The combination of caffeine and the high of being on stage flooded her body, cheap euphorics. She eased onto the stool, glancing down at her notes before shining a beautiful smile out at the assorted crowd of the coffeehouse. "Hi guys." She said, her voice touched with amusement, as she knew so many of the people who regularly attended the open mic. The fact that she hadn't been booed off the stage years before perhaps the only reason she was a published writer now. "I've been in kind of a silly mood all day, so I thought I'd read you something silly." Her face shifted into a half grin, her blue eyes sparkling under the light.
because it was just a shade
darker than your eyes.
Sliding into this cave,
dark, dank, and warm
my fingers busy, messy
in the red clay mud of me.
I take a child-like delight
in the noises I can make...
Come little spelunker,
Let us explore nature together.
The crowd, stunned at the word masturbation sat in rapt silence throughout the entire poem, so much so, that Tara began to worry she had overstepped or gotten too silly. When the crowd began laughing at the end, whooping and cheering, quite playful themselves, she offered them a huge grin and stepped off the stage towards her table and awaiting friends.
"That's my favorite poem of yours ever!" Anya exclaimed as Tara reached the table, enveloping her friend in a hug. Tara sat and smiled her thanks as Anya beamed at her brighter than the stage light.
"It was cute, T." Faith spoke begrudgingly, trying to hide the rather large smile she couldn't make disappear.
"Thanks, guys." She smiled at them, stretching back in her seat.
"So, how does it feel to be a world famous author?" Faith took a sip of her coffee, giving it a look like she wished it was something stronger.
"I'm not near a world famous author." Tara laughed. "But it feels pretty good to be myself again, you know? And now, onto bigger and better things."
"I thought you said you couldn't imagine buying anything bigger than seven in..."
Tara slapped a hand over Anya's mouth, sighing. "And that's enough of that."
"I dunno, T, I think I could stand to hear a little more." Faith grinned, shooting Tara a wink. She had been so surprised to see Tara that night at the bar, and now they were actually becoming friends again. Faith was so happy to have Tara back in her life, especially now that she and Kendra were so happy together. And she loved Anya. That girl is flat out crazy. The grin never faltered from her face as her laughing eyes looked back and forth between her friends.
Tara's hand slowly fell away from Anya's mouth, as if she were expecting Anya to say something else. She shot a look in Faith's direction for offering no help of any kind. "Fine, be like that. I swear if you'd just bought the vibrator I told you to, you wouldn't be masturbating in the grass."
Tara sighed, rolling her eyes. "Anya, that's not... forget it. You're right, I'm sex starved and sad, obviously."
Anya harumphed. "Obviously."
Faith lost what little semblance of propriety she had and laughed, hard. Tara shook her head as if in exasperation before smiling. "I really do love you, Anya."
"I love you too, Tara. And I know that the vibrator you bought works just fine." Anya nodded, and leaned conspiratorially towards Faith. "Thin walls, you know."
Tara opened her mouth to say something, anything to change the topic. She certainly didn't mind Anya's frankness, but she had to admit she was a little tired of going to bed alone. Tara's cell phone began to ring, playing a tinny version of "The Muppet Show" theme song. Anya bounced her head along as Tara reached to answer it, Faith fell back in her seat rolling her eyes. "I'm sorry, just one second, okay?" Tara asked, seeing the number and immediately standing as she spoke.
She headed out the door of the coffee shop, past the woman warbling through a Tracey Chapman song, and picked up the phone when she reached the sidewalk. "Hello?"
"Hello, Miss Maclay?"
"Yes ma'am, this is she."
"Hello, Miss Maclay, my name is Kate, and I'm the booker for Powell's Books events, and we were hoping you might be interested in doing a reading for us in September?" The voice on the other end of the phone was pleasant, but to Tara it sounded like angel's bells. When she had first moved to Portland she had dreamed of doing a reading at Powell's, but she had never actually expected them to want her. Famous, amazing authors read for Powell's books, and here she was, Tara Maclay, getting the phone call. She tuned back in to listen just in time to hear the woman say "I'm sorry to be calling you directly, I contacted your publisher and he said you make your own decisions."
"No, no, Powell's can call me anytime they want." Tara answered hurriedly.
There was a pause, and the voice that came back was laced with a smile. "So will you do it?"
"Absolutely." I am doing a reading at Powell's! She finished the call and slapped her phone shut with her hand before jumping up and down and yelling, "I am doing a reading at Powell's!"
One of the several people passing, an older gentleman in jeans and hiking boots smiled at her. "Congratulations, young lady."
"Thank you very much." The smile beamed back at him was brighter than any old stage light, it was practically brighter than the sun.
"There she is!" Her father's voice echoed from inside the house as he opened the door, giving her a smile. "Bren." His voice was warm. "You okay?" His voice dropped, asking her quietly.
"Nervous." She answered, stepping into the house as if it were her first time there. She glanced around the living room with new eyes, noticing the museum quality artifacts on the wall with a trained eye. Educated. Privileged. These were the words that flew through her head as she stepped through her parent's living room.
Her father shut the door and turned to his daughter, extending his arms for a hug and surprising her in the process. She dutifully stepped into his embrace, inhaling deeply. His cologne hadn't changed in fourteen years, and the familiarity was incredibly comforting. "It will be okay. She's your mother, she loves you."
As they broke apart, she smiled at him and squeezed his arm before completely pulling away and stepping towards the kitchen. Dinner with the parents, she thought, I can do this. And I can come out to my Mother tonight, too. The thought surprised her, it was so unlike all of the other dreadful ones she'd had on the way over. She expected to fold under the weight of her unspoken confession, but she couldn't. Not tonight, tonight she has to know. I can't keep pretending.
"Hello, Willow." Her mother's voice cut through her.
"Hi Mom." she answered, unable to look up. Neither made any move towards the other.
"Well, as usual, we've invited you to dinner and we can't cook. The delivery boxes are on the table, would you grab them dear?"
"Sure, Mom." She answered reflexively, already moving to grab the food and dinnerware.
"How's work going?" Sheila made a gesture, "inviting" them all to sit down.
"It's fine." She put the boxes on the table and handed plates and silverware to her parents.
"And Bunny Summers and her cousin Twilight?" Sheila asked absently, her eyes traveling over Willow's form as she handed things out.
"Buffy and her sister Dawn are fine, Mom." Willow rolled her eyes and slumped down on the couch.
"You look too skinny."
Finally, Ira broke in. "How's Xander?"
"He's good. He's now lead foreman for his entire company, so he's got an office and a raise. He just bought a new car."
"Well, that's fantastic. It's amazing how people can rise above." Sheila's voice cut from the couch and Ira shot her an increasingly nervous look.
"Rise above?" Willow repeated, her blood beginning to boil. Why am I so afraid of this woman? She barely pays me any attention. I'll tell her I'm gay and the next time we speak she'll ask how my sex change operation is going.
Mrs. Rosenberg pulled her glasses onto her face and focused all of her attention on Willow. "So your father tells me there's something you'd like to discuss."
Willow shot her father a look, and he sheepishly pushed his food around his plate, shrugging his shoulders. "Yes, there's something I've been meaning to tell you for a long time now."
"And what is that, dear?" Sheila asked, her eyes never leaving Willow's face, her eyebrows raised in question.
"Mom, I..." She sighed, frustrated by herself. I'm not ashamed of myself. I'm not. She repeated it like a mantra in her head.
"What is it, Willow?" Her mother asked again.
"I'm not ashamed of myself." Willow's eyes opened wide, she hadn't meant to say it out loud.
"I'm sorry, dear?"
"There's no reason for you to be ashamed of yourself." Ira spoke suddenly, forcefully, directing all of his attention at Willow. "None whatsoever." He repeated, catching her eyes.
"I know, Dad." Willow smiled at him gratefully nonetheless. "Mom..." She waited until she had her mother's full attention back, as she was looking quizzically between the two of them.
"Are you two keeping secrets from me?" She demanded.
"No, Mom, I just..." Willow trailed off again, shrinking back from her mother's flared anger.
"What, Willow, you just what?"
"I'm gay, Mom." And with that,the tight ball in her throat as she said the words unraveled. All of the emotional weight of "coming out" drained out of her body. She almost leapt out of her chair in joy before she realized that regardless of her own jubilation, she loved her mother, and her coming out had just begun.
"Well, of course you are, dear." Her mother looked quite satisfied with herself.
"I'm sorry?" Willow's voice mirrored her mother's from moments before.
"Of course you are." Willow's mother sighed. "I may be... slightly detached, but I know my own child."
"You know your own child?" Willow questioned. "Mom, you don't even know the names of my friends!"
Sheila looked up at Willow, a confused expression on her face. "I'm bad with names. You know that about me."
"Mom, you've been calling my best friend Bunny for the past seven years!"
"Is that any more inane than Buffy?" Sheila asked, her face contorting with innocence.
Ira couldn't help himself, and he began to laugh. Willow stared on in disbelief before the laughter became contagious. Sheila sat gazing at them both, the same confused expression on her face slowly changing to hurt. "I love you Willow. It doesn't matter to me who you love... so long as they have an advanced degree in their field."
Willow stopped laughing and looked at her mother for the first time in what felt like years. "I love you too, Mom." The hurt on her mother's face faded away.
Dawn stood among the boxes and plastic containers of stuff, surveying it for posterity's sake. "Well, Dawnie, aside from the serious lack of beer and frat boys, I'd say you're officially moved in." Xander grinned, appearing from behind a stack of cardboard boxes. "Not that I..."
"Thanks, Xander." She grinned right back. "Can you believe I'm actually at college? I'm moving into my dorm room! This is so cool!"
Buffy appeared in the doorway, hauling a television and the last box from the car. "Buffy Summers: sister extraordinaire, gorgeous beauty, and pack mule." She pushed air through her lips, forcing her bangs away from her forehead. Her eyes focused on Dawn. "Thanks for helping me get the last of your stuff."
Dawn grimaced. "Sorry, Buffy, I was just helping Xander." She lied quickly.
"You're forgiven. Alright, Xander, where is it?" Buffy grinned, motioning to Xander. He got a big smile and turned around as if he was looking for something.
"Hold on, hold on, it's here somewhere." He went digging through boxes.
"What's going on?" Dawn questioned, watching them with a suspicious look on her face. Xander picked up a shoebox and began to shake it, and her eyes grew wide. She stepped forward to grab it away from him. "Ummm, whatever you're looking for, it's not in there." She grabbed the box out of his hands and scurried away with it.
"Ok, so don't want to know what that was." He turned and found the wrapped package just as Dawn reappeared in front of him blushing. "This is from the three of us."
"Presents? For me?" She asked, before sitting down and tearing into the paper.
"Happy College." Buffy called, watching as her sister pulled through the wrapping. Dawn sat gaping down at her lap, in her hands was a beautiful new MacBook, and in front of her was her grinning family. "Willow picked it out, ‘cuz she's better at that than us. But we helped!"
"It's true. Buffy and I were there to point and say ‘ooo, shiny'."
"Guys, thank you so much!"
"This is so you can email us every hour and tell us how the search for Tara is going, okay?" Buffy smiled, kneeling down next to her sister.
"Absolutely! Up to the minute updates!" Looking at Dawn's glowing face, Buffy turned up to Xander and mouthed "thank you".
"And don't forget to email Willow and say thank you." Buffy added.
"We should call her later, she's totally bummed she couldn't come with us." Xander added.
"Maybe it's better she couldn't come." Dawn said, before quickly adding: "So we can start Tara Hunt '07."
"So... Step One: Deploy Dawn in Portland is done. What's step two?" Xander asked, looking at two of his favorite girls in the world. Buffy turned to Dawn folding her arms across her chest.
"Yeah, Dawn, what's step two?"
Dawn looked back at her sister and Xander and shrugged. "Go to every damn poetry reading in this city."
"Well, there can't be that many of those, right?" Xander asked, knocking a box over and hearing something smash inside. His face screwed up tightly, and he glanced towards Buffy and Dawn who were staring at him with looks of consternation.
The sound of footsteps thudding down the stairs caused Buffy to glance up towards the living room entryway as Dawn came through the door. "I know what we can do." Dawn's voice filled the living room suddenly, causing Xander to look up from the movie they were watching.
"Get more popcorn?" Xander asked.
"No, I mean, I know what we can do for Willow." Dawn replied.
"Ok, great plan of attack number five hundred and twenty seven, spill."
"I'll go to Portland."
"Ahhh... if it was that easy, don't we think Willow would have done that by now?" Xander asked, holding up a pillow, afraid to be hit by a Summers woman. .
"I mean, I can go to Portland for college." Dawn spoke each word slowly.
Buffy and Xander were quiet. "I need scholarships, Buffy, I know. How was I expecting to go to college any other way? Look, my grades are excellent, Willow tutors me when I have trouble, I have extra-curriculars, and there are plenty of good schools in Portland. I can do this for her. Besides, it's not really like I'm doing anything, ‘cuz I'm just going to school, right?" Dawn smiled smugly.
"I guess that makes sense..."
"Are you sure you want to go so far away?" Buffy looked away as she asked, wiping her eyes quickly in an effort to hide tears.
Dawn saw them anyway, and plopped down between Xander and Buffy on the couch. She wrapped Buffy in a hug, which was gratefully returned. Xander, never one to miss out on a hug, leaned forward and wrapped his arms around both of them. "It's not that I want to go far away, but I can do this! For Willow! Like we've been talking about. Isn't it worth a shot?"
Buffy looked at Xander over Dawn's shoulder, her eyes shooting a question in his direction. He nodded in response. Buffy settled back to regard her, pulling them all out of the embrace. "For Willow. Why don't you apply, and we'll see how things go?"
"Yes! Thank you! I knew you'd say yes!" Dawn jumped up happily. "If she's there, I'm gonna find her, I promise."
"We know you will, Dawn." Xander smiled. "Why don't you go check out some schools?"
"I will! This is so exciting!" She called as she headed back up the stairs.
"It's amazing she hasn't destroyed this entire house, the way she runs around." Buffy said, sniffling. Xander looked at his best friend and his heart broke for her. Even with scholarships, it was a fair distance between Sunnydale and Portland. He knew Dawn had to break out on her own, she'd been hanging out with the three of them since she was just a kid. Buffy sighed. "She has her heart set on this, Xand. Out of state? I just don't know if we can really afford it, even with scholarships..."
"Actually, I think you can."
"Xander, you've seen our finances, we barely float. I was hoping to wait just a little longer before I told her how bad it really is." Tears returned to her eyes, as she buried her face into his chest.
"Buffy, I can help."
She shook her head against his chest before leveling their eyes. "Xander, I can't let you do that, it's not right..."
"It's not right to help family?" Xander asked. "You. Dawn. Willow. We're family. Willow's said it. I've said it. It's true, Buffy. Willow and I... this is our family..." He trailed off. "Look, I can help you, Dawn, and Willow all at the same time. How many chances does a guy get to do that? So that's what I'm going to do. We're family, Buff. Besides, I've kind of already started a college fund for Dawn with Willow..." He smiled at her sheepishly. "We put money into it once a month."
Buffy broke into tears anew, pulling him in close to her. "I love you guys, so much. I don't know what I'd do without you."
"That's what we do, Buffy. And that's why we have to do this for Dawn. And for Willow."