"You didn't?" Tara gaped as she looked down at the flyer in her hand.
"Come on, Tara," Buffy pulled her arm as they entered the dorm room they shared. "You're always saying how you don't have anything to do on a Friday night but study. I've solved that."
"But...but...you signed me up to be on a dating show for the college TV station."
"Exactly...not just one date but two free of charge," Buffy replied as she flipped her hair and generally felt pleased with her ingenuity.
"These are dates...with guys!" Tara responded, her expression shifting to appear like she just sucked on a bag of lemons.
"Yeah," Buffy agreed blankly.
Tara rolled her eyes. "You do remember the part where I told you I was gay?" Buffy's brow furrowed in that way Tara internally called her long division face. "I mean I wear Birkenstocks and have the entire Ani DiFranco CD collection." She pulled a certificate out of her desk. "And you helped me get elected as treasurer for the Student Lesbian Alliance." Tara stuffed the certificate back in the desk. "Remember that time I showed you pictures of my ex-girlfriend?" She rubbed her temples. "And then we went to LA one weekend to see her for dinner and a concert at a gay bar. Any of this ringing a bell?"
"Oh, I forgot."
Tara sighed a nearly endless sigh. Midterms ended yesterday and all she wanted to do was crawl under her comforter and make up about thirty hours of sleep this weekend. Tara thought of the easy way out.
"Why don't you go instead?"
The shorter blonde bit her lip. "I sent them your picture and bio."
"Bio? I'm twenty-one...there hasn't been much of a life to chronicle. What the hell did you put in there?"
Buffy thought about her attempts to liven up the bio sheet in the name of helping her overstudious roommate's love life. She didn't remember everything because she had also been reading a Cosmo at the time. But she did recall the part about how Tara paid her tuition by performing as a part time stripper and never had time to meet the nice boy next door type. She somehow managed to keep her mouth shut.
"What's their number? I'll call and say I'm sick and can't be there."
"But it's for charity...and, and some of the money goes to help build the new animal shelter." Buffy shined her big pouty eyes and added a special lilt to her voice. "You love the kitties...don't let the kitties get left out in the cold. Don't you hear their plea?"
"Geez, I'll go if you'll stop with the talking," Tara finally relented. "I mean how bad could it be?"
Deep inside the blonde's mind, in the place where tiny elves organize random things, a small elf's voice could be heard, Um... last words, anyone?
"I'm just the DJ for the radio station...how did you sucker me into this, Will?" Xander asked as he took an inordinately large bite of his hoagie.
"Because you love me and you know I can't manage the sound, video, and coordinate the whole show. Anyway, it's just this once because Clem had to baby-sit his whiny little teenage sister unexpectedly," Willow replied as she closed a camera with a screwdriver. No budget be damned...I can make all these old, overused electronics work, she thought irritatedly, mainly focusing that mental energy at the chancellor who denied to increase the budget.
Willow was a junior in UC-Sunnydale's film school. Most days she spent a little time acting in drama classes and just a little more in screenwriting. But mostly she spent her time where her true love was - behind the camera.
Like the last couple of weeks, for example. She had been filming a Union sponsored dating show called 'Love Him or Leave Him'. It was polar opposite to her ideas of dating and romance. Some girl simultaneously goes on a date with two guys and, after thirty minutes of unintellecutal hetro pawing and flirting, she decides which one gets to stay and which one she ditches. There's an introduction at the beginning with each of the contestants, lots of single camera direct action during the date with little editing, and a wrap-up 'choose the winner' kind of moment at the end. The payoff was a dinner at one of the nicer restaurants in town...not so much, considering.
It was a lot of work for a two person team to record. But Willow was, if anything, efficient at managing things. Since the guys decided where to take her on the day of shooting she found that she needed improvise quickly but correctly on camera positions, angles, sequencing, and the like. The first attempt had been so good that the Student Association asked her to do another. And then another. It was a double edge sword she threw herself onto each week - she hated the content but loved the nice donation the department was receiving for new editing software. So she played along with a smile on her face and only hoped that her brain cells wouldn't affixiate due to all the airheads she had to film.
She looked at the paperwork for today's show. The blonde girl was pretty...stunning even. She reached for the biography page. Willow's forehead contorted to and fro as she skimmed the page. She shrugged her shoulders...unfortunately the woman sounded like a moron. Two of her future goals were to "go on an all day shopping spree and avoid math."
She also skimmed over the two guys' pictures and bios but she had interviewed them earlier in the day. They were from rivaling frat houses and there was a large bet running for the charity as to which guy would pick up the girl. They seemed like typical contestant material and she was ready for another night of contributing to less than stellar TV programming.
Willow packed her equipment and wondered why this was the most popular show on the school's channel. The redhead was an independent gay single woman in the world and she got how lonely that could be sometimes, but she just couldn't understand why someone would put themselves through so much degradation in the name of dating.
Or really crappy prizes.
Tara walked into the studio, much smaller than she had imagined with lots of closed doors. She had no idea where she was supposed to go and nothing was labeled. She heard a loud voice coming from a door slightly ajar on the right. She moved to the crack to see a small redhead woman staring into a camera, her hands clenching and unclenching as she spoke:
"Today you threaten to leave me
She leaned closer to the door, hearing a sharp, powerful energy in the performance.
"I keep, behind my lips,
Tara heard such pain and anger upwardly boiling in her voice. As she tried to peek a little more her foot hit the door and she cursed as it swung open with a bang.
The startled redhead abruptly stopped and looked to the door. That was a good take wasted, she thought just slightly annoyed but mostly calm. Her roommate Xander walked in all the time when she was taping at their apartment so it was old hat to expect an interruption.
"I-I'm so sorry," Tara muttered softly as she backed out of the room and started to close the door.
"No, wait...you're here for the show, right?" Willow asked as she recognized the girl tried to remember her name. "Tara?"
"Yes?" The blonde couldn't help but look at the nice figure scrambling in front of her to clean up the equipment.
"I'm running the camera for your show tonight. I bet you're excited and all." Tara's expression looked more yuck than yippee by Willow's standards. She also noticed something else.
Was she checking me out? Willow quickly moved to shut off her camera. Just how skeezy do you have to take a peek at me and then go on a date with TWO guys?
Except she wasn't getting the 'my family stars on COPS every Saturday night' kinda white trash vibe off the blonde...and Willow prided herself on be able to read people. It helped in her line of work.
"Um, was that Maya Angelou?" Tara asked, instantly obliterating Willow's previous line of thought.
"Yeah, it's for drama class. Interpretive poetry reading,"
"Powerful choice." The blonde shyly smiled at her before blushing in realization at just how intently she was looking at the redhead. She really did need to get out more...her social retardedness reared its ugly head at the most inappropriate times.
"Thanks." Willow felt a subdued smile drift from some far off prefecture and land on her face. She didn't trust her gaydar anymore than the belief that she would get social security when she's a little old lady rocking on a porch with, well, probably Xander, yet something was sending the rainbow flag up the flagpole every time Tara looked her way.
Willow shook it off, trying to act a little professional. "So, do you want to sit down and do the predate-introduction?"
Tara bit her lip before replying, "Not really."
"Don't you want to be on the show?"
Tara rolled her eyes. "No, my friend Buffy sorta signed me up without telling me."
"Hmm," Willow responded, understanding the unenthusiastic face before her now. "I don't think I can get you out of this with such short notice."
"It's okay...I've accepted my fate. It's for charity...just one night...how bad can it be?"
Willow suddenly felt very sorry for the naive girl. "Oh boy...you've never seen this show before, have you?"
Willow was having a terrific time, she decided, even as her brain ran through the tight schedule of things she was supposed to be doing instead of talking to Tara. The introduction and her rolling camera had stopped roughly an hour ago, but they continued talking about nearly everything under the sun - from literature to music to philosophy to how they cut those cute little shapes into Fruit Roll-ups.
The blonde was fairly articulate with a small stutter that ebbed away as she obviously got more comfortable. Willow was surprised to learn that she was a statistics major with an environmental science minor and spent most of her time in the 'clink', which was what people called the computer lab in the basement of the math building. She was analyzing environmental contamination data for her research project and also worked a job as a TA. The geek in the redhead did the dance of the happy.
Tara was, in fact, nothing like her profile, which was good since it turned out that her roommate wrote it. When Willow asked about her roomy, Tara responded with, "Buffy's a sweetie and a good friend...but perhaps just a little shallow and self absorbed. Still, we're close...although sometimes I think she just fell off the turnip truck and then got hit by it. Hard. In the head."
The blonde had chuckled loudly at her own joke before finally frowning like she realized it wasn't that funny. Willow smiled in response. She liked how Tara spoke so honestly but seemed to have to fight through a tiny amount of shyness to do so. It was a lingering kind of shyness, like something that had been much more pronounced when she was younger. It only revealed itself when her eyes would duck away briefly...but Willow noticed. How could she not? Those blue eyes kept trapping her in their gaze.
Her hand moved through her silky fine red hair once more. Not another crush on a straight girl, her mind bemoaned.
Tara was having a good time as well but she didn't expect she would be able to spend much more time with the reason why it was so enjoyable. Willow was vibrant...a breath of fresh air. When she talked about things she enjoyed, she revealed such a flair and passion for life. Her hands would go into motion, her voice was happy and enthusiastic. And Tara just hung on every word, watching her dazzle as her own heart raced.
The blonde was surprised at her own reaction. She wasn't the type to warm up to anyone so quickly...especially not girl-type people. In fact, it was far easier for her to talk to guys. She had way more guy friends than 'girlfriends' - in any sense of the word. Maybe it was because she had no sisters...her mother died when she was a toddler and the people she was closest to, both then and now, were her father and brother. Not to mention that her major was in an area where it was a rare occasion to see more than one or two other girls in a class. Plus, she knew all about sports and cars and boy-type stuff, yet she had never really been a tomboy or butch or any of those other one size doesn't fit all labels. It, her uniqueness, was something that had never really bothered her...it just made meeting girlfriend-type candidates hard.
Tara shook off her scattered thoughts. They were absurd, by any standard, because no one just stumbled through a random door and met nice a woman. And she's probably straight anyway.
Straight...and that reminded her, once again, of the night ahead. She skimmed the two bios of the frat boys in her hand, not really paying attention to the tidbits that were supposed to possible topics of conversation. She supposed the guys got her own Buffy forged bio...she wondered what was on it. She distractedly mumbled under her breath, "What am I supposed to do on a date with two guys?" Crap...now I'm getting nervous.
Willow misunderstood her question and felt the shift in her demeanor in their amiable silence. "Just act like you would on a normal date and pretend the camera's not there."
"You and your camera aren't the problem it's more about..." Tara started to be sharply cut off by Xander entering the room.
"There you are, Will...I've been looking for you everywhere. I thought we we're leaving to meet the guys at the first location."
Willow glanced at her watched in disbelief, puzzled at how a few minutes had quickly turned into an hour. She silently cursed that traitor called time. All Willow wanted it to do is loop the last hour and repeat it a few times until she memorized every detail.
"Are you ready?" she asked the gulping blonde, who seemed to have gone paler at some point. "You're gonna do fine and it'll all go by fast." Willow pointed to a bag for Xander to grab before she lifted one of her own. Just as she got to the door, she turned to see that Tara hadn't really moved and she was frowning. "Come on Tara, you'll do great...plus you're really beautiful so you'll photograph well."
Willow nearly slapped a hand over her own mouth as she reddened. It was worth it though. Because when she looked at Tara once more, she was happy to note that not only was the frown gone but she was just as red.
Location One: Parking lot in front of Union.
"My name's Spike," an extremely pale guy with peroxide hair uttered in his best cool voice as he took one last draw of his cigarette and flicked it away. It didn't help Tara with her wary approach one bit.
"Spike," the other man guffawed. "I don't think so William." The muscular man extended his hand as Tara approached. "My name's Angel."
"You two k-know each other?" Tara asked as she shook his hand.
"We used to be in a band but we split due to creative differences."
"You're such a wanker, LIAM, we split because no one wanted to sing that maudlin, melodramatic fluff you were writing and you sure as hell couldn't sing it with that crap voice you've got."
"Hey! First, I changed my name officially. You just use Spike because you think you're the big bad rock star or something. And second, your sissy poetry set to music sent me running...very far away," Angel responded with a guffaw.
"We're all punk now, you fairy."
Willow got agitated as she held the shot. How could these two idiots be so rude to Tara...they were acting like she wasn't there. Except the blonde actually looked amused.
"We should get going, Tara...so you can tell me all about yourself," Spike answered as he slung an arm around her and took a quick peek down her scoop neck top.
That jerk! Willow felt the plastic beneath her hand succumb slightly to the pressure.
Angel jumped ahead of both of them, opening the door and motioning for her to get in. Tara nodded gratefully as she slid out of Spike's grip and climbed into the back of the van.
If he touches her ass, I'm gonna throw down like some...really tiny sissy that can't fight. So it should be an even match.
Tara sat in the custom fitted corner seat, flanked on both sides by the guys. She was trying to remember why she was doing this again when Willow entered the front seat and turned to hook her camera into some sort of a specially built holder that would stabilize it for the ride.
No matter how bad this goes at least I'll be able to hang out with her for a little while longer. That brought a smile to the blonde's face. Her smile increased as she noticed something else. Was she wearing that earlier?
Willow felt Tara's smile on her just before she glanced up and confirmed it. She then noticed the way the blonde was looking at her hand...more specifically her favorite rainbow triangle ring that Xander had just returned to her when he found it in the sofa cushions earlier in the day.
Willow raised an eyebrow. Well, isn't that interesting.
Location Two: Inside the van
Spike handed the slip of paper to Xander. "Let's go nancy chauffeur boy." The dark haired guy scowled as he looked at the paper and started the van.
"I guess this is the 'getting to know each other' witty Q&A portion of the program." Spike asked as pulled out a cigarette. He caught Willow vigorous shaking of his head and he shrugged and began flipping the item between his fingers.
"I guess," she agreed reluctantly.
"So, can I ask you a question, luv...how do you like working in an atmosphere with so many men?"
Tara only showed a tiny bit of surprise as she answered, "It's something you get used to if you like the work. There are always going to be more men than women. You just have to not fear getting into what you like to do or what you're good at."
"So you're good?" Spike asked, not so much to her eyes but to a region slightly south.
Tara crossed her arms over her chest...this guy was just, well, creepy.
"Do any of them treat you bad?" Angel questioned, shifting her attention to him.
"Not if they want my help." Angel's eyes went slightly wide.
"Does it ever make you feel overexposed?" Angel questioned again, still more curious than leery.
"I'm just trying to get my work out there." Tara responded. Okay...this isn't too bad. I thought we wouldn't have anything to talk about being a math nerd and all.
Willow wanted to put her head in her hands. It was becoming real obvious, at least to her, that they were talking on two separate planes. Willow shifted back briefly to look at the piece of paper with the address where Spike wanted to take Tara. The redhead's eyes went wide.
Location Three: Glitter Bunnies - local strip club
Willow quickly reset her positioning and began taping the first thing that fell out of Tara's mouth after she stopped gaping at the sign. "Why are we here?"
"I just wanted to take you somewhere you'd feel comfortable. If you're hungry they've got this blooming onion to die for." He finally lit up his cigarette and strolled into line.
Tara began replaying the night and asked Angel "You two think I work HERE?"
"It was in your bio," Angel answered as he fished the paper out of his pocket and handed it to her.
Tara's eyes narrowed as she read what Buffy wrote. "I'm so gonna kick her butt." Luckily she wouldn't have to go far - Buffy worked as a waitress in this club. Tara marched towards the entrance and nodded at the tall, dark bouncer.
"Hi Tara...long time no see," he responded as he ushered the group to a private entryway.
"Hi Gunn...Buffy working tonight?"
"Sure...want to come in?" He let the five of them through, with a hard glance at Willow. "No photographing the girls."
"Yes sir," she replied, feeling suitably threatened.
Willow kept the camera on Tara, who strode towards a short blonde standing next to the bar that wearing a white tank top that read the name of the club in glittery purple letters and a pair of leather pants.
"What are you doing here?" Buffy asked as she placed her orders on the bar.
"This is where my dates thought I would have a good time. You want to know what made them think this?" Tara replied as she held up the incriminating document that her roommate recognized.
"Hey," the shorter blonde replied as she stepped back with a hand up. "I was just worried about you. You never get out there and live. I wanted to help but I guess I screwed it up."
Buffy was sincere and about to cry, which made it hard for Tara to stay mad at her friend. But somehow she managed.
The waitress looked at the two guys, both of whom had ordered a drink and were more focused on the stage act than anything else. Buffy waved to the bartender with a thought. "Can I have the rest of the night off?"
The brunette walked over, eyeing up the scene. "Sure, B, go find the fun with those stallions," she replied as she thrusted her pelvis towards the pair of when who now appeared to be arguing with each other.
Xander leaned away from the mic and towards the redhead. "This could be a new way to play this game, Will. You want to film the new trio by starting over or pick up from here?"
Willow watched Tara take a seat at the bar and glumly order a beer. She then turned back to Buffy who had squeezed her way between the two guys and had an arm on each of their shoulders. They were all smiles and facing the camera. The redhead patted her old battered camera and made a decision. This is gonna hurt me more than it'll hurt you.
"We'll take it from here," Willow ordered as she moved in closer to them. She caught her foot on the leg of a chair jutting from a table and executed a fairly good prat fall, absorbing most of the impact to keep the camera from getting broken beyond repair.
She quickly moved to a sitting position as she pretended to examine the camera. "Geez...I'm gonna have to repair this so do you three want to meet up tomorrow?"
Spike and Angel replied 'Sure' at the same moment, which sent them scowling at each other once more.
Xander wasn't buying any of it. He had watched her practice that fall for a week before her drama class...and fetched the ice when she screwed it up. He took the camera out of her hands with a wink only she could see. "I'll just take the equipment and rush it back to the lab to get fixed." As he walked by, he whispered in her ear, "Are you okay to get a ride home?"
Buffy looked at the redhead a little closer. Her eyes always went back to Tara. Plus there was the ring she was wearing. Not to mention that fall - she used it all the time to get out of gym class in junior high.
"Oh! You're a big old lesbo," Buffy declared. "Tara is too...and I remembered this time," she added, satisfied with herself.
"You two should go downtown with each other."
Willow's face slowly turned the color of her hair as Tara's roommate shrugged and left her standing there. She picked up her two boy toys and left the club.
Still slightly mortified she turned around to see Tara approaching. It was apparent she heard the whole thing.
"I'm really sorry about her," Tara began.
"Oh, no it's not your fault," Willow replied as the techno cranked up in the club. She made an annoyed face. "Can I take you some place nicer...like the Expresso Pump for a cup of coffee?"
"Please do," Tara replied with a relieved grin. "But isn't that downtown?"
Willow just smiled as she took her hand and led the way.