Willow looked hesitantly up at the Sunnydale High School building. It stood over her like a gloomy statue, representing everything she had grown to despise. Not that she disliked the idea of school, quite the contrary. The concept of a place young people could go to learn appealed to her, yet the reality was so much different from the concept. In this reality, students could not rely on teachers to protect them as they were supposed to, and school became terrifying to those that were there to learn, rather than socialize. Having been teased and tortured since starting school when she was five, she believed that the only positive part of the school day was the learning itself. That was the part she was good at, so that was the part she liked.
She knew she'd be late if she didn't go in to find her class soon but right now she didn't really care. Right now, the possibility of being late wasn't nearly as bad as being alone. Everyone she cared about and grew to rely on was on the opposite side of the country, missing her as much as she missed them. Knowing it was hopeless to dwell on friends she would never see again, she sighed in resignation and slowly entered the building.
The first sound to reach her ears was laughter. The sound stung, since it signified happiness, something she believed she would never feel again. She found it annoying that someone could be so happy when she was so sad, so she turned towards the sound to see who was laughing. She found the culprit within a small group of students dressed in either all black or jeans and a t-shirt. No one in the group seemed to care greatly about their appearance; half of them didn't even comb their hair. A petite blonde girl was in the middle of the group. She was wearing a black sweater and jeans and all attention was on her as she waved her arms about in the air animatedly, telling a joke it seemed.
Willow smiled slightly, remembering her small group of friends back in New York. At the beginning of every day at her old school, her, Ruth and Polly would stand by Ruth's locker and talk. They had been her best friends since kindergarten; when she had broken a crayon and Ruth had taken the blame for it. Ruth was slightly overweight and Polly was paper thin, causing them both to be teased for their outward appearances. Willow was teased because of her clothes. She frowned at the memory of a cruel football player stopping to tease them, saying "Hey Polly, you need to gain some weight... why don't you eat Fatso over here? I'm sure she'd make a great burger... Heck, she could feed the whole football team for two weeks!" While most of the insults were as dim-witted as that one, she had been lucky that time, escaping ridicule. But that incident had caused Ruth to cry and hide in the bathroom for first and second period. Willow had gotten her one and only detention for skipping class to comfort her friend.
She looked down at her own appearance and the clothes her mother had picked out for her the week before. Back home, she was mocked endlessly for her "choice" in clothing, even though she didn't choose it at all. The way she dressed was the only thing that caused people to tease her, since they never took the time to get to know her. If anyone had gotten to know her better, they would have teased her for many other reasons. She was always talking too much and saying things she shouldn't, as well as always getting overly excited about her good grades and academic achievement. The few boys in school she was able to talk to laughed at her because she wasn't able to say anything intelligent in front of them, and ended up just telling her to go away because she was being annoying. Only two people hadn't made fun of her. Her friends. In fact, she developed a crush on Polly, even if she would never allow herself to admit it. Polly had come out to Willow shortly before Willow was told she was moving to Sunnydale. Some part of Willow wondered how their relationship would have turned out if she had stayed in New York to develop it more, but that part was hidden deep inside her so she barely registered its existence.
Willow walked slowly to class, musing over what she had left behind. She entered her classroom, Honors World History, and sat at a desk in the front, so she could take notes more easily. She was secretly pleased that, due to harder work last year, she was in the classes with students who would take school more seriously. She took her notebook out of her backpack and put it on the desk, then removed her pen. She smiled at the pink fuzzy pen that Ruth had given her as a present before she left. Ruth had been her best friend in New York and the present was more of a reminder of her than anything else.
The redhead waited for the bell to ring, looking around the room at her new classmates. They were all smiling and laughing or talking to each other. Not one of her classmates was alone. Willow looked down at her notebook and opened it to the first page, writing "World History Notes" in dark blue ink on the page. She drew doodles of quills and old fashioned glasses as she waited.
The door opened and Willow looked up, expecting the teacher. The blonde girl she had seen talking to a group of peers earlier walked into the room and sat next to Willow and smiled at her. "You're in my seat..."
Willow panicked, immediately standing and picking up her backpack and mumbling an apology. The blonde laughed. "I was kidding."
"Oh, um... I knew that..." Willow took her seat again and opened the notebook; suddenly very interested in the doodles she had drawn. She heard the blonde scoot her desk closer and looked up. The girl was now less than a foot away from her. She smiled, taking out her own notebook.
"I'm Buffy Summers. Are you Willow?"
"Great. Do you act?"
Willow shook her head.
"Oh. Well, we can work around that..."
Willow was left to wonder what the girl meant as another girl entered the room. She had dark blonde hair, which was all Willow could tell about her since she was staring at the ground with her hair covering her face. The girl quickly moved to the seat behind Buffy's and sat down, quietly taking out her notebook and textbook and starting on the assignment that was written on the board.
Willow glanced curiously at the new stranger, then back to Buffy as she turned around to greet the girl. "Hey Tara, how was your night? I heard Joey tried to ask you out again..."
The girl, Tara, grinned slightly, and now Willow could see her face fully. She was pretty, but not by any standards drop-dead gorgeous and Willow barely gave her a second look until "Joey's an idiot. She knows I'd never date her."
Willow got very confused. 'She?' she ran the phrase that Tara had just said through her mind a few times and realized that Tara did indeed get asked out by a girl. 'Wow, this place is VERY different from my old school.'
Buffy seemed to realize she was leaving Willow out and turned back to her. "Uh, Willow... This is Tara. Tara, Willow."
As Willow and Tara exchanged polite smiles and waves, the bell rang and the teacher walked into the room, placing a textbook on Willow's desk and startling her. Mrs. Travis smiled at Willow and walked to the front of the room to begin class. The teacher raised her voice slightly as she began talking to quiet some boys in the back. "Today we will be covering Chapter 13 in the textbook." Willow turned to the page and was amused to see pictures from the hippy era splattered across the page. "Everyone please complete the section review questions on page 214 and turn them in by the end of class today. You may work in groups of no more than four people. Also, on Thursday, your assignment is to come in dressed as something from this era. If you do not have proper attire you may borrow some from the costume director for the drama club. She has volunteered the costumes for this activity. Anyone that does not participate will be given a zero for the assignment. Please get into your groups and begin."
Willow got paper from her binder and began the assignment as the students around her moved their desks into circles to talk to one another. Buffy turned her desk around to face Tara's and gave her a few pieces of paper. The both stared at Willow, waiting for her to join them. Willow didn't notice, as she was already hard at work on the assignment. Buffy finally spoke up, "Hey, Willow? Do you want to work with me and Tara?"
Willow smiled and nodded as she turned her desk to join them.
A half hour later, they were finished with the assignment and began talking to try and get to know each other better. Willow was being interrogated about her life in New York. Buffy and Tara learned that Willow hadn't had many friends, had never had a boyfriend (or girlfriend) and had never been on stage. Willow learned that Buffy and Tara had been friends since third grade, when Tara transferred into Buffy's school and that both of them were on tech crew for the play productions at the high school. Buffy also acted in the performances, somehow managing to balance her time enough to attend both drama club meetings and tech crew meetings. She also learned that Tara's favorite movie was Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and that Buffy liked karate movies.
"So, Willow, what are you doing Friday night?" Buffy asked.
Willow shrugged slightly. "Probably staying home and watching movies. Why?"
"I'm having a sleepover..." Willow wondered if Buffy was taunting her with her lack of friends until she added, "you can come if you want."
Willow's eyes went wide as she tried to comprehend what Buffy was saying. "Really? You're actually inviting me to a sleepover? Like, the me sleeping at your house with the popcorn and the pajamas and the sodas? But aren't you popular?"
Buffy and Tara both laughed as Buffy replied. "Which question should I answer first?"
Willow shrugged. "Asking order I guess..."
The blonde grinned. "Alright. Yes, I'm inviting you to a sleepover, yes, that kind of sleepover, and no, I'm not popular. Is that all of them?"
"Uh, yeah." Willow paused noticeably, thinking. "Oh, but I saw you with a bunch of people earlier..."
Buffy again laughed, making Willow wonder if there was some kind of joke she wasn't getting. "Those are my friends. Tara and I hang out with them all the time. You should meet them; you'd probably get along with them pretty well. And besides, most of the girls will be at the sleepover."
The bell rang, making Buffy move her desk back to it's appropriate place. Before she did, however, she leaned over to Willow and said, "1630 Revello Drive. Be there at 6:30."
Willow grinned as she wrote down the address and got up from her seat to leave class.
At lunch, Willow sat alone with her brown-bagged food and her thoughts. This day hadn't gone well, except for the sleepover invitation, and even that could be a cruel joke. So far there had been more than twenty remarks made about her clothes, three of them from one girl. Cordelia seemed to be the queen of the school; a cheerleader that every boy with eyes found attractive. Some small part of Willow envied her for her status. She also wondered why Buffy didn't hold said status since she seemed capable of doing so.
Thinking about Buffy, she looked around the cafeteria to find her sitting with a group of her friends and laughing. She looked like she was having a good time and seemed very at ease with her friends; something Willow never was. Neurotic by nature, Willow always worried what other people thought about her, even in the best situations.
She noticed someone else that seemed to be in the same boat as her at Buffy's table; Tara looked uncomfortable with her lunch time position. She was staring down at her lunch tray, avoiding looking at anyone and taking very small bites every few minutes. Willow wondered why she wasn't talking to Buffy. They had seemed to be friends in History class. She was just staring down now, not making eye contact with anyone until a boy sat next to her and she immediately smiled at him.
She was waiting for her boyfriend, I guess, Willow surmised. The girl hugged him and Willow nodded to herself, figuring that her presumption must be right and that the girl that had asked Tara out was way off her mark.
As the two talked, Willow looked the boy over. As far as she could tell from the distance she was from him, he had brown hair, and dark eyes. He was wearing all black, as Tara was. The two smiled and talked for a moment before Tara turned and looked at her. She pointed toward Willow with her thumb and Xander turned to look also, both of them talking. That made Willow nervous, so she concentrated intently on her apple. She looked up again a few moments later to see that they were no longer seated at the table. That probably meant they were somewhere in the halls, walking around before class started again. That or in a closet making out. She took a bite of her apple and got out her history book to read the lessons that had been covered before she came here, since this book was different from the one they used at her previous school. She wanted to be sure that she would know everything she needed come exams.
Her studying was interrupted as the two that had left the table came over and sat across from her.
The boy spoke first. "So, you're Willow? I'm Xander. Why are you over here all by yourself? I'm sure Buffy'd love to have you over at her table."
Willow shrugged. "I don't know."
"Well, come on over to our table! Meet everybody."
She wasn't given a chance to say no as Xander grabbed her by the hand and pulled her up. As she was dragged toward the table, she looked back toward her book bag and lunch still sitting at the table she had just forcibly vacated. Tara smiled slightly at her and picked up the brown paper bag that the rest of her lunch was still in, her book bag and the apple that had fallen to the floor in her surprise at being grabbed.
She was dragged to the other table and made to sit by Xander. "You sit here, I'll get attention." He spoke to her, then screamed in a louder voice than Willow was accustomed to having right next to her ear, "Hey! Everybody!" Once everyone's attention was on him, he pointed to Willow. "This is the new girl, Willow. Make her feel welcome and any belongings you leave backstage might not be reduced to a pile of ashes."
Willow's eyes widened and she looked up at Tara, who was now placing the redhead's book bag under her seat and her lunch in front of her. "Does that usually happen?"
Tara grinned as she handed Willow her half-eaten, dusty apple. "Only on days that end in y."
Xander began to make introductions, leaving Willow to wonder exactly what she was getting into.
When the final bell rang, Willow was in Calculus. She realized that this class was no different from the one she'd had at her previous school and grinned at the similarities in the teachers. They both talked in the same monotone that made half the students fall asleep during class. Willow didn't fall asleep though, since she'd always found math and science to be interesting. The book used for this class was the same as the one she'd used last semester, so she did not feel like she had missed anything. She'd even been asked by the teacher to tutor a few students.
She smiled slightly as she left the building, feeling that it was possible for her to make friends for the first time in her life. She was walking toward the sidewalk to begin the quarter mile long walk home when she heard someone calling her name. Tara was running to catch up with her.
Willow stopped walking and turned around to wait. When the other girl caught up with her, she was slightly out of breath. It took her a moment to catch her breath, as Willow waited patiently. "What's up, Tara?"
Tara smiled slightly. "I live that way too. W-wanna walk together?"
Willow smiled and nodded, hearing the girl's stutter for the first time and finding it rather endearing. "Sure. What about Buffy?"
Tara looked slightly confused, but answered, "Revello's about half a mile the other way."
Willow nodded, recognizing the street name that Buffy had given her. "Oh. So you walk alone every day?"
Tara nodded. "Pretty much. Xander walks home with me when he doesn't stay after to help with tech stuff, but that's pretty rare. Oh, and a few other techs go this way, but we don't really talk much."
"Oh. Why not?"
"We just don't... click, you know?"
Willow nodded. "Yeah, I know."
They were both silent for a few moments before Tara asked, "Did you walk before? At your old school?"
Willow nodded. "Yeah. Me and my friends, the two that I had, lived on the same street, so we walked together every day. Except when Ruth was sick. Then it was just Polly and me." She smiled slightly at the memories she had of walking to school with her two best friends, and on other days, only one of them. She was silent for a moment as she remembered the day Polly had come out to her. Ruth was sick as she was a lot of the time and they were walking to school together in late autumn. She smiled wider as she remembered how pretty Polly had looked when the wind blew her hair.
Tara smiled slightly and broke the silence that had enveloped them during Willow's musing. "You must miss them a lot."
Willow nodded. "I do. So, uh, how far's your house?"
Tara looked up the street, getting her bearings before answering "about half a mile from here."
Willow nodded, seeing her house fast approaching. "So, uh, you wanna come in, maybe study, or... something?"
Tara was silent for a moment, staring down at the sidewalk, a myriad of emotions crossing her face, confusion, acceptance, joy, and then finally, sadness. She shook her head slowly. "I better not, my father gets mad if I'm late getting home."
Willow nodded, somewhat dejectedly. "Oh, ok."
Tara grinned slightly, her eyes now holding a slight hint of mischievousness. "But... I could call him... tell him I'll be late?"
The redhead nodded enthusiastically. "Ok!"
Willow waited in the living room while Tara called her dad from the phone in the kitchen. This house still felt alien to her, so she was fidgeting as she sat. Tara entered the room a few moments later. "I can stay for an hour. Then I have to go home to make dinner."
Willow smiled, then frowned slightly. An hour? I can't keep her entertained for an hour! Twenty minutes, maybe... but an hour??
Tara stood a few feet away, looking uncomfortable. "I-Is that ok? Do you w-want me to leave?"
Willow jumped up. "NO!" Tara jumped slightly at the shouted response so Willow softened her voice. "I mean, no... It's fine. I just don't really have any idea what we could do since my board games are still packed along with most of the other fun stuff we have so I really have nothing to offer you. Unless you like cheese, because we do have some cheese. Cheese can be good in a... dairy farm sort of way... even though dairy farms are evil, what with the cow milking machines and bovine cannibalism. So maybe you shouldn't have cheese because of how mean it is to the cows. Do you like cows?"
Tara nodded. "Cows are good..." she grinned at the redhead's adorable babbling, then quickly realized where this thinking would lead her and frowned slightly, telling herself it would be very bad to get a crush on this girl her first day here. "Uh, we could just talk?"
Willow nodded. "Alright."
A half hour of excruciatingly mundane conversation later, Willow was getting annoyed with herself, and Tara was getting more and more self-conscious. Neither had learned a thing about the other. Both were getting frustrated with their lack of ability to communicate. They were now shifting uncomfortably on the couch. The two sat in silence for a few moments as Willow replayed the topics of conversation over in her mind. They had talked about school, the weather, school, and their mutual lack of enthusiasm for the new Calc teacher, in that order.
Willow broke the silence twenty long seconds after it began with a simple question. "What are you going to wear for the history project?"
Tara actually smiled for the first time in nearly a half hour. "Well, I have this one outfit that my mom gave me, from her time as a hippy. It's perfect. This beautiful blue top that has a giant purple peace sign on it, and some bell-bottoms. And this really nice headband." Tara's face fell after a moment and she appeared to be deep in thought of the upsetting variety.
Willow became concerned when she didn't talk for a few minutes. Well, it had only been a minute and a half, but it felt longer, so Willow felt she had to ask. "Tara, what's wrong?"
Tara shook herself out of the thoughts she was wrapped in and smiled slightly, rather falsely. "Nothing."
Willow did not want to push since she just met this girl. "Alright, you just looked so sad." After a pause she continued talking. "Want something to drink?"
Tara nodded. "That'd be great. Thanks."
Willow nodded also and moved towards the kitchen. "Water, or..."
Tara looked up, still slightly in thought, "Water's fine."
While Willow was gone, Tara glanced around the room, thinking of her mother. She'd been in the hospital for the past three weeks, causing Tara to take over the household chores. The doctors still didn't know exactly what was wrong, just that it had something to do with her stomach. She had been sick for months before going into the hospital and she was only getting worse. Tara didn't really feel like explaining exactly how she felt to Willow, who was almost a stranger to her.
Willow returned a minute later with a cup containing water and three ice cubes. She handed the blue plastic cup to Tara, commenting "I wasn't sure if you wanted ice or not, so... I gave you ice. Since most people like ice in their water. Not that people that don't like ice are weird or something, ‘cause there are lots of perfectly normal people with sensitive teeth..."
Tara cut her off after taking a few sips. "Willow, it's fine. Thanks."
Willow frowned, noticing that Tara still seemed deep in thought and it appeared as if she would stay that way for awhile yet. "Are you sure you're okay?"
Tara nodded, but quickly shook her head. "No, I'm not okay. It's just... my mom's been sick for awhile. I'm worried about her."
"Oh, uh... I'm sorry..."
Tara quickly cut Willow off. "Don't. Don't say s-sorry."
"Uh, s- er... Is there anything I can do?"
Tara shook her head, almost imperceptibly. "No. There's not much anyone can do until they figure out what's wrong."
Willow sat down next to Tara and shook her head slightly. "I meant for you. I mean, I'm sure you'd rather have Buffy for this, but I'm a good listener... most of the time. I try."
Tara smiled slightly, setting the plastic cup on Willow's coffee table. "Actually... Buffy's not all that great to talk to. She has her own problems. I don't want to bother her with mine. I don't want to bother you with mine."
Willow scooted slightly closer to her, gently touching her arm. "It's no bother, really."
Tara looked up and smiled gently at Willow, ready to tell her everything. "Thanks, Willow... I..."
BEBEEP BEBEEP BEBEEP!
"I have to go." Tara turned the alarm on her watch off and sat for a moment before standing. "I'll see you tomorrow." She left before Willow could say anything.
"Bye, Tara." Willow sighed as she heard the screen door fall shut and stood, taking the plastic cup Tara had used and going into the kitchen to dump out the water.