p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"Darkness swallowed the horizon as the tiny vehicle limped along the road, jerking from side-to-side from the potholes that littered the asphalt. The movement had become familiar, somewhat comforting, and it helped to abate the throb of her head and the wretched swell of nausea. The sharp spike of cheap cologne and corner store perfume flared in her nostrils and wrapped with the earthy scent of mud and grass that caked the floor mats in the car. Her chest tightened as she was flooded with memories, transported by the odors around her. She'd been here many times before, buckled into the back seat, squeezed between her brother and an ornamental array of the neighborhood children. But this time was different. She wasn't a child anymore./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"Don brewed next to her, awash in his usual darkness. Her stomach clenched as she caught his stare in her periphery. Was he salivating at the thought of having her alone at the house? She exhaled as he turned to look back out the window./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"In the dark, the high beam headlights opened a portal into her childhood town. The light illuminated the outlines of boarded buildings and vulgar graffiti before the darkness welled up behind it chased them out of existence. It looked like it had gotten worse. In the late 80s, the town's economy had collapsed. Unemployment skyrocketed. Her father lost his job and it was around that time, she remembered, the late night screaming matches between her parents began. Protection spells and offensive magic broke the furniture. Then came the drinking and the violence. And the locks on the bedroom doors./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"The car lumbered to the side as her father turned the corner and she spied another relic from her childhood: the local bakery. She closed her eyes and a world behind them emerged from the dark. She remembered her mother's hand on her shoulder and the intoxicating glint of a sugar glaze shimmering atop a fruit custard treat. Her mother knelt beside her face; gaunt cheeks belied her shy smile. /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;""Looks tasty," her mother said./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"Tara nodded and looked up at her mother. Large blue innocent eyes traced her mother's features with reverence. Her mother was the only person in her world that gave her a moment's grace. A quiet sorrow spread across her mother's eyes./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;""Tara – we eat with our eyes and taste with our mind."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"Her mother raised two probing palps of fingers and pressed them to the child's temple. A warm glow emerged beneath her fingertips and Tara felt warmth spread across her forehead accompanied by the taste of strawberries in her mouth. It brought a momentary quiet to the rolling, crackling dull ache in her stomach. It wasn't often that she went hungry. But there were days when her father had squandered the food money at the liquor store. Or when her mother disappeared into the local bingo hall./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;""We're here." /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"Donald's voice broke through her reverie. /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"They climbed out of the car and the crisp country air swelled in her chest and scoured a cool path into the back of her throat. The car's headlights cut with the ignition and the moonlight lit a narrow path along the gravel driveway to the house. It hadn't changed. The swinging door at the front creaked as it was forced open, rust growing along the edges of white chipped paint. The wood floorboards creaked and echoed loudly with footsteps as they crossed the foyer into the living room. Every sound bounced loud and exaggerated across the wooden paneling. The ceiling willowed with age./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;""You're room is still at the back," her father bellowed. "It's been a long drive. Go rest. You can get to work in the morning."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"Tara nodded, "Yes sir."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"Her eyes traced the knots in the wood on the floor, followed the grain along each plank as she walked down the hallway of her childhood home. As she peeled open the door of her old bedroom, the scent of mold washed over her, as though she'd just entered a cellar or the crypts she'd spent so much time in recently, running after vampires and monsters./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"She dropped her bag and collapsed on the cold bed next to her. Her mind began to wander once more. She wondered what her friends in Sunnydale were up to. Her thoughts danced through the Rolodex of names and inevitably settled on the one that made her ache. Was Willow alone in bed thinking of her? Was she spread beneath Oz, flushed and warm and begging as she'd made her beg? Did she wonder why she'd left? Did she miss her?/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"Tara reached into her bag and produced two sleeping pills, popped them into her mouth and choked them down. Tomorrow was a new day./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"***/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"Willow sat curled on the windowsill, her knees pressed under her chin. Oz sat quietly on the other side of the room; the faint plucking of electric guitar strings punctuated the silence. In between a series of chords, his eyes lifted from the guitar to his brooding girlfriend. Something had changed in Willow Rosenberg. /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"Tara left without a word to Willow. In the beginning, it angered him. He knew Willow would be hurt and that Tara had violated her trust. But as he sat in her bedroom, fingers strumming along quiet guitar strings, he wondered if he wasn't missing something. /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: medium; font-family: Cambria; text-indent: 36pt;"Oz turned his attention back to his guitar. No one really knew who Tara was. Part of him sympathized with her flight from Sunnydale. It would be so much easier to just leave. /p