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Willow sat at the small desk in her room with a notebook and a calculator. She'd been charting and crunching numbers for at least an hour. Since starting her job six months ago, Willow had obsessively tracked every hour and every dime she'd made. Most of the money she deposited into her bank account, an account which already had a substantial amount from birthdays, holidays and her Bat Mitzvah. Willow was nothing if not frugal with her money, her parents insisted on it. Her father was always droning on and on about rainy days and the importance of not living beyond your means, blah, blah, Willow thought ruefully. Her parents had visual access to her account and her father practically squealed when he saw the large sum Willow had managed to save. Little did he know that Willow had dual plans for the money, not just buying a car or 'saving for a rainy day.'
She flipped back several pages to the front of the notebook and pulled out an old worn brochure from the front folder pocket. Across the top in faded blue lettering were the words, Destination Design, America's Top Computer Program Design Camp For Teens. Willow had wanted to attend the two week summer camp ever since she discovered it's existence on a trip to Los Angeles with her family several years earlier. She begged and pleaded with her parents for years, but they wouldn't give an inch.
Sheila and Ira Rosenberg's vision of their only child's future was a doctor, lawyer, or scientist and not someone who played with computers. They had driven Willow nearly insane over the years with endless chatter about college and career choices; spending numerous summer vacations visiting various college campuses instead of amusement parks like normal families.
Finally, knowing they would never budge, Willow decided to take matters into her own hands and began socking her money away. With her eighteenth birthday coming up in March, enough money for the camp and her own transportation...she knew there would be nothing they could do to stop her from attending; not that she thought they would go to great lengths to keep her in Sunnydale. There would be disappointment and a hefty guilt trip, but once they realized she'd already paid and had a solid plan in place, Willow knew they would acquiesce. Despite her parents dreams vs. her dreams, they were a very tight knit little family and got along well. That's why Willow wasn't surprised to find herself standing in the doorway to her parents bedroom and knocking softly.
"Hi honey," Sheila replied, peering over the top of the book she was reading. She patted the spot next to her in the large king sized bed.
Willow smiled gratefully and hopped up on the bed. "When's Dad coming home?"
"Oh you know how those conferences go, out on Tuesday and home on Friday."
Willow nodded; sitting crossed legged next to her Mom, eyes down and futzing with the cuff of her pajama pants. Sheila closed her book and took off her glasses. Willow's pensive actions were a tell-tale sign that something was on her mind.
"So, you want to talk about it?" Sheila asked.
Willow chuckled lightly, "I hate that you know me so well."
"Well, it's kind of my job."
Willow puffed out her cheeks and blew her hair out of her face. "I um, I got offered a regular babysitting job three days a week, but I'm not sure if I should take it."
"Will you be quitting the Doublemeat?"
Willow shook her head, "No, it doesn't pay enough, but I'd be doing someone a favor and I could probably make up the difference in pay at the DMP."
Sheila pondered Willow's dilemma, "School and two jobs. Can you handle that?"
Willow shrugged her shoulders, "Yeah, it's no big. I could get all my homework done while I'm sitting."
"So what's the problem? Sounds to me like you have it all figured out."
Willow sighed heavily, "Well, the person I'd be sitting for goes to my school...she's a student."
Sheila's eyes widened in surprise, "Oh, I wasn't aware there were any students with children. I would imagine it's very difficult for her."
"Well, that's the thing, no one knows. They um, they all think the baby is her little sister. I'm not sure what's harder, being a teen parent or keeping it a secret. I think they both exhaust her."
"Wow, that's an awfully big secret to keep," Sheila said, giving Willow all of her attention.
"Yeah, but that's not my biggest issue. She's a Cordette." Sheila eyed Willow questionably, having no idea what she was referring to. "Oh um, she's a cheerleader...hangs out with Cordelia-"
"...Chase, yes unfortunately I'm well acquainted with her mother," Sheila grumbled. Now it was Willow's turn to look surprised. "Sorry, but that woman is just...unpleasant."
Willow laughed at her mother's visible dislike of the Chase women, "Yeah, I guess the apple didn't fall far from the bitch tree. Oh, sorry..."
Sheila chuckled at her daughter's use of words, "It's okay honey I feel your pain, Jackie Williams...Chase, was a pain in my ass in high school," Sheila lamented.
Willow's eyes grew wide, "You went to school with Cordelia's mother?"
"Oh yes, I've know her for over twenty-five years. We cheered together until I decided to drop it and focus on academics instead. I don't think she ever forgave me for that and in return, decided to make my life a living hell."
"Geez, I feel like our last name should be McFly or something," Willow said causing Sheila to laugh heartily.
"Willow, if you don't mind me asking, who is the girl with the baby?"
"Her name is Tara-"
"Maclay? Tara Maclay?"
"Gosh Mom, you need to stop doing that...it's creepy. How do you know all these people anyway?"
"I've lived here my whole life, well except for college and grad school and contrary to 'popular belief,' I do have a life outside of this house. I'm not just Mom, you know?" Willow rolled her eyes in typical teenage fashion. "Tara Maclay...I had no idea they'd moved back. I bet her father completely flipped when he found out she was pregnant."
Willow shrugged her shoulders, "He's not here, I'm pretty sure it's just Tara and her mom."
"So no Donny either?"
"Who's Donny?" Willow asked.
"Donny is Tara's older brother."
"How much do you know about them?" Willow was officially intrigued.
"A lot actually. You probably don't even remember, but you two used to be friends."
"Really!? I don't...I mean, I kinda remember her. I think she was in my second grade class, but then she moved away in middle school or junior high...I dunno."
"I'm not surprised you don't remember. Tara was so quiet and shy, plus she had a terrible stutter. Anyway, we all used to be friends; Daddy and Mr. Maclay worked together and that's how I met Jen. I think you and Tara were three or four years old at the time." Sheila paused while Willow scooted closer. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Jen and I became friends and regulars on the 'birthday party circuit,' so did Jackie Chase. That's probably how Tara originally met Cordelia."
"I don't understand Mom, if our families were friends, then how come I don't remember Tara?"
Sheila sighed, "It's hard to explain, you see her father was very controlling and at some point he became 'born again.' Although, we'd already started to drift before that." Willow gave her mother a sad look. "Things happen sweetheart, you develop different interests...Jen enrolled Tara in dance classes and I enrolled you in piano."
Willow's head shot up with realization, "Oh God! I remember dance classes...it was horrible," She stated with a look of abject horror on her face.
Sheila laughed, "We decided to enroll you two together and I took you to the same classes as Tara; it was a disaster. I think you had four left feet."
Willow frowned, "Gee thanks."
Sheila giggled a little more and reassuringly patted Willow's knee, "Anyway, the more immersed Mr. Maclay became in the church, the less and less we saw of them until they finally moved away." Sheila was careful not to tell Willow that it was ultimately Mr. Maclay's anti-Semitic views that drove a wedge between them.
Willow's brows were knitted as she thought about how life must have been for Tara. "That's actually kind of sad."
Sheila nodded, "Friends come and go Willow. It will happen to you as well, especially as an adult. You'll be busy with your own family someday and those relationships will come in second and some will fade. It's just the way things go."
"I guess," The younger redhead replied meekly as she settled into the bed next to her mother, not quite ready to go back to her own room. She was enjoying the calming effect of Sheila's fingers, gently running through her hair.
Willow's thoughts were now focused on the new information and she probed deep in her mind, trying to remember their families spending time together when she was little. Nothing specific came to mind, so she shifted to the more anxiety ridden memories of dance class. She never did remember Tara specifically, but she did remember a little blonde girl holding her hand when she was too nervous to perform. Willow smiled at the memory and drifted off to sleep.
Tara was on pins and needles as she made her way to her locker after school. Several days had passed and there had been no answer from Willow. At some point over the weekend, she'd realized that she was getting a dose of her own medicine. She now knew exactly how Willow felt waiting to hear from her regarding the Cordelia situation. Tara was tired, stressed, and worried about her daughter. Her Mom had Chelsea for the next couple days, but what would happen after that? Would she have to quit school? Take her back to the cat lady? All these things combined were making her sick to her stomach.
Tara turned the combination dial on her locker, popped it open and a folded white sheet of paper floated out. Tara looked at the paper quizzically before bending to pick it up. The note was short...
I'll do it. ~Willow 555-1212
Tara smiled broadly, hardly able to contain herself. "Thank God," She said out loud, pressing the message to her chest.
"Since when did you become so religious?"
"Huh? Oh hey Cordy," Tara said happily.
"Wow, religion must really agree with you. What's got you so cheery today?"
"I um...I found a regular baby sitter for my da- for my little sister." Tara cringed and prayed Crodelia hadn't caught on. For once Tara was glad that Cordelia wasn't really paying attention to her as she popped open her locker and eyed herself in the mirror.
"Geez, it's about time. It's so unfair of your Mom to lay all the responsibility on you when she's the one that went and got herself knocked up." Cordelia said with a condescending tone of voice.
Tara clinched her fists and gritted her teeth, "It's not like that Cordy."
"Well whatever, I'm just glad the kid won't be a distraction for you anymore. I need you focused, we can't win state without you. This is my senior year and I wanna go out with a bang."
"Yeah," Tara said as Cordelia walked to cheer practice with her, changing the subject to a weekend shoe sale. Tara nodded politely every so often while Cordelia yammered on.
Tara had grown accustom to appeasing Cordelia over the past few months. She'd wanted nothing more than to just fit in, but even she had to admit, the girl was annoying. Being a cheerleader made her friends with Cordelia by default, and she decided early on she would rather be on Cordy's good side.
As they approached the door to the locker rooms, Tara slapped her palm to her forehead. "Ugh, I forgot something in my locker. I'll be back in a few."
"Uh? Okay, but don't be late!" Cordelia said, rolling her eyes and disappearing into the gym.
Tara turned and walked away, looking back to make sure Cordy was out of sight, before ducking into an empty hallway and pulling out her cell.
The phone rang several times before an out of breath Willow finally answered. "Hello!?"
"Hey Willow, it's Tara. I um, I got your note..." Tara said nervously.
"Oh hey Tara. Sorry it's so noisy, I'm at work and probably shouldn't even be on my phone, but I saw you calling, well I didn't actually know it was you, but I saw a number I didn't recognize and I don't get many calls, so I answered and here I am and, and...I should probably shut up now and let you talk..."
Tara couldn't help but giggle, Willow was so cute sometimes. Cute? She shook the thought from her head and moved on. "So anyway, I just wanted to touch base and say thanks for helping me out. You'll never know how much I appreciate it."
Willow smiled proudly on the other end of the phone, "No problem. So, should I just come over on Wednesday after school? Does your Mom know?"
"Not yet, I wanted to call you first. I thought maybe you could stop by tomorrow evening after work to meet my Mom and get acquainted with stuff before just diving in. Maybe you c-could also um, stay for dinner?"
"Uh sure, that sounds good. I get off work around six-thirty. Is that okay?" Willow questioned.
"It's perfect, and Willow, thanks again."
Willow found herself unable to suppress a smile at the sincerity in Tara's voice. "You're welcome Tara...I'll see you tomorrow. Bye"
"Bye Willow." Tara hung up, clutching the phone to her chest and falling back against a row of lockers. She took a deep breath to ground herself before stashing away her phone and heading back to practice.