Joyce knocked on Tara's kitchen door. She smiled warmly at the young man who opened it. "Hi, William, is Tara around?"
"No, she's taken Dawn to her football..." He stopped seeing Joyce's puzzled look. "Soccer game."
"Can you give her a message? Buffy is coming home today and if everything goes okay I wanted to invite her and Dawn to lunch tomorrow, "said Joyce and then with a hint of panic. "I thought it would be nice for Buffy to meet new people, unless that's wrong; do you think it could be wrong?"
Will ushered Joyce into the house, seeing that the woman was on the verge of hysterics. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Thank you but no," said Joyce trying to smile.
"Tara will be back soon, if you want to talk to her," said Will. "I know she is better at the whole listening thing than me."
Any pretence of a smile that Joyce had dropped; it was something that had worried her for a while but was now being brought into a sharper focus knowing Buffy was coming home. She felt her young neighbour was old before her time. Tara worked hard, looked after Dawn and that was about it. Joyce felt this girl barely out of her teens deserved more in her life.
"What?" Asked Will.
"Don't you think it's time Tara had someone in her life to care for her?"
"She has me and Jitty..."
"I know, I know Dear, but that's not what I meant," said Joyce.
"Oh, you mean she needs a nice woman..." Will slapped his hand over his mouth much to Joyce's amusement.
"I know, you know," said Joyce, with a slight smile that quickly faded. "I was at the trial; remember?"
Over the last couple of days since she knew Buffy was coming home, she had thought a lot about the two girls next door who allowed her at least to be "Mom" to someone. She wondered if the nightmares about the incident five years ago that had led them to being so close would ever stop?
Joyce's new neighbors had puzzled her. They seemed too young to be living on their own but there was no sign of any parental figure. She had tried to start a couple of conversations with the older one, but the blonde always looked so terrified, stuttering a couple of words before practically running for the house. The girls had been there about 3 months and she was almost at the point of giving up on them, when one afternoon having come home early from the gallery; she heard a series of screams and bangs coming from next door.
She had run over to the house, to be shouldered out of the way by a rough looking young man with a wispy beard. He pushed past her, jumped into a truck and sped away. She walked slowly to the house, not sure of what sort of situation she was getting into. The front door hung open, she still knocked before looking into the hallway and seeing the sight that tore her heart. Tara was lying unconscious in the middle of the hall beaten to a pulp. She got down on her knees and checked Tara's vitals. Her breathing was shallow but her pulse was strong. Joyce called 911.
Joyce learned that the young man who had broken Tara's jaw, nose and four of her ribs was in fact Tara and Dawn's older brother Donnie. She remembered at the trial how he and their father had tried to tarnish Tara's name. Saying Donnie had been driven to it because he was so worried about Dawn's moral upbringing being brought up by a dyke witch. It had seemed the jury might be swayed by their prejudices until she had stood up and gave her description of what had happened in a cool, clear way. Donnie was found guilty of assault and battery as part of a hate crime and given 6 years.
It had amazed her how the Maclay girls had matured into such lovely young women giving no apparent signs of the violence that had marred their lives. She was snapped back to the here and now by the sound of Will's voice.
"I remember." His blue eyes clouded with anger at the memory. He loved Tara deeply. They had been best friends since starting at the university together; both of them being outsiders, they had drawn on one another for strength. They could bitch with each other but their relationship was tight. He cleared his throat. "I thought Buffy was coming home a couple of days ago?"
"I know but after talking with the doctors, they thought I might need a couple of days to prepare," shrugged Joyce. "I tried to tell them that I have been waiting almost seven years for her to come home; I'm more than prepared."
Will closed his hand over Joyce's; he had noticed the tremor in her voice. "It'll be okay."
"I hope so," said Joyce weakly. "I really do, you'll tell Tara about tomorrow? You're welcome to come too if you want."
"What and scare her off completely? Nah, I think Tara and Dawn are probably enough for her in one go."
This felt so weird to Buffy; she was going home to her Mom. A mom who she had convinced herself was dead, along with so many other people; people she had never even met.
She had seen Sunnydale swallowed into the Hellmouth. She had smiled and woken up. Maybe that's what had to happen. She had to destroy the whole place in her mind to be free of the madness that had over taken her.
Buffy had been awake for three weeks now and she had been thinking a lot. She needed to get her real life back on track. So much must have changed in the seven years she had been catatonic for. She would have no friends, no qualifications, nothing but Buffy didn't feel downhearted. She was determined to make up for lost time. She just hoped it would be enough to start building a new life, but at least she had her Mom back.
Willow and Fred relaxed in their favorite coffee shop Jen's Java, a couple of blocks down from their apartment. They liked to walk down and just hang out there plus the boss never kicked them out for making a latte last all morning.
"Any luck at the community college?" Asked Willow.
"No, they didn't know of anyone who was looking for a tutor either," sighed Fred. "I should have controlled my temper better."
"Controlled your temper. Jeez, Fred I remember when one of those brats put gum in your hair. They were just monsters, how you put up with them for over a year I don't know."
Willow suddenly had the feeling that she had lost Fred's attention as she started to stare over the redhead's shoulder.
"Don't look now," whispered Fred. "But your stalker is here."
Willow rolled her eyes and almost jumped as Fred took her hand and started to sensuously stroke her thumb over the back of it.
"That's pathetic. I know you two aren't together," said a truculent voice from behind Willow.
Willow didn't even turn to look. "Hi, Penny and you know maybe I've persuaded Fred to try something different." She winked at her friend.
A tall shapely woman with long brown hair, brooding dark eyes, sharp cheekbones and full sensuous lips came into view. Willow remembered wanting her so much, but that had been so long ago. The woman's possessive streak, uncertain temper and at times bizarre behavior had quickly changed the redhead's mind.
"Do you think I'm stupid? I know you are just trying to make me jealous," said Penny her dark eyes flashing.
Willow met her anger full tilt with an explosion of her own. "Make you jealous? I could do that by looking the wrong way at women on T.V. I told you I wanted us to just be friends, but now I want you out of my life. Period."
Fred gave a sigh of relief as Penny turned and ran from the shop. "She scares me."
"You shoulda tried dating her, now that was scary," said Willow joking but with enough clouds in her green eyes to let Fred know that there was more than a grain of truth in her statement.
"Hey, there's Xander," said Fred her eyes shinning with delight as she saw the handsome young black man who had entered with him. "You didn't say Charles was with him today."
Willow gave Fred a knowing smile. "Charles? Oh you mean Gunn. Yeah, he and Xander are going bowling later. Why don't you ask him out? I know you want to."
Fred gave Willow a panicky look. "I couldn't do that, what if he laughed?"
"And what if he said yes?" Countered Willow.
Fred shook her head vigorously. There was no way she was taking that drastic course of action.
Xander and Gunn collected their coffees and joined them. Xander squeezed in next to Fred and Gunn by Willow.
"Hey," said Gunn. "How would you two beautiful ladies like to take my friend and me on at a little 10 pin bowling, local alley with all the sweaty feet smell you can spare. Remember this could be a once in a lifetime offer, so what do ya say?"
Willow laughed. "Well you've made it sound just too tempting, but can your male pride take being beaten by us again?"
"It can, but no money on it, you two cleaned me out the last time," said Xander dolefully.
Everybody started to laugh and the two you men quickly finished their coffee. As they went to leave Fred straggled a little behind, pulling Xander's arm to slow him down too.
"Xander, Penny turned up again. I'm worried, she's been following Willow around the campus and some nights she has followed her home."
Xander's brow furrowed. "What's Willow saying about all this?"
"You know Will, she doesn't like to make a fuss, but I think it's got her worried."
"Do you want me to warn Penny to back off?" Asked Xander, all trace of his usual happy go lucky nature gone.
"No... no it might make it worse" said Fred. "But I think we should keep an eye on Willow, make sure she's safe."
"No problem," said Xander.