"Hey Tare?" Jo called out to her friend, who had disappeared into the recesses of her closet. "Why do you have two copies of the same book?"
A blonde head peeked out from behind the closet door.
"This book, Angels & Demons. Why do you have two copies?" Jo pulled one out and showed it to Tara.
"Oh, um, it was a g-gift." She said, disappearing into the closet once more.
Her slight stutter, however, did not go unnoticed. Jo's brow furrowed as she looked down at the book in her hands.
"Who gave this to you Tara?"
"Oh, oh. Um, W-Willow gave it to me." Tara reappeared from behind the closet door, shuffling back to the bed with an armful of t-shirts.
Tara grimaced as she began folding her shirts into her suitcase.
"L-last year, at the hospital. It was j-just a thank you gift."
Jo opened the book in hr hands and her frown deepened.
"Tara, did you read this book?"
"Um, yeah, a while back..."
"No I mean, did you read this book, the one Willow gave you?"
Tara looked up at her friend, who looked like she was reading the book jacket.
"Oh, um no, I already read it before... how did you..." But before Tara could finish her question Jo had crossed the room was handing her the book. "What?"
"Open it." Jo insisted as she took a seat on the bed.
"I did, it's just, th-there wasn't anything..."
Jo shook her head at her friend and patted the space next to her. When Tara finally sat down, Jo wrapped one arm around her shoulder and tapped the book cover with her finger.
"Open it." Jo repeated.
"I really appreciate you guys driving out here to help me out." Willow called out to her friends as she opened the bottom drawer of her desk.
"No problem Red. Shit half this stuff is mine anyway." Faith grunted as she lifted a box marked 'School Books.'
"Yeah Will, what are friends for right?" Xander grinned at his childhood friend as he too picked up another box marked 'Programming books.'
Xander and Faith had driven from Sunnydale to New York in Willow's van, a hand me down from her mother. The plan was to rent a trailer and hitch it to the van, load it up and do some sightseeing on the way back.
"Yes that's true." Willow laughed while packing the contents of the drawer. "Oh by the way, Faith don't forget to leave your keys on the counter."
Willow frowned and turned to the brunette.
"Faith! I specifically reminded you to bring them with you."
"Oh c'mon Will, I haven't lived here in over a year!" Faith whined, shifting the box in her hands.
"Not an excuse, I reminded you, three times! You always forget, even when you were living here you always forgot them. Let me tell you, anyone else and I would be very very sore about getting up at four in the morning to let you back in."
"Now now Will, would you rather have to get up at two in the morning to let Faith and her latest friend in?" Xander teased as he made his way to the apartment door, winking at the brunette who had the decency to at least pretend to be sorry.
"Ew, no thanks." Willow shuddered as she returned to emptying her desk. She shut the bottom drawer and opened the next one up. "I don't need to be hearing those kind of noises at night, and thank you Xander for the disturbing mental image of my cousin having sex with other people."
Xander and Faith both laughed as they left the apartment. Faintly, Willow could hear Xander and Faith still talking.
"Wow Faith, she must really be disturbed by the mental image. She never pulls the cousin card."
"Yeah well, you know. If everyone knew Red and I were related she'd never get any peace."
"So how many people do you think have given her their numbers to give to you?"
Willow shook her head and giggled, she could just imagine Faith shrugging in response to Xander's question.
The funny thing was that the number of people Faith hooked up with had slowly dwindled over time. And Willow was certainly not going to complain. When they had first moved to New York, not a week would go by that at least three people did not approach her to ask her to pass a message to Faith. At least one person a week would confront her about Faith's love 'em and leave 'em policy, often transferring their hurt and anger onto the unsuspecting redhead.
But somewhere along the way that had eased up. Willow suspected that it was because of Faith getting bored with the scene combined with her starting to realize that she was missing something. Hopefully in the last year she had made headway to finding that something.
Willow sighed as she opened the top and final drawer, and her eyes fell on the slim rectangular box resting inside. She let her fingers run over the top then walked over to the small boombox that had been playing Z100. Faith had decided she needed motivational music while packing, so she rescued the boombox from being packed away and plugged it in the corner.
She smiled sadly and hit play on the CD player. As the opening guitar notes of the song rang out the redhead returned to her desk. She ran her fingers over the case of colored pencils one last time before placing it carefully in the box she had marked 'School/office supplies,' complete with a little smiley face in the O of office.
"Open it." Jo repeated.
Tara gave Jo a resigned look before opening the cover.
"See, n-nothing." She whispered.
"Open it, open it to oh I don't know, page 53." When Tara looked down at the book confused, she added. "Trust me."
Tara's eyes flickered up to her friend before she gave an exasperated sigh.
She slid her finger down in between some pages, estimating around where the page would be, and flip the pages over. Her breath hitched as she stared at the text on the page in front of her.
Willow stared out the window as they passed the shops on Sunnydale's main street. A display in a store window caught her eye and she let out a yelp, causing Faith to veer briefly into the left lane.
"Geezus Red, what the hell was that? Are you trying to get us killed?"
"Sorry." The redhead said sheepishly. "We have to go back."
"Turn around Faith, there's something I want to get."
Willow wanted to give Tara something that was already hers, much as Tara had given Willow her colored pencils, not something purchased in a hospital gift shop. So she made Faith turn around and go back to Willow's parents' house.
Willow ran in and grabbed the book she brought to read on the plane from New York. She opened the cover of the book and smiled to herself "Perfect."
She found a roll of scotch tape, a pair of scissors, a pen, and, most importantly, her Scooby-Doo wrapping paper. She was so nervous and afraid that she would lose her nerve that she sprinted back to the car.
Of course running was hardly ever a good idea for Willow. Between her bedroom and the car she had dropped each item she was carrying at least once.
Just before she jumped into the back seat of the van the book slipped from its jacket, and Willow snatched the book from the grass and climbed into the vehicle. As she returned the book to its jacket she glared at Faith and ordered the brunette to drive, not noticing that she had replaced the book upside down.
Tara blinked several times as her fingers traced the overturned letters on the page.
"Tara?" Jo asked, now concerned.
"I-I didn't know." A small voice responded from behind a curtain of long blond hair.
"Oh Tare." Jo leaned down to look her friend in the eye. "Are you okay?"
Tara nodded but did not look up.
"Tara, sweetie, turn it over."
"What, why? Oh." Tara spoke as what Jo was suggesting sunk in. She closed the book and turned it over. She gripped the edges briefly and took a deep breath. Biting her lower lip, Tara ran her fingers down the edge of the book cover, stopping at the bottom corner. Slowly she opened the cover to find neat precise handwriting: Property of Willow D. Rosenberg, followed by two phone numbers, a home phone and a cell phone. Tara's hand flew up to her mouth before it she dropped it down to trace the name written in the book.
After a few moments of staring silently at the book, Jo stood and walked over to Tara's desk. She picked something up from the desk and hit a button on Tara's stereo. Tara didn't notice that Jo had moved or that Michelle Branch's voice no longer filled the room until the cordless phone appeared in front of her face.
Her eyes locked with those of her friend who simply raised her eyebrow at the blonde and pushed the phone closer to Tara's face.
Slowly Tara raised her hand and took the phone from her roommate. She let her thumb rest on the keypad briefly as she tried to plan what she would say if the redhead picked up the phone. A finger tilting her chin up put a halt to her thoughts.
"Don't think about it Tara, just do it."
Tara bit her lip to keep from laughing at Jo's pep talk. She gave Jo a mock-determined face before smiling genuinely and nodding.
"O-okay. Here goes."
Slowly, she dialed the first number under Willow's name.
"Geez Will, this is like the fourth time you've played this CD today." Xander whined as he entered the apartment. "There's only so much Michelle Branch a guy can take."
"Hey, I like it. It's cool in an upbeat and yet melancholic sort of way."
Xander grinned as he looked around the small apartment.
"So, is that the last one then?" He asked, pointing to the box Willow was packing.
"Yeah, just need to put the phone in here. Would you unplug it please?" She asked as she closed the final drawer.
The young man unplugged the phone from the wall and handed it to Willow, who smiled at her friend as she took the phone from him and rolled the cord into a neat loop. She placed the phone into the box, letting her fingers run over the pencil case lodged safely inside.
The line rang several times but there was no answer. After about twenty rings Tara pressed the end button on her phone. She looked over to Jo, who had resumed her seat on the bed, and shook her head.
"Try it again." Jo encouraged. "Maybe she's on the other line."
Once again Tara dialed the number and let it ring several times before hanging up again.
"Nothing, not even an a-answering machine or v-voicemail."
"Hey Red, your mom just called. They're leaving for Prague early." Faith said as she walked into the apartment, waving her cell phone. "Seriously, you gotta give her your new number!"
"I did. Anyway, it's no use. She just speed dials me and until I change it on her phone myself, she won't do anything about it."
"Yeah she'll keep calling me instead. You know how bad that looks?"
Willow laughed at the thought of Faith being in a compromising position when Aunt Sheila called.
"Sorry Faith, but you know how my mom can be, Oblivious with a capital O-B-L-I-V-I-O-U-S."
Faith snorted at Willow's disparaging comment. Though Willow's mom had been eager to take Faith in after the death of her parents, Sheila's sister and her husband, she had been fairly absent during Faith and Willow's high school years, much as she probably had been during Willow's childhood. It was a surprise to everyone when Sheila had agreed to let Faith live with them. Though Willow joked about it Faith knew that Willow was still a little hurt by her mother's seeming indifference.
"Hey Faith, the song's over. Can you hit stop and grab the radio?" Willow's voice broke Faith from her reverie. The brunette turned to Willow, who was now taping up the last box that was to be loaded.
"Sure Red." Faith smiled as she moved to unplug the boombox from the wall. "you know, that's what you get for hanging out with Mandy too much."
"What are you talking about Faith?" Willow frowned.
"Well, you know, you wouldn't have had to change your cell number and stuff." Faith shrugged.
"Hey, it's not Mandy's fault that Susan went all grr-stalker gal on me!" Willow stood with her hands on her hips.
"I did tell you to stay away from those groupies you know." Faith winked at the redhead.
Willow handed the box to Xander and moved to take her apartment keys off her keyring.
"Whatever Faith, I'm just glad she never figured out the number here. I still don't even know how she got my cell phone number in the first place." Willow shivered and placed the keys on the counter. "Alright boys and girls. That's the last of it, let's go!"
She made a shooing motion with her hands, and both Xander and Faith laughed as they retreated into the hallway. She made one last round of the apartment to make sure she had everything and to let it sink in that she was really moving back to California. Willow double-checked the closet and dresser in the bedroom, giving her thanks silently that the person who was taking over her lease had agreed to pay her for all the furniture so she wouldn't have to hire actual movers. Satisfied that nothing was left, Willow stepped out into the hallway and pulled the door shut. She smiled as she heard the door click behind her.
"Try the other one Tare." Jo encouraged.
Tara let her fingers graze the buttons for a moment before she looked down to the book in her lap and dialed the cell phone number.
Her forehead dropped into her hand as she heard the voice on the other end of the line.
The number you are calling is no longer in service...