As Friday evening approached Buffy began to regret her rash decision to go out with Fred. She knew she had to get back into real life and that meant socializing as well as studying and school. So far her contact had been limited to her family, Caroline from her Mom's gallery, Tara, Dawn and of course Fred.
"Nothing to it," said Buffy with a sigh as she went into the bathroom to take a shower.
Chaos reigned in the apartment shared by Willow, Xander and Fred. The two girls were in various stages of dressing and Xander was butting in and trying to question Fred at every turn.
"What's she like?" He asked for what seemed to be about the hundredth time.
"Xander, go away," said Fred, as she pulled her jeans on. "And you better not try and hit on my student."
"What about her friend?" Asked Xander hopefully. Only to be answered by a barrage of pillows and anything else that Fred and Willow could find.
He's getting worse, I swear," said Fred.
"I know but he'll behave when he meets them," said Willow and then with a sly grin on her face. "But he does raise an interesting point, what is her friend like; enquiring minds want to know?"
Fred shook her head and waved her finger at Willow. "Do I have to warn you too?"
They both started to giggle and it was a few moments before Willow managed to get her breath back. "But on a serious note; how should we handle this? You said Buffy is pretty nervous around new people."
"Yeah, she is, so I think it's best if we act as we would normally and not make too much of a fuss around her," said Fred. "I haven't met her neighbor but Buffy said she's about our age and is guardian to her little sister. I suppose they must have lost their parents."
"Well, let's show them both a good time, it sounds like they could use it," said Willow. "Do you want to stick close to Buffy and I'll talk to her friend?"
"Maybe we should play it by ear; see how things work out. I don't want Buffy to feel pressured in any way," answered Fred.
"K," said Willow.
"Okay, make-up is great, jeans fine, not sure about the shirt, but it'll do and the boots are fab. Pity they won't fit me," said Will, putting on a melancholy air.
Tara inspected herself in the mirror, she felt strangely nervous about the evening. She usually spent her free time within her small circle of friends and it had been awhile since had gone out with anyone new. William was not helping the situation by fussing over her. "It's not a date, you know."
"But you never know who you might meet tonight; that special woman could walk into the coffee shop," said Will, giving her a hug. "Have a great evening and Sweetie don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"Is that even possible?" Asked Tara, raising her eyebrow. "What time are you meeting your uncle?"
"Damn," said Will, checking his watch. "I had better go, or he'll think I've stood him up." He kissed Tara on the top of the head. "Are you sure you don't need me to sit for Dawn?"
"No, she's staying here and Joyce will check in," said Tara.
"Are you sure with Donnie..."
Tara held up her hands. "I can't let her live in fear. She's 15, she has to live some sort of normal life or everything we've been though would be pointless. She knows to keep the house locked up and if anything does happen she knows to phone Joyce, Jitty and the police if needed."
William took in the pain that could be read all too easily on Tara's expressive face. "You need to live too. Have good time and I'll talk to you tomorrow,"
Tara pulled up not far from the entrance of the coffee shop. "Buffy, are you sure you want to do this? You look pale and you're making me look talkative."
"I have to do this. If I can't I'm never going to survive college and I will survive." Buffy jutted her chin out and took a deep breath. "Okay I'm ready."
Tara found her own nervousness dissolving in the face of Buffy's determination. "Let's go."
The coffee shop was doing a brisk early evening trade and it took Buffy a few moments to locate Fred. "They're over there." Buffy pointed to a large booth in the far corner.
Fred smiled as she approached them. "Hey gang this is Buffy."
A tall black man sprung to his feet. "Hello, and may I get you two ladies a coffee?"
"It's okay I'll g-get them," said Tara, cursing inwardly at the way her tongue always tripped her up.
"I insist," said Gunn. "What would you like?"
"Mocha, please," answered Tara.
"Same here, thank you," said Buffy.
Gunn motioned for them to sit down. "Please sit and make yourself comfortable."
Tara slid into the space Gunn had left and Buffy squeezed next to Fred.
"Hi I'm Xander," said the guy Tara had sat next to.
Buffy thought for a moment that she was going to faint. There were no doubts that the person who was smiling at her was Alexander Harris. Her mind was whirling so fast she almost missed Fred introduce Willow. Buffy had thought that nothing could be worse than that lunch when she had first met Tara and Dawn, but this was so much worse. She had no glib excuse for Xander and Willow's appearance in her life; no reason to suppose these people who she had now met by chance had any connection with her mother. Buffy was sure she wasn't hallucinating, she knew she was still in L.A, sitting in a coffee shop with Fred next to her and Tara across from her. This wasn't their Sunnydale and there were no vampires. She repeated this sentence in her head; like a mantra, breathing deeply and attempting to ground herself. Buffy realized that she still had to introduce Tara. She took a deep breath desperately trying to hold herself together and stop her voice from shaking. "This is my friend, Tara."
Gunn arrived with the coffees and squeezed in next to Tara.
"So what do you do Tara?" Asked Xander, he thought both the blondes were attractive and decided that a little flirting could be fun.
"I uhm, I'm a designer's assistant," said Tara, blushing slightly as all heads turned to look at her.
"Clothes or interiors?"
Tara smiled at the woman with the fiery red hair and mischievous green eyes. "Interiors."
"Do you like it?" Asked Willow.
"Yes, after all it pays the bills plus my boss is really nice," answered Tara, pleased that she had managed to talk the cute woman without stammering over her words.
"Cool," said Xander. "And now for the most important question, is there a man in your life?"
Tara shifted uncomfortably in her chair, starting not to enjoy being the center of attention.
"I have to apologize for my friend," said Willow smoothly. "He likes to insert his foot in his mouth when ever possible."
Buffy was glad that no-one was paying any attention to her and she was able to observe all that was happening and try to calm her nerves without anyone seeming to notice how freaked she felt.
"It's okay," said Tara.
Fred looked at her watch. "It's time for the movie. Is everyone ready?"
They all nodded and put on their jackets. The movie theater was only a block from the coffee shop.
Willow walked next to Tara. "Are you sure you're okay? He doesn't mean anything, he's just a bit of a doofus."
"Yeah I know, he seems very sweet," said Tara.
Willow sighed, feeling a little tingle of disappointment. "He's single if you want to..."
"N-no," said Tara, and then quickly in case she had seemed rude. "He is sweet but... just not really my type."
"You prefer blondes then?" Asked Willow lightly.
Tara had an impish moment where she almost responded that she liked redheads, but she couldn't. There were times when she wished she could be like William who was open and proud about his sexuality, but she still felt the weight of disapproval that had been her legacy from her father. The blonde changed the subject. "I heard "Bend it Like Beckham" is really good. My sister loves soccer and she is dying to see it."
"Oh yeah," said Willow. "Lots of women running around in shorts..." she stopped and blushed realizing she wasn't talking with one of her usual group of friends.
Tara turned and gave Willow a spine tingling smile that made her blush even deeper. "Funny I thought the same thing too."