[apologies for the size changing text; copying and pasting from PDFs creates some weird style things that I can't seem to fix in Blogger]
It was blistering hot outside, but Willow didn’t notice—or if she did notice she simply didn’t care. She and Tara were holding hands, walking down the main concourse of the carnival that had set up outside of town. Some people stared at them—but they didn’t care. They were happy and if other people didn’t like it, that was their problem.
“I’m just saying that I don’t think it would work,” Tara said.
“Why not?” Willow asked.
“Because magic isn’t just a tool like a hammer or something. It’s alive, in its way, and there are always
“Look!” Willow said, pointing. She read from a bright sign showing a heavily muscled-man holding up a
giant sledgehammer. “’Atlas’ Challenge—Only the Mightiest Can Succeed’ It’s one of those things where you swing the hammer and see how far up it goes and if you hit the bell you win.”
Tara giggled. “What—and you want to try?”
Willow smiled back. “It sounds like fun. And besides, we only have one ticket left between us, so we can’t do any of the rides.”
They walked up to the stall and were glad there wasn’t a line. The carnival was getting ready to close for the night, and most of the other thrill-seekers had already gone home. A surprisingly scrawny carnie stepped out from the display holding the “sledgehammer” in one hand—it was made of a light metal wrapped in foam rubber.
“Ladies, care to try your hand at Atlas’ Challenge? Ring the bell and win a prize!” he said by rote, unenthusiastically.
Tara handed him her ticket and gave it a try. She swung the hammer akwardly though, and barely clipped the machine. The mechanism didn’t even go halfway up to the bell.
She laughed and then shrugged. “Maybe you’ll do better hon,” she said, handing the hammer to Willow. “And a kiss for luck.” The carnie gawked slightly but didn’ t say anything.
Willow weighed the hammer carefully in her hand and gave it a few practice swings. “This is going to be pathetic,” she said in her self-deprecating way. She raised the hammer high and brought it down, and squealed with delight when the mechanism went all the way up and rang the bell.
The carnie opened a box and pulled out a cheap toy lobster with blue fur. He tossed it to her. “Congratulations,” he said, and began packing up for the night.
Willow walked over to Tara and handed her the lobster.
“Thank you,” she said. Tara pretended to feel Willow’s bicep. “I never knew I was dating Hercules,” she said, still smiling.
“More like Xena,” Willow replied. “In more ways than one.”
She thought she was done with tears, but they came back.
Tara always knew what to say when bad things happen. She knew what to say and what to do when Buffy’s mom died. And when Giles left, and when I started getting out of control. She always knew. But she’s gone. And I have to move on. She’s dead, and I need to stop thinking about her. Because she’s beautiful, and I loved her and I do love her and I can’t believe she’s dead and if I can’t bring her here I should go see her there and one of these days there’s going to be a knock at that door and she’s going to be back. And everything will be the way it always should have been. Again.
And there really was a knock at the door. Willow’s heart skipped a beat and then reality set back in. “It’s open,” she said softly. Whoever was at the door knocked again. “It’s open,” Willow said again, slightly louder this time.
The door opened slowly and Buffy poked her head through the crack and looked around. She smiled when she saw Willow sitting there. She opened the door wider and stepped inside.
“I thought I heard you say something, but I wasn’t sure if you were here or not,” Buffy explained. She walked over to the desk and sat on the chair the wrong way, with her hands resting on its back.
“I just wanted to stop by and say hi—I have to get to work by one.” She decided to be indirect. “So how are classes going? I always thought summer classes sounded like a terrible idea, but now that I’m stuck at the Double Meat Palace it sounds way better.”
“Classes?” Willow said. “They’re fine.”
“And how is everything else?” Buffy said carefully, neither too cheefully nor too mournfully. She hated this part. Tara’s death had affected everyone, but Willow had been in love with her. And although Buffy knew what it was like to lose someone—Angel, her mother—she could never know what it was like for Willow to lose someone. And that made helping harder. But still, she knew the last thing Willow needed was to feel like her friends had abandoned her.
“Fine,” Willow said. “Everything is fine.”
Buffy glanced at her watch—she really was running late, and her boss would kill her if she was late again.
“Listen Will, I talked to Xander and he said he would stop by tonight after he gets off work. And if I get off early I'll try and stop by too."
“Okay.” Willow bravely tried a half-smile but both of them knew it wasn’t real.
After Buffy had left, Willow continued sitting at the edge of the bed.
“I don’t think I can do it. I don’t know how.” Willow said. They were sitting on the floor of her room, with
the door locked securely. A small circle was drawn on the floor with chalk mixed with flecks of mica. In the center of the circle were two sigils.
“Trust me. It’s really not so hard. Just do what I do.” Tara set the book on her lap and recited several lines in ancient Aramaic. A floating, ghostly flute appeared in the middle of the circle. Tara lifted her eyes from the book and then held her hands up. She moved her fingers as if she were playing a real flute, and in the center of the circle the spectral flute responded with the appropriate notes.
Willow’s eyes widened. “That’ s amazing,” she said. “I mean, I know how to do some of the simple stuff— the glamours and the minor legerdemain. But I’m not sure I can do that.”
“I’ll help you. Now just concentrate.” Tara let the spectral flute dissipate and handed the book to Willow. She scuffed out the two sigils and redrew them.
Willow cradled the book in her arms. She started to recite.
Tara burst out laughing.
“What’d I do?” Willow said, looking up. In the center of the circle a spectral instrument floated. But it
wasn’ t exactly a flute—nor any other instrument known to man. It was some odd combination of a mandolin and a flute and a trumpet.
Willow reddened, slightly shame-faced, but Tara put her arm around her. “Not bad for a first try. The Aramaic is hard to pronounce properly—a minor change in inflection will change the spell altogether. We’ll try again until we get it right.”
Willow relaxed visibly. “I guess it’s not a big deal,” she said. “I never learned how to play a real flute either.”
The phone rang and Willow mechanically walked over and picked it up. We were stupid and naive to think things would end up okay. Ms. Calendar, Angel, Joyce. Now Tara. Everyone we love dies, and they die because we love them and get them involved and keep them in Sunnydale. Tara and I should have left and gone somewhere like Europe or the Himalayas or Canada. Somewhere far away. It shouldn’t have ended up like this. Me, Xander, Buffy—the Three Amigos. We saved the day, or the city, or the world, and everything should have turned out fine.
It was her mom calling.
“How is everything honey?” Mrs. Rosenberg said.
“I’m making dinner tonight—your favorite,” her mom continued.
“I think I’ll just eat at the cafeteria. Studying and stuff. Thanks though.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yep.” There was a long pause.
“And you’re sure everything’s okay?”
“Yeah Mom, everything’s fine.”
Willow hung up the phone and sat back down on the edge of the bed. She knew she should be doing
something—studying or eating or surfing the ‘Net—but she just didn’t feel like it. She didn’t feel like doing anything, really. Instead, she just sat there, and waited. She had been attracted to other people in her life—Xander and Oz, for example—but with Tara it was something different. Something real.
In a crowded residence hall on the campus of a large college located next to a city with tens of thousands of people, with friends and relatives checking up on her frequently, Willow felt alone. Truly alone. And as far as she knew, she would always feel alone as long as one particular person wasn’t with her. She wondered what was left when that one person was gone, and whether it was worth the heartache to try and find out.
She was alone, and despite what she told everyone, she wasn’t fine.