Early the next morning, around five-thirty, Willow woke up to find the sleeping bag next to her empty. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, looking around trying to find the girl that was missing. She pulled up the opening to the bag and looked in the cave that created... just to be sure she wasn't in there.
She got up, straightening her pajamas and walked around the bottom floor of the Summers' house. "Tara?" She whispered, careful not to be too loud in her search. As she went through the dining room, she made a mental note of everywhere she checked. Not under the dining room table... Not under the tablecloth... Not in this drawer... Not in the dining room... She moved on to the kitchen. Not in the cabinet under the kitchen sink... Not in the knife drawer, which is probably a good thing... Not in the oven... Not with the pots and pans... Not in the kitchen... Maybe the bathroom. She walked up the stairs, but saw upon reaching the top floor landing that the bathroom door was wide open and that the room itself was vacant. She decided to expand her search to include outside areas, finding Tara on the back porch.
She opened the door, went out, and sat down next to her on the steps. "Couldn't sleep?"
Tara jumped slightly, looking scared until she turned and saw Willow. "Oh... It's you... Yeah, I uh... I just... woke up."
Willow nodded. "Me too... I... Well, I got worried when you were gone."
"Oh, you don't need to worry about me..." Tara looked down at the grass. You don't need to worry because I'm not worth the worry.
Willow didn't like what her tone of voice implied. "You seem kind of... preoccupied... are you ok?"
Tara nodded, then shook her head. She took a deep breath, looked up at Willow, then back down at the grass, tears welling in blue eyes already clouded by pain. "My mom got worse. She went into surgery an hour ago."
"I'm sorry." Willow put a hand on Tara's knee, trying to be comforting. "Do... do they know what's wrong?"
Tara nodded, refusing to look up because she didn't want Willow to see the tears. "They did a test yesterday... something about ANAs or something... Dr. Williamson said she possibly has Lupus."
Willow scooted a little closer and put her arm around Tara's shoulder. "I read about that in my mom's medical journal... they have some really promising treatments... like... this medicine... Topamax... it has very few side effects and gets rid of almost all the symptoms in 70% of the patients..."
Tara looked at Willow, the tears in her eyes spilling over and rolling down her cheeks. "But... w-what if mom's part of the other thirty percent?"
Tara began to sob. Willow wasn't sure what to do for a moment, but then her sense recovered somewhat and she wrapped the girl into her arms and began rubbing her back gently. "I... I don't know..." She whispered. She bit her tongue to keep from assuring Tara that everything would be alright, because she knew how hollow those words were when there was no guarentee.
The two girls stayed that way for what seemed like an eternity. It was actually close to ten minutes before Tara's tears had been exhausted and she just sat quiet and still in Willow's arms.
Neither girl moved for a few seconds, until Tara pulled back, wiping her face with the palms of her hands and smiling apologetically at Willow. "Uh... Sorry I got your shirt all wet..."
Willow looked down at the large wet spot on her shirt, looked back at Tara and shrugged. "It'll dry... are you ok?"
Tara nodded slowly. "I will be... um... thank you... for... well, you know."
Willow, her arm still around Tara, smiled slightly at her friend. "It's what I'm here for..." Neither of them spoke for a long moment, then Willow spoke again. "If you ever need anything... at any time... you can call me, ok? Or you can come to my house... my room opens up into the backyard so that... what I'm trying to say is... I'm here for you."
Tara smiled for the first time in what felt like days. "Thank you, Willow."
No more words were spoken between them as they watched the sunrise, Willow's arm still around Tara, and waited for the others to get up.
Tara entered her mother's hospital room with a few flowers she had found in the backyard and thought her mama might like. She set them down on the table near the bed and sat on the edge. Her mama looked so old. Older than Tara had ever seen her. All of the lines in her face were more noticable when she was in a medically induced coma while she recovered from the operation.
"I met someone mama... I want you to meet her when you're well enough. We're not dating or anything... but she's really special. Her name's Willow. I told her about you... we watched the sunrise today. It was beautiful. You would've loved it... I love you, mama."
She thought she saw her mother's hand twitch, but couldn't be sure, so she stayed in the room, talking to her mother about events in her life until the end of visiting hours, when she was asked to leave.
The day of the funeral dawned warm and bright. Had this outdoor occation been something other than the hell that it was, Tara might have found comfort in the warm hues rising on the horizon. But as it stood, she found no solace in the oranges and reds of the early morning hours. The actual funeral over, held the previous night, there was nothing left but the burial. Her confidant and best friend was going to be put into the ground. Tara didn't like this one bit, but she found herself powerless to stop it, just as she had been powerless a week earlier. The day of death. She should have known it was coming... all the signs were there. But still, she had been surprised when she heard the news.
Elenor entered her daughter's room after getting off the phone with Joanie's mother. Tara was scared the moment she saw the tears in her mother's eye. "Mama?"
Elenor looked down at the floor for a moment, before going over to sit next Tara on her bed. "Tara... something's happened. Joanie... she... Tara, Joanie killed herself last night."
Tara swallowed hard, a quiet knowledge of Joanie's death seeping into her blood. Tears welled in her eyes and began to form trails down her cheeks. When she spoke again, her voice was hoarse and she had to clear her throat to get it out properly. "How?"
"She... she hung herself."
Those three words shattered Tara's world completely. She felt numb. She didn't feel it when her mother took her into her arms and held her; didn't feel the tears on her cheeks. She didn't know how long she had sat there, after her mother had gone, she just knew that eventually she fell into a dreamless sleep.
When Tara awoke the next morning, she still expected to be able to call Joanie. Wanted to pick up the phone and tell her love about the crazy dream she had. Except her mother looked so sad... so concerned. It was then she realized that her mother hadn't gone at all, just moved to sit in the chair next to Tara's bed when the girl must have asked her to leave.
The numbness shattered and tore into her soul. Her next sound was a heartwrenching sob, followed by another, and another. At some point her mother moved to holding her again. Safely cradled by Elenor, she sobbed for what felt like forever into her mother's shoulder. Eventually the sobs subsided and she took a few deep breaths to steady herself. "Why, mama? Why Joanie?"
Elenor just held her daughter to her chest, not sure what to say to her daughter, and hating the lack of knowledge of what to do. "I don't know, baby... I don't know."
There was no way she could bring the girl who met so much to her back. Nothing she could do to stop the corpse from rotting, and put the fire back into the eyes she loved so much. No, that wasn't possible. Joanie was dead.