The alarm clock went off, playing a song from the local classic rock station. Tara slowly awoke from her slumber, and reached over to turn the alarm off. The clock's green digital numerals glowed 7:20. She lay back and stretched, then sat up.
Anya had drawn the curtains last night, and the room was dark. Tara swung her feet over the side of the bed and walked over to the curtains, pulling them wide so the morning sun suddenly flooded the room.
"Ugh, Tara, too bright!" protested a sleepy Anya, pulling her pillow over her head.
Tara smiled at her roommate. "Rise and shine, sleepyhead. It's Saturday and your workshop is at 10:30. You made me promise not to let you sleep in."
"Oh, all right. 'I'll rise, but I refuse to shine'," Anya quoted Gabrielle as she threw off the pillow, sheets, and blankets. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror across the room from her bed and scrubbed her hands through her tousled hair.
"Do you want the first shower or the second?" Tara asked.
"You go ahead. I'm going to make some coffee and go over my handouts first," Anya said.
"And figure out how to turn last night into a scene for one of your stories?"
"Oh, I don't know about that," Anya said. "I have a feeling about this one. He's kind of...different. More than just a roll in the haystack."
Tara smiled and went into the bathroom. Even Anya isn't immune to Cupid's arrow, it seems. She flipped on the light switch, which bathed the white-tiled room in harsh fluorescent light and started up a noisy fan. She selected toiletries and a washcloth and turned on the shower.
When the water had heated up enough, Tara stepped in under the spray and allowed the water to soak through her hair. She squeezed some shampoo into her hand, and set about lathering it up.
Lather, rinse, repeat, she thought and she worked up the suds. Does anyone ever actually repeat? I never do, unless I've been camping or something. So why do they put 'repeat' on the instructions? She smiled at the question, and thought she would have to ask amazon_hacker during their next chat session. It was the kind of question the girl would probably either know the answer to, or else she would spend a few minutes searching the internet and would then relay to Tara some of the more outlandish or humorous theories that were out there.
No chatting today, I can just ask her in person at noon, Tara though. A knot of anxiety formed in the pit of her stomach as she had the thought. Although she might think I'm kind of weird if that's the first question I have for her. She began to work conditioner through her long hair.
The closer the meeting came, the more nervous Tara felt and she wondered if what she was doing was actually a good idea. As long as amazon_hacker was just a personality on the message board and a chatting partner, then she existed in Tara's mind as a quirky, energetic, and fun person who was easy to talk to. And amazon_hacker the internet personality seemed to like Tara quite a bit. But what if she was different in person?
What if she was just as shy as Tara was, or loud and obnoxious, and none of the friendly quirkiness came through? Tara knew that it was possible. Though she hadn't met a lot of people through the internet, Anya had met her fair share of friends and/or lovers online. Sometimes people created a personality online that was completely different from who they were in their day-to-day life - either as an escape, or to fulfill some fantasy, or for some other reason. There was no way to tell.
Well, not everybody does that, Tara amended her thought as she rinsed the conditioner from her hair. Anya tells me I'm pretty much the same online as I am in real life, and I can't be the only one. And same with her - pretty much what you see is what you get. She reached for the soap and washcloth and finished up her shower.
"All done, Anya!" she called as she turned off the shower and wrapped her hair in a towel.
Really, there was no way to be certain of anything about amazon_hacker without doing exactly what she was planning to do today - meet her in person. And hey - maybe amazon_hacker was having the same doubts and nervousness as she was. Tara felt a little better as she contemplated this. At least we're on equal footing.
The curtains were closed, and only a thin strip of sunlight filtered into the otherwise dark room. The light illuminated the nightstand, which held an untidy jumble of Buffy's martial arts magazine, a half-full glass of water, some crumped-up bits of paper, and the clock radio, which read 8:24.
As the morning progressed, the strip of light inched slowly to the right until it fell across Willow's sleeping face. She twitched and frowned. When that didn't make the offending light go away, she waved a hand in front of her face as if shooing a fly. Finally she opened her eyes.
"Darn light," she mumbled. She looked to her left, where Buffy lay curled up tucked down in the blankets, with only a tuft of blonde hair peeking out. On the other bed Xander sprawled out on his back, deeply asleep. As she assessed everyone's position, her gaze fell on the clock radio.
"OH MY GOD! Wake up, you guys, wake up!" Willow shouted.
Buffy jerked awake with her hands held in front of her in a defensive posture. Xander shot up and looked around. "Wha...?" he asked, still half-asleep.
"It's 8:34! No, 8:35!" Willow said, looking at the clock. "We overslept! I thought you set the alarm, Buffy," she continued as she examined the clock.
"I did set the alarm," Buffy protested, rubbing her eyes.
"And I checked it. Why didn't it go off?" Willow asked. She examined the radio. "It should have."
"What time did you set it for?" asked Xander.
"7:15," Buffy said.
"Hmmm," said Xander. "I was having a dream that I was Fred Flintstone working at the quarry, and that the whistle blew for quitting time, so I jumped off my dinosaur and had to throw out my hands for balance as I slid down his neck. I must have hit the alarm clock and turned it off."
"And I didn't even hear it, I was so knocked out by that tea," Willow said as she got out of bed and opened her suitcase. She removed a toiletry kit and some clothes. "Okay, quick showers - I'll take five minutes, tops, and then we can make it to the panel discussions."
Buffy collapsed back onto her pillow as Willow flew into the bathroom and turned on the shower.
"Fascinating, huh?" Tara said to Anya as they left the Pacific Room at the close of the "Our Favorite Fics" panel discussion. "The one thing that all the fanfic authors on that panel had in common is a love for smut - from the ones who write G-rated stuff to the full-time smut writers."
"Not so surprising," Anya replied. "Everyone's a smut addict at heart; most people just don't admit it. That's most of the reason that there's any fan fiction at all, you know. Just look at the page views for NC-17 fics vs. PG."
"What, smut is the whole reason fan fiction exists?"
"Of course! No TV show is going to show the details of a sexual relationship, especially in a show like Xena where it's all implied and inside jokes. Even if it were a relationship the writers acknowledged openly, I doubt the network censors would let them show same-sex kissing. It's all metaphors."
"You're probably right, at least in this day and age," Tara mused. "Unless it was on cable."
"Well, compared to back when fan fiction started, we have it pretty good."
"Why, when did fan fiction start?"
"Back in the 70's, when Star Trek was on, and then it was cancelled," Anya answered. "As I understand it, back when the show first came on, quite a few people saw subtext in the Captain Kirk/Spock relationship. So they wrote their own stories about it."
"Are you serious?"
"Of course! And think how hard it was for those people to coordinate and share their stories. They had to publish fanzines - actual hard copies - and mail them to each other, can you believe it? There's been a literal explosion of fanfic since the internet was invented. Xena is just the beginning. There's fan fiction for Harry Potter, that '70's show, the Golden Girls, you name it. Even fan fiction about fan fiction."
Tara shook her head. "Well, I suppose people will always want to write about what interests them and make up their own stories about what they think happened, or ought to have happened."
"Yes, and if you follow that thought, that means the Bible is really just one big fan fiction anthology."
Tara grinned. "I think you should teach a course in this stuff, An. Speaking of which, your workshop starts in 15 minutes - you'd better go."
"Always looking out for me," Anya said affectionately as she gave Tara a quick hug. "Wish me luck!"
"You don't need luck - you're a bona fide NC-17 expert in both word and deed," Tara replied. "But good luck anyway." She returned the hug.
"And good luck to YOU!" Anya said as she turned to go. "With your noon meeting."
Tara acknowledged Anya's words with a half-smile, and exhaled as Anya walked away. The moment draws closer, and I haven't fainted yet.
She walked down the hallway toward the Sunrise Room C where the workshop she was attending, Writer's Workshop 101, was being held. She was a few minutes early and selected a seat across from the door near the window. She laid her bag on the floor and turned to look out the window.
She had decided to attend the writer's workshop by default. The costume workshop, which was being led by Cordelia, held no interest for her, especially since she was sure that Cordelia would take most of the time to hand out unsolicited fashion advice to the hapless attendees. She wasn't interested in perfecting her Xena war cry, either. And though she would have gladly supported her roommate's NC-17 workshop by attending, Anya had confided to her that she would probably feel less nervous if Tara didn't attend. Tara found it funny to contemplate Anya being nervous, since the girl was so outspoken and direct, but knew she was one of the rare few that Anya could share her insecure side with. So the writer's workshop it was.
People began to file into the room as the minute hand on the clock drew closer to 10:30. Two people, a man and a woman, were clearly the workshop leaders, as they were unpacking handouts and checking the flip chart. The room held about 75 people, Tara estimated, and the available seats filled up quickly. The workshop leaders noted the time, and the man cleared his throat to get everyone's attention.
"Hi everyone! Welcome to the Writer's Workshop 101 - 'Becoming a Bard.' My name is Corey, and I run an uberfic archive called Down the Rabbit Hole."
"And I'm Sylvia - I've been a fanfic author for about three years now. I publish on a few different message boards and listservs. Corey and I want to thank you for coming. We're a pretty big group here, so please bear with us. We have about 90 minutes and we're going to try to get to everything on our agenda. We'll be breaking up into small groups for a lot of the discussions and activities."
While Sylvia was speaking, Tara noticed the door open and Willow, the redhead she had spoken to last night, entered the room a little sheepishly. She eased the door closed without allowing it to slam, and took the nearest open seat she could find.
Corey continued, "To start with - can we have a show of hands: how many people are already writing and have published a fanfic?" About half the room raised their hands - including Willow, Tara noticed. Funny, I haven't noticed any fics written by xenarulz on the board. "And how many haven't written yet, but want to?" The other half of the room raised their hands. "Great - we have some people who've done this before. You can help the virgins."
Someone called out "I think that's the other workshop." There was a smattering of laughter.
Corey laughed also. "I should clarify, the experienced writers can help the writing virgins. Okay, we're going to pass out some handouts that have some exercises we're going to ask you to do, and then we're going to count off by...tens, I guess, so we end up with small groups of about six."
Sylvia and Corey passed out stacks of papers, and there was shuffling and rustling as everyone took a handout and passed along the stack to their neighbors. When all the handouts were distributed, Sylvia said "Okay, people - count off by tens."
Tara watched the count progress through the room, saying "Six," when it reached her. As the count traveled around to the opposite side of the room, she felt disappointment when Willow's number came up "Four." She had enjoyed talking to the girl last night and was half-hoping they would end up in the same group. Only half-hoping, Tara?
She gave Corey and Sylvia her attention as they relayed some basics about writing - plot, dialogue, and character development - and as they detailed the first exercise for the small groups to undertake. The room erupted into minor chaos as people stood up to shift their seats to sit with their group members.
Though she had been writing for a while, Tara concentrated on the exercises and found herself enjoying them. The tasks Corey and Sylvia had come up with were fun, and Tara was appreciating the small group discussions and feedback her group was giving to each other. Periodically the dull roar of ten groups simultaneously talking was punctuated by an especially loud "Ay yi yi yi yi yi yi yi yi!" from the ululation workshop next door, causing the writers to crack up.
Tara smiled to herself. Here she was, surrounded by people who both liked reading and writing fan fiction, who appreciated a quirky TV show as much as she did, and next door were more of the same fans finding community with each other.
Toward the end of the workshop, Tara glanced at the clock. 11:45. Almost time. She scanned the room, and noticed that Willow was gone. I wonder if she went to go get in line early for the autograph session.
Willow was panic-stricken. As noon had neared, she had reached down into her bag to caress the comforting bulge in the side pocket. She frowned - it felt a little different. She had reached down into the pocket, and had pulled out...a couple of sugar packets. Where did these come from? Where's my pin? She had pulled her bag into her lap and had rummaged through the side pocket, and then the main compartment. But the purple kitten pin that she was going to wear - the only way wiccanbard had to identify her - was definitely not there. She had left the workshop early and was on her way up to her room for a search mission.
She wasted no time waiting for the elevator, opting instead to sprint up the two flights of stairs. She entered the room in a rush. The maid had already been by that morning, as the beds were crisply made and the hastily flung towels on the bathroom floor had been replaced with fresh ones.
Willow made a beeline for her suitcase and searched the main compartment, and then the zippered pouches inside. With gradually increasing panic, she took the suitcase and upended it on the floor, then shook it. She then shook out every article of clothing individually to make sure nothing was stuck to her clothes
Abandoning the suitcase, Willow looked under and behind the desk and the nightstand, and threw open the drawers. Still nothing. She got down on her hands and knees and peered under both beds. Finally, as a last resort, she pulled off the comforters and the sheets- she didn't know how the pin could have made its way into the bedding, but it was her last chance.
Willow tried to hold back tears of frustration as she looked at the clock-radio, which read 11:55. Okay, I need to keep it together or else I'll have no chance of figuring this out. My pin is definitely not in my bag, or my suitcase, or anywhere else in the room. I don't know where it could have gone, but I can worry about that later. Right now I just need to figure out what to do.
Her eyes opened wide as she hit upon a plan. She flew up from the bed and dashed out the door.
"Thank you all so much for coming," Corey and Sylvia told the group. "We look forward to reading your stories on the net, especially from you first-time authors. Drop us a line and let us know when you post them!"
Tara gathered up her papers. The clock read 11:55, which gave her just enough time to arrive at the exhibit center on time. Her pulse, which had been thumping at an elevated pace for the last 10 minutes, sped up even more. She took a deep breath to calm herself as she made her way through the crush of people and walked down the hall to the exhibit center.
Heart hammering, she entered the large room. She paused at the entrance as she took in the scene.
To the right of the entryway she had come through in the center of the room was a table that held a bottle of water and a couple of pens. An empty chair was placed behind it, and velvet ropes cordoned off an aisle of sorts directly in front. Two people wearing official-looking badges stood nearby - one to the side of the chair, and one in front of the roped-off aisle.
A long line of people stretched back from the beginning of the aisle all the way back to the opposite side of the room, and then turned the corner along the opposite wall. Tara estimated there were 200 people in line already, and the morning workshops were just beginning to let out. People at the back of the line would likely be waiting for an hour or more to get an autograph and 30 seconds of conversation from Alexandra Tydings.
Anya will be in line for a while - she's not even here yet. Tara figured that Anya's workshop must have run long. She made her way slowly around the room. Okay, we agreed to meet in the exhibit center at noon, but it's pretty big. She thought that finding amazon_hacker wouldn't be too hard, since most of the occupants of the room were already in line, and those people who were coming in now were pretty much headed directly for the autograph line. Only a few people were browsing the other booths, looking at merchandise.
The buzz in the room increased in volume as a slim blonde entered through a side door, escorted by a third official with a badge. They walked over to the empty table, and the blonde sat down. The volunteer by the line escorted the first person up to the table, who let out a squeal as she handed over a magazine for Alex Tydings to sign.
As she walked past a booth that was piled high with books, jewelry, DVDs and videotapes, and magnets, Tara noticed a solitary figure standing a few booths away. The person was instead watching the autograph session with a cool gaze, leaning back against a pillar. Black jeans and a tight-fitting black shirt clung to her athletic frame. The v-neck of the shirt plunged daringly low, showcasing her cleavage. Curly dark hair framed her face. Shocking red lipstick highlighted her mouth, and the only colorful part of her outfit was a small purple pin on her shirt. As Tara drew closer, she saw that it was indeed a kitten with a dangly tail.
Tara nerved herself as she approached the woman. The woman shifted her gaze to Tara as she came closer.
"H-hi," Tara said.
"Hello," the woman replied, running her gaze over Tara's body.
"Um. I'm wiccanbard. My real name is Tara. And you must be amazon_hacker," Tara said. Could I sound any more awkward?
"Yep, that's me - amazon_hacker," the woman replied, a slow grin spreading across her face. "It's nice to meet you, Tara. I'm Faith." She extended a hand, which Tara shook awkwardly.
Faith held Tara's hand for a fraction of a second longer than was strictly necessary, and released it.
"Wow, after all this time," Faith said. She removed the purple kitten pin from her shirt and stuck it into the pocket of her jeans. "Let's go get some lunch. There's a great sushi place nearby." She checked her watch. "We'll have plenty of time before two o'clock."
"S-sure," Tara answered, and they walked toward the exit. She's not quite what I was expecting. Somehow she never struck me as the type to wear all black, or bright red lipstick. But appearances aren't really that important. At least the suspense is over.
Willow sprinted into the exhibit hall, out of breath. Okay, it's only 12:05, I'm not that late. Taped to her shirt was a hastily cut-out piece of paper shaped like a cat that was colored in with a purple marker. She scanned the room desperately, trying to spot someone who looked like they were waiting for someone else.
Willow didn't see anyone who was alone, but she began to make a circuit of the room. She walked slowly, scanning faces, giving people a chance to see the kitten on her shirt. All she received in return were some odd looks.
The minutes passed. Willow kept walking around the exhibit center, biting her lip, not wanting to acknowledge what she was gradually coming to believe.
wiccanbard wasn't there.