idea why!"
"Willow shrugged nonchalantly, "Everyone loves me, I'm lovable."
"Speaking of lovable... Andy Daniels? You two were looking awfully cosy at Fred's party last week... what's up with that?"
"Cosy on his part Buff! More like yick on my part... he may look a million bucks but he's duller than a moose at the zoo."
"Willow, you have to be less picky... you haven't dated for ages... since last fall, that musician guy. You've been off the rack for far too long. What's up with that? And does it really matter if he's dull when he looks like Frankie Avalon? Who could resist that?"
"I can obviously... are you writing a book or something Buff? It's not too much to ask for someone a little more hip than Andy Daniels," and a brain would be good too.
"All I'm saying is just loosen up and have some fun for once. Anyway... suffice to say, no Parisian fun for Buffy this summer... only dullness and boredom at our summer house. Will, it's just not going to be the same with you gone!"
"I'll write you lots of postcards... and maybe bring back a suave French guy for you."
"Willow!" a piercing voice called from another room, "Willow Rosenberg!"
"Yes Mom?" Willow rolled her eyes to the ceiling as only a teenager could.
"Turn that awful racket off. You can hear it throughout the entire floor!"
Your Mom's actually home?" Buffy asked a little incredulously, " I can't remember the last time I was here and she was home."
"Yeah, you saw her last week, on her way out the door to the Republican rally... her meeting this afternoon was probably cancelled or something," Willow removed the record and tucked it back in it's sleeve.
"Well, I should really get going anyway," Buffy sighed and rummaged beneath the bed for her shoes, "My Mom's having a dinner party for some of Daddy's work colleagues. I think I have to be there... yrrrgh, being polite to old men all evening!"
"You know you love it! All those distinguished gentlemen giving you compliments and telling your parents what a wonderful daughter they've raised and asking them why they haven't married you off yet... okay, I sympathise fully! I know exactly how it feels," Willow groaned, the suffering of it all! "If I have to listen to one more old biddy telling me how wonderful a husband so and so would make and mentally measuring me for a wedding dress I'm going to run away and never come back again!"
"You and me both doll, at least I'll get to wear that new dress we picked out last week," Buffy tugged on her shoes and picked up her book bag.
"Oh yes, it's very 'Audrey' you'll look a picture!"
Buffy grinned as she paused by the door, "I'll see you later Will?"
"Yeah, sure... see you Buff."
"Bye Mrs Rosenberg!" Buffy called down the hallway as she departed.
"Bye Betty!" Sheila replied gracefully from down the hallway.
Willow smirked, she often wondered if her mother remembered her own daughter's name at times. She crossed to the window seat and sat, folding her legs beneath her. In a contemplative mood, Willow gazed out the window and at the sunlight which teased her like a small child.
Paris for the summer seemed so exciting and yet at the same time her future loomed ahead like a very empty book. What exactly was going to happen when she returned? Find a husband... marriage... Willow pressed her nose against the glass of the window pane and snorted... marriage...
Still, the prospect of new and exciting dating prospects in Paris loomed ahead... a fling with a suave bohemian French artist in Montmartre sounded promising... or there was always one of the rich Europeans who flocked to the French capital for the summer season. The corners of her lips curled upwards in a small smile. The city of love they called it... that's exactly what it would be for Willow Rosenberg.
Across the other side of town was a very different world. Greenwich Village was a home for artists, bohemians... writers and one particular little bookstore. The name was unimportant, as was the fact it sold mostly books on history and the arts... and therefore had very few customers at any time of day. This late at night and so near closing time, the bookstore was completely empty. The only sound was the steady squeaking of the wheels of a shelving ladder as it was pushed along the shelves by a young blonde. She lifted the spine of a thick volume to inspect title before wheeling the ladder a little further over. A few steps up the ladder and the book was slid into the shelf with a satisfying thunk. She glanced back at her trolley, the last...
"Tara?" an accented voice called out softly.
The young blonde girl almost lost her footing and looked down from the ladder, a startled expression on her sweet face. Her long hair fell in loose curls, the curls framed a sweet, pale face capped off with the most expressive and liquid pair of blue eyes a person could possess. A small lop-sided smile crossed her face when she saw who was calling her. Climbing down the ladder, she walked to the front of the store and to the tall man standing near the door. He was garbed in a tweed suit, the sort of suit favoured by bookstore owners, university professors and Englishmen. Giles happened to be all three... so he never dressed any differently.
"Mr Giles, I've just finished with the latest lot of deliveries... all shelved and ready to be sold to good homes."
"Tara, unless I'm mistaken which I very much doubt because I pay your wages... doesn't your shift start at 9am? Where's Julie? You haven't been here all day have you?"
Tara ducked her head and nodded, "Julie rang in sick and there was no one else to cover b-but I don't mind! Ever since school finished last week I've kind of been a little lost...more hours at work means less time I have to spend on my own."
"And less time you have to spend at home?" Giles asked softly, a glint of sympathy in his eyes for the lonely girl.
"Home! Dinner... they'll be waiting... Giles I really have to get going!" Tara began gathering up her things, a scarf, her bag... How could I have forgotten!
"I'll take you," Giles fumbled in a pocket for his car keys despite the fact that Tara's home was not at all far away, "Besides, I have a small favour to ask you."
"So, what was the favour you wanted Giles? If you want me to work extra hours while we carry out the inventory check I'd be more than happy," Tara asked as they were driving, she wanted to take her mind off the mood her father would be in when she finally got home.
"Err, no, actually, I was thinking more along the lines of accompanying me on a little trip. You see, I recently got the grant that I applied for... "
"You got the grant!" Tara swivelled in her seat to face him better, an excited grin on her face, "That's fantastic... but I knew you'd get it anyway. You are one of the leading authorities on art history on the East Coast... and in the country for that matter... "
"Well, I wouldn't go that far," Giles tweaked his glasses but a small smile crept on to his face, "Suffice to say, I'm heading off to Paris for the summer and I need an assistant to accompany me... I was wondering if you would be interested?"
Tara looked at Giles with a puzzled expression on her face and tried to determine if he was joking... if he was then it was an awfully mean joke to play on someone, "Are you serious?"
"Of course I'm serious, I need someone to help me organise all my lecture materials... so it will be work... but I don't see any reason why you wouldn't be able to squeeze in a little time to see the sights."
"I've never been anywhere before! You mean... really?" Tara allowed herself to feel the tiniest bit of excitement.
"I mean really Tara," Giles replied, glad to see the blonde happy for a change.
Tara waved goodbye as Mr Giles pulled away from the curb. She fairly bounded up the front stairs of the small apartment block, skirts flying about her calves as she moved. As she was about to open their door she paused, hand merely inches from the doorknob. She sighed, there was every possibility her father would deny her permission to go to Paris just to spite her. Tara hoped to sneak in unnoticed but she should have known better. Her father had ears like a hawk and he was there in an instant as soon as her foot stepped across the threshold.
"Tara Maclay! It's almost 9pm! Your brother and I have been waiting nearly three hours for dinner," he stepped out into the hallway, a wiry, tall man still wearing his shirt from the car sales yard.
Buoyed by the exciting prospect of going to Paris, Tara felt like snapping why didn't you make it yourself! but instead her shoulders sagged and she made an intense study of her feet and mumbled, "I'll start it now."
"Don't bother," he waved his hand dismissively, "Donny and I had leftovers. Where were you?"
"W-work... I was at work, someone called in sick and I covered their shift for them. I should have called, I'm sorry."
"Just don't make a habit of it," his tone indicated now wasn't the best time to mention a trip to Paris.
"Yes sir," Tara replied, relieved to be let off the hook so lightly.
Once tucked away in her room, Tara busied herself tidying even though the room was already painstakingly neat. She had to keep moving lest she think about Mr Giles' proposition. Nothing as remotely exciting as this had ever happened to her. Life was dreary, dull, with absolutely no one paying attention to her except her father and Donny when their meals were late or not up to scratch. Good things just didn't happen to her. This opportunity to see a place she had only dreamed about seemed to good to be true. Maybe it was... but Mr Giles wouldn't lie to her about something like this... he was for real. Tara collapsed on her bed and rolled over to look at the same ceiling that had always been there before closing her eyes. She imagined herself far away from that ceiling that seemed to grow a little lower with every passing day.
Only one thing kept her feet on the ground and prevented the loud whoop she wanted to utter from actually coming out... her father. Well, she would cross that hurdle when she came to it.
Paris... city of art, culture... and love. Tara smirked a little regretfully... that would be one thing she wouldn't be finding there... or anywhere for that matter.