Buffy pulled the SUV to an abrupt halt in front of the hotel. As the tires squealed, she said "Whoops, sorry about that guys."
Willow gradually unclenched her death grip on the armrests. "No problem, Buff. I think...you've actually improved! And it's nice to know that the seat belts work. Look, mine's locked up, just like it's supposed to. Good thing the air bags didn't deploy." She jiggled her seat belt, unfastened it, and opened the passenger door. "Why don't I just carry in our bags right now and you can park the car?"
Xander immediately said "Let me give you a hand," and hopped out from the back seat. They quickly unloaded their bags from the back of the SUV and closed the door.
"See you inside!" called Buffy as she screeched off to find a parking place.
Willow and Xander looked at each other. "If Joyce checks the tread on those tires when we get home Buffy is toast," commented Xander. They gathered up their things and carried them into the hotel lobby.
The lobby had a high ceiling and several overstuffed couches set among large potted plants. Off to the side was the registration desk. Two easels were set up nearby: "Welcome UberCon 2005 Attendees" and "Welcome Southern California Dental Hygienists Association."
"Well, at least if we have any oral hygiene emergencies we'll be in good hands." Willow checked her watch. "Xander, it's 12:30 so the convention check-in is probably open. Why don't I go pick up our packets, and you can check us in for the room?"
"Okey dokey," he replied, and moved toward the registration desk.
Buffy entered the hotel lobby and joined Xander. "Did we lose Willow already?" she asked.
"Naw, she just couldn't wait to get the convention stuff," he replied as he handed over his credit card and signed the slip of paper the clerk gave him.
"Thanks for covering this, Xander," Buffy said. "I'll pay you back next payday."
"No problem," he replied. "One of the benefits of being a working professional instead of a student is the steady paycheck."
Willow came back into the lobby, carrying three folders with her. "It's so cool in there, you guys! The exhibits are all set up, and there's all kinds of merchandise and books, and it looks like a ton of people are here already! And look - here's the lineup of workshops and discussions. There's so much going on that I think we should split up for most of the workshops and stuff so we can make sure to get as much out of this convention as possible."
Willow handed Buffy and Xander their folders and they moved over to the couches in the lobby. "Xander, I've outlined a series of workshops and discussions that I thought you'd be interested in since you're working on your writing style. Buff, I wrote out some suggestions for you based on what you're most interested in reading, and I'm going to go to half writer's stuff, half issue type stuff. Also, this way we'll all be going to different things and can fill each other in on any cool resources that get handed out."
Buffy looked further down the schedule. "I see that you're going to attend "Rated R: Give 'Em What They Want or Keep Them Wanting More."
Willow grinned. "Yeah, I know I don't write that much rated R stuff, but I figured this would be a good place to explore that a little."
"Yeah, your main objective in coming to this convention is to improve your skills at Rated R-type stuff, isn't it?" Buffy said.
Willow stuck her tongue out at Buffy, but also grinned.
"Speaking of exploring, let's drop our stuff off at our room and have a look around before the first workshop session starts," Xander said, hefting his bag.
The girls nodded and rose. Willow continued to talk excitedly about the schedule as they approached the elevator and went up to their room.
Anya slid the plastic card into the lock on the hotel room door. When the green light appeared, she turned the handle and the door swung inward. She flipped on the light and proceeded into the room, with Tara following.
Anya swung her bag onto the bed nearest the bathroom, while Tara laid hers on the one nearest the window. She looked around the room.
Anya wrinkled her nose. "Smells kinda musty," she commented.
"Oh, I can take care of that," Tara replied, unzipping her bag. She shifted some clothes and removed the small candle she had carefully packed. Unfastening the clamp, she pulled out a book of matches from one of the pockets of her suitcase and struck a match to the wick of the candle. A vanilla smell began to diffuse into the room, and Tara set the candle on the desk.
"Are you going to perform a Wiccan ritual to cast out the bad smell spirits?" Anya asked as she removed her clothes from her suitcase and began hanging them in the closet.
"No, it's just a regular scented candle," Tara replied. "I figured that most hotel rooms have that, you know, hotel room smell, so I usually bring one along." She moved toward her own suitcase and carefully removed a blue long-sleeved shirt with a scoop neck, and a long brown skirt. She smoothed them on the bed and looked critically at them. "I guess the one thing about linen is that it's supposed to wrinkle," she commented.
"You know what I don't understand," Anya said. "This is an uber convention, so why are we supposed to wear canon costumes to the dance?"
"I think it's because uber clothes would probably look just like regular clothes, and people want a chance to dress up," Tara replied.
"My characters don't always dress in regular clothes," said Anya. "I could have had quite a distinctive outfit modeled after Xena the dominatrix in the first section of "Wacking the Waitress."
Tara giggled. "Yes, but I don't think everyone's fic is as widely read as yours. And besides, what if someone wrote fan fiction where Xena is a dentist and Gabrielle is her dental hygienist, and decided to dress accordingly? Then we'd have a lot of confusion between us and that other convention."
"True," said Anya. "Although that could make for some interesting scenarios, I'm sure."
Tara checked her watch. "It's almost time for the first workshop session - want to head down?"
Anya nodded and handed the other girl the second plastic key card for the room as they walked to the elevator.
"C'mon, Buffy, let's go get some coffee!" Willow pleaded, bouncing up and down on their shared bed.
"Right, because what you really need right now is a dose of caffeine," Buffy said.
"Xander? Join us?"
"Naw, I'm going to stay here for a bit and finish up watching this episode," Xander said from his comfortable nest on one of the room's two double beds.
Willow looked at the TV screen. "Ooh, 'Fins, Femmes and Gems!' One of my favorites. But not even the siren song of Xena and Gabrielle in full flirt mode is going to keep me from a mocha right now."
"Plus you own all the DVDs," Buffy reminded her. "Okay, let's go get a caffeine fix before the first workshops begin."
Promising to meet up after the first workshop, Willow and Buffy bid Xander goodbye and took the elevator downstairs to the hotel's coffee shop, which was small but had a good amount of seating and semi-private nooks. They settled into a table with their coffees and biscotti.
"So what is it that you want to get out of this weekend, Buff?" Willow asked.
Buffy selected a biscotti and considered the question. "You know, I haven't given it too much thought. I mean, I read a lot of fanfic, but never got bitten by the writing bug myself. I'm looking forward to meeting some of my favorite writers, I guess. Mostly I'm just going to take it all as it comes and relax. I figure no expectations, no disappointment."
"A commendable attitude," Willow said. "I wish I was as relaxed with the no expectations. I mean, on the one hand I really don't have any. But on the other hand, I'm so nervous about tomorrow. What if she's not everything I think she is? What if she is everything I think she is, but she doesn't like me or thinks I'm repulsive or something? What if I'm not the kind of person she thinks I am? So many variables and potential for disappointment. Ugh, it's giving me a stomachache just thinking about it."
"So listen, how come you've never looked her up, you know, with the computer hacking?" Buffy asked. "Save yourself the worry."
Willow considered this question as she took a long sip of her mocha. "That's something that I asked myself at first, after we started chatting. I mean, I know I could totally have found out her e-mail address, her real name, and even where she lived and how much her phone bill was that month without too much trouble. It just seemed wrong to do that, you know?"
Buffy nodded. "Total invasion of privacy."
Willow said "Big time. But it would have been more than that - it would have been a betrayal. She's had some people in the past who like her fics a little too much, so she's pretty wary of most people online, and I think she's been, you know, extending herself by chatting with me so much. It's definitely outside her comfort zone. I know I go on and on about how special I think she is, but it's true. I think she's a really special person and very sweet and I want to get to know her with a total clean slate." Willow shrugged. "Not that it hasn't been hard to not do the hacking thing. But I resist."
Buffy crunched her biscotti. "So how are you going to recognize each other tomorrow?"
Neither Buffy nor Willow noticed the dark-haired girl sitting at the table just around the corner cock her head at this question.
Willow's eyes sparkled. "I have this pin, see?" She reached down into her bag and removed a plastic purple lapel pin shaped like a kitten with a dangly tail and showed it to Buffy. "We were chatting online one day about meeting up at the con, and wanted to have some kind of a symbol we could recognize each other by without really describing how we look or what we'd be wearing. I guess it's the whole suspense thing. So I looked in my desk drawer, and found this, and suggested that I wear it. So come noon tomorrow, I'll be in the exhibit hall wearing this pin, probably shaking in my boots. But I'll be there."
Buffy smiled. "That's really sweet, Will. I hope it all goes smoothly tomorrow."
"Me too!" said Willow, replacing the pin in the side pocket of her bag. "And it means a lot that you came with me this weekend. Just having you and Xander here helps me to feel a lot calmer."
"Which you'll need if you keep sucking down the mochas like this," Buffy said, indicating Willow's empty glass.
The dark-haired girl stood up to leave. She walked by their table and just as she passed them, tripped and dropped her tray. "Oh, crap!" she said loudly as her empty coffee mug tumbled to the ground and rolled to a stop near Willow's bag.
Willow turned around but the dark-haired girl had already scooped up her dropped mug and was moving toward the exit. "Are you all right?" she asked, but the girl was already out of earshot.
"Okay, that was odd," said Willow, watching the brunette's retreating back.
"You get some really weird types at these conventions," Buffy commented, reaching for another biscotti.