Joyce smiled at the customer who was taking forever to decide if he wanted to buy the granite sculpture that he had been looking at for the last hour. She strongly suspected he was prevaricating and couldn't afford the hefty price tag. She smiled with relief when her assistant came and informed her there was a personal phone call for her. "Caroline can you take over for me. Excuse me Mr Richards but Caroline, can help you with anything you want."
Joyce pulled up the phone. "Joyce Summers here, how can I help you?"
"Dr. Stevenson, nice to hear from you. Is Buffy okay? When?" Asked Joyce her voice quickened with excitement. "Last week? Why didn't you contact us? I understand you didn't want to get our hopes up again... when can we see her? Take her home, you are kidding? Of course, we want her home, more than anything. When? The day after tomorrow; oh thank you, thank you!" Joyce said a mixture of smiles and tears on her face.
Joyce looked around her kitchen, figuring the extra groceries she would have to buy. It would be so strange having a teenager in the house. Then the thought crossed her mind that Buffy wasn't a teenager any more but a woman in her early twenties who had spent most of the last 7 years in a catatonic state. Suddenly it was starting to feel a bit much. She wished Hank were there but once again he was away on business, she wondered if the girls next door were in. She really enjoyed their company and maybe they could help with what to expect from a girl...no woman in her early twenties.
"Dawn, can you turn the music down, I can't even hear myself think," shouted Tara as she went to answer the door. Oh M-mrs. S-summers, I'm sorry about the noise. You know Dawn when she comes home from school."
"Tara, how many times do I have I to tell you, please call me Joyce and I haven't come to complain about the noise. In fact I wondered if you would both like to come for dinner? I know you've just come home from work and I sorta guessed that Dawn wouldn't have thought about starting anything," said Joyce smiling.
"If you don't mind, uhm Joyce," said Tara.
"Of course not and to be honest I could use the company and I have something exciting to tell you," said Joyce. "I'll tell you what, I'll give you 15 minutes to get Dawn ready, will that be okay?"
"S-sure thank you," said Tara as Joyce turned to leave.
"Dawn," roared Tara. "Mrs Summers invited us over for dinner, so do you think you can get yourself down here?"
"Hey," said Dawn from the top of the stairs. "That's cool, she didn't, you know complain about the noise? Did she?"
"No, you're off the hook, this time," said Tara smiling fondly at her little sister. "So do you think you can be ready in 15 minutes?"
"No problem Tara," said Dawn giving her a big thumbs up.
Willow sighed as Xander pulled up outside the school in his beat up old truck. "Xand, you're late again, did the truck break down."
"Don't mock the Xander mobile, Will, at least it'll get you home..."
"Eventually," added Willow with a grin.
"Hey come on, this is the best an apprentice builder can do," said Xander defensively as Willow climbed in. "And how was your day dear?"
"Don't mock me, it was okay but I don't think Penny will speak to me again after Saturday night," said Willow.
"She lacks a sense of humor, you need a girlfriend with a sense of humor," said Xander.
"I need a girlfriend, period, said Willow.
"You and me both," said Xander with mock sympathy. "But I'll tell you what how about we go home eat pizza and ice-cream and watch cable."
"Done," said Willow smiling.
Tara and Dawn walked back from Joyce's house; they had never seen their neighbor so excited, even last year when Buffy seemed to be well, there had been no suggestion that she would be coming home. They were looking forward to finally meeting her.
They reached the front door of the house and Tara turned her key in the door, she cocked her head when the alarm didn't go off. "Dawn, we set the alarm before we left, didn't we?"
"Yeah," said Dawn catching the anxiety in Tara's voice.
Tara pulled the gun she always had on her. "Dawn, do you have your cell phone?"
"Uh-um, yeah" said Dawn still shocked to see the pistol in her sister's hand; despite knowing she carried it.
"Good, go back to Joyce's and call Jitty, tell her to get here as fast as she can, " whispered Tara her voice low and urgent.
"Dawn, go now, do as you're told," said Tara in a whispered hiss.
Dawn reluctantly ran from her sister, pulling her cell phone out and dialing the number she had been ordered to.
Tara crept through her house, her heart pounding, the gun wavering in her hand. She heard a small noise from the kitchen and quietly headed towards it. She could feel the cold sweat pouring down her neck. She threw open the kitchen door and tried to put on some attitude. "P-put your h-hands where I can see them... Oh for god's sake Will what are you doing in my fridge?"
"Is that how you greet all your friends? Jesus, Tara you almost gave me a heart attack," said the young bleach-blonde English man, dressed all in black, his long leather coat reaching to the floor.
Tara's knees sagged slightly with relief. "William, you freak, what are you doing in my house?"
"Eating apple pie," said Will, pulling a plate from the fridge.
"But why are you here, doesn't your uncle feed you and anyway I thought you had a date?" asked Tara
"I did, but, he stood me up for a night at the gym, shame he really had the tightest pair of buns..."
Tara raised her hands in mock surrender. "No more please,"
Will gave Tara a calculating look. "Why are you walking about with a gun in your hand and where's Dawn?"
Tara looked panicked and pulled out her cell phone. "Dawn, hey, it's okay, it was only Will, could you apologize to Joyce and come home? I'll see you in few Sweetie."
"You still haven't answered my question, why the gun, what's going on love?" Asked the young man.
"I d-don't want..."
"Hey, I know it's bad if you start to stutter, c'mon Tara tell me, I'm supposed to be your best friend," said Will.
"Donnie sent some threatening letters..."
"I'll kill the bastard," said Will, his blue eyes hardening into cold sapphires. "Have you told Jitty?"
"I d-d-d I d-didn't want to worry her..."
"Isn't it her job?" he objected and then stopped talking as he heard Dawn enter the house. "Hey, shortie."
"Don't call me that, I'm almost as tall as you, " said Dawn but with a smile.
They all looked round as they heard the sound of brakes screeching outside. "Oh god, I forgot to call Jitty back," said Tara and then looking at Will. "She is going to be so pissed with you."
"What's new?" muttered Will. "But Sweetie, I may have to drop you in it too."
He blew her a kiss as the doorbell rang.
Tara opened the door to a small Indian woman in her mid thirties, dressed in a cream linen trouser suit, with a crisp white silk shirt. Her shiny black hair was cut short, pixie style, into her face. "Okay so no one's dead, what's happened?"
Jitty walked into the house. "Hey Dawnie, how's my favorite chess partner, still leading with your knight?"
Dawn hugged the woman who she towered over for a couple of seconds.
"Dawn, I don't mean to be rude, but I think I need to talk to your sister for a few moments."
Dawn shrugged and made for the stairs. "Okay, I have some homework to do anyway. You'll say goodbye before you leave, right?"
"Of course," said Jitty and then waited until the teenager had gone before turning with a more serious face to Tara. "Spill, what the hell is going on, your sister phones me to say you have gone into the house with a gun in your hand. Do you know how dangerous that is? Why didn't you phone the police? I was about to phone them myself, when Joyce reached me and said that apparently everything was okay. "
"She thought it was that bastard, brother of hers," said Will walking in from the kitchen.
Jitty kept her eyes on Tara and snapped out at her. "And you thought this, why?"
"He's b-been s-sending me letters again," said Tara her chin down not meeting Jitty's eyes.
"And you never mentioned it to me or brought the letters to me, why?" Asked the smaller woman bristling with barely concealed anger.
"I d-didn't want to b-bother you," said Tara.
Jitty put her hand on Tara's arm and guided her through to the living room and sat her on the couch. Jitty sat on the edge of the chair opposite, holding onto to Tara's hand. "You never bother me Tara, except when you keep things from me. You know what happened the last time he turned up and I don't want to have Dawn and I visiting you in the hospital again."
"I won't let him lay a finger on me again or go near Dawn, I'd kill him first," said Tara through gritted teeth.
"No," said Jitty. "I gave you the gun to make sure you are protected, if you carry on with that attitude I'll make sure your license is revoked, do you understand me? Think of Dawn, your Mom wanted you to look after her; it's not worth throwing away everything you've achieved on that bastard. I'll deal with him. It's my job. Do you still have the letters?"
"Okay, can you find them for me and I'll have a word with his and your Dad's attorney, remind them about the restraining order we have on him. Tara when anything happens like this you must tell me. I know you are independent, but I'm not just your attorney, I'm your friend too."
"I know, I'm sorry. I just... wanted to prove I could handle things," said Tara.
"Oh Honey, handle things? All the things you've done since you were 18, look after your sister, get your degree, hold down a job and run a house. You've done amazing but remember you have people you can turn to, even him," said Jitty motioning towards Will.
"Hey," said the young Englishman. "And she told me before you."
"Whatever, can you get those letters for me?" Asked Jitty.
"Sure there in my room," said Tara. "I'll go get them."
Jitty waited until Tara had left. "Will, can you crash here, say for a few weeks, just tell Tara you've had a fight with your uncle or something. I don't want her left on her own and you pass for a man, well... technically."
"Hey, didn't they teach you manners at law school," said Will bristling slightly and then relenting. "Yeah, I'll stay, the grubs better here anyway."
Tara came in letters in hand. "I'm sorry, for making you come over."
"Don't worry kiddo," said Jitty. "You saved me from listening to my Mom going on about my brother's wedding all night. You and Dawn are still coming and saving me from a million relatives I don't know?"
Tara smiled and nodded. "We wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Don't I get an invite?" Asked Will pouting.
"No, but I don't suppose that will stop you from turning up, just try not to seduce the best man," said Jitty with just a hint of threat. I'm just going to go say goodbye to Dawn and then head home. Are we still on for Friday night?"
"Yeah," said Tara. "I'll get the pizzas."
"And make sure you get some decent films this time," said Will.
Jitty gave him a dirty look and then gave Tara hug. "I'll see you Friday. I'll phone you when I've spoken to their attorney." She headed up the stairs to Dawn.
Willow sat curled up on the sofa, ice cream in hand watching TV in a comfortable silence with Xander. They had been friends for so long that they could just sit and chill out.
They both jumped as the front door of their apartment was slammed shut and Fred stormed into the room flinging her books into the corner of the room.
Willow looked at Xander raising her eyebrows. " So the tutoring sessions with the Dowling's haven't improved then.
"I quit," said Fred dolefully. I told their Mom where she could stick her jobs before I murdered her brats." She flopped down on the sofa by Willow and took the ice cream from her. "I'm gonna have to put my name back down with the University to get another tutoring job."
"Take your time," said Xander. "We can cover your share of the rent for a while, right Will?"
"No problem," said Willow giving Fred a reassuring smile.
"You guys are so sweet," said Fred smiling. "But I've saved some money up, so I'm good for now."