Best Years

Best Years

Willow Rosenberg stood, hands on her narrow hips, and regarded herself in the full length mirror bolted to the door of her closet.

“Sheesh,” she muttered to herself, shaking her head with exasperation. There was something about her attire, pale lavender skirt, patterned hose, long-sleeved tee-shirt with a big pink heart in the center that seemed to scream “sophomore.”

Willow turned away from the mirror and stepped back into the closet, pushing aside hangers of neatly hung sweaters and jumpers. “I want something that says, ‘vixen,’” Willow said. Her face still burned with the shame she’d felt when Cordelia Chase, Sunnydale High School’s very own fashion cop, had embarrassed her with some snarky comment about the outfit she’d worn earlier in the week. I see someone’s found the softer side of Sears.

“Bitch,” Willow said to herself before stepping out of the closet and sitting on the edge of her bed. “I am so not going to let Cordelia Chase ruin this year.”

The phone beside her bed rang and Willow flopped backwards, reaching over her head to answer it. “’Lo.”

“Hey, Will,” Buffy’s cheerful voice breezed through the phone line.

“Hi Buffy,” Willow said, sliding further up her bed so that her head rested comfortably on the pillow. “What’s up?”

“Are we Bronzing tonight?”

Willow tapped her stockinged feet together and smiled. It was Tuesday night and a cool kid was calling her and asking if they were going out. To a club. Could high school be any better?

“Uh, sure. We could Bronze.”

“Because I got the best shirt ever at the mall today,” Buffy said.

“Are you sure you want to waste the best shirt ever on a Tuesday night?” Willow asked before adding, “Unless you think there might be a tall, broody guy lurking in the shadows at the Bronze.”

Buffy laughed. “Xander is not broody,” she said.

Now it was Willow’s turn to laugh. “Should we meet?”

“Yeah. You call Xander and let’s meet at eight.”

The girls said goodbye and Willow returned to her closet. “Okay, I know there’s a vixen in there somewhere,” she said.

***

In the end, Willow pulled on her most comfortable overhauls and called it a day. She was never going to be a fashion icon. She had to face the facts. Besides, denim was perfect for kicking demon ass; she had to be happy with comfort over style.

She ordered a large mochaccino and settled on a couch by the wall; the perfect spot to watch the dance floor and the bar and the door and the cute guys who milled around the pool table. During her freshman year, Willow had been to the Bronze less than a half a dozen times. Geeks just didn’t come here unless they came in a group and Willow tended to be in a group of two: herself and her best friend from, like, forever, fellow geek Xander Harris.

But Willow didn’t think that Xander was a geek anymore. She thought he was the most handsome boy at Sunnydale High. And even though they’d made a blood pact to remain each other’s best friends when they were seven, Willow could already feel Xander slipping away from her. She wasn’t an idiot. She saw the way he looked at Buffy and part of her couldn’t really blame him. Buffy Summers was everything Willow Rosenberg was not. Buffy was the quintessential California girl, well, if a girl who was stronger than practically anyone else epitomized California girls.

Willow took comfort in the fact that while Xander was slowly spinning out of her orbit, while she was Buffy’s friend at least she and Xander would remain in the same galaxy. She sipped her drink thoughtfully and looked at her watch. As she lifted her eyes from the rim of the cup to the dance floor, she saw Angel hovering on the edge of the room. She smiled around the rim of the cup and watched him acknowledge her with a nod.

He was trouble, Willow thought. He was the kind of guy that made her knees go all wonky and the words come out of her mouth backwards. He was the kind of guy who seemed to be listening intently when you spoke, but whose eyes were focused elsewhere: on the tendril of hair that had slipped from the careless ponytail Buffy had pulled to the top of her head; on the way Buffy raised her arms up over her head when she danced; on Buffy’s mouth, which seem to plump up whenever he was near.

Willow would never admit this, but once, late at night, she’d touched herself and thought about Angel. Just thinking about it now made her crotch loosen, her fingers shake.

She swallowed another mouthful of the sticky drink and pulled her eyes away from Angel, scanning the room for her friends. Suddenly Xander’s head was beside hers, “What’s the what?” he said.

“You’re late,” Willow said.

Xander regarded his empty wrist. “Nope, my Xander clock says I have arrived at the Bronze in a timely fashion.”

“You should wind that thing,” Willow said. “Where’s Buffy?”

Xander cocked his head across the room and through the dancing couples Willow could see Buffy and Angel, toe to toe, engaged in an intimate conversation.

“I don’t like that guy,” Xander said, taking Willow’s drink from her hand and helping himself to a large swallow.

“He seems nice enough,” Willow said.

“He’s big feeling,” Xander said.

“You’re jealous,” Willow said. She understood something of jealousy herself.

She’d been jealous of Frank Sutter in eighth grade when he’d won first prize in the science contest. She’d been jealous of Cordelia Chase when she’d shown up with a tan after a mid-semester holiday in Italy. (Willow could say with certainty that she’d never, ever have a tan.) And true, watching Buffy and Angel, knowing that they were headed somewhere important, Willow could safely say that she was jealous of them.

“Am not,” Xander said, handing Willow’s nearly empty cup back to her.

Willow took the cup and smiled.

“I mean look at him,” Xander continued, his eyes narrowing disapprovingly. “He’s all glowery and big.”

Willow giggled behind her hand. She should probably be smacking Xander’s arm, but his crush on Buffy and her total disinterest in him almost made up for her own feelings of inadequate longing. “And he’s old,” Xander added, as if this final piece of information would drive a final nail through the coffin of any potential relationship.

“Yeah, he’s definitely not a high school boy,” Willow agreed.

“I wonder if Buffy’s mother knows she’s seeing a college guy?” Xander pondered.

“She’s not seeing him,” Willow corrected. “She barely knows him.”

Xander settled back on the couch, arms crossed in front of his chest, sullen.

“Remember when you drew the pubic hair on my Barbie?” Willow asked suddenly.

Xander twisted his head to regard his friend with amazement. “You remember that?” he asked.

“Xander, you dork, you used permanent marker!”

“I remember,” he said.

“And remember when we walked back from the park that day and we got lost. You said it was a shortcut, but we were on a street that we didn’t know.”

“That big dog came at us. I remember,” Xander said. “It was on a leash but it scared you so bad you started to cry.”

“You said, ‘Keep holding my hand,’” Willow said, her voice quiet.

“It’s so we don’t get separated,” Xander added.

“Yeah.”

Xander held out his hand and Willow slipped hers into it, their palms sliding together as they had a hundred times before.

“I have this feeling,” Willow said, “that things are going to get very interesting this year.”

Xander nodded in agreement.

Willow leaned back and rested her head on Xander’s shoulder, breathed in the reassuring smell of her best friend.

She enjoyed a moment of well-being, the peace that came from knowing where you fit in the world, who could be trusted.

“So, what do you think his deal is?” Xander said.

“Angel?” Willow paused and sought out her friend across the room. Buffy and Angel were sitting side by side on the steps that led up to the Bronze’s balcony. Their shoulders touched and their heads were bent together in conversation.“They’re just friends,” Willow said.

“My ass,” Xander said.

“Come on,” Willow said, standing and pulling Xander to his feet. “Let’s dance.”

***

Later that night, while she brushed her teeth, it occurred to Willow that her world was expanding.

Now she knew that there really were things that went bump in the night. She knew that there were heroes and villains. She knew that tiny cuts on the thumbs of seven year olds really mattered and that if she held on tight, she wouldn’t have to be alone.

The End

No Doubt "Running"
Run
Running all the time
Running to the future
With you right by my side
Me
I'm the one you chose
Out of all the people
You wanted me the most
I'm so sorry that I'm falling
Help me up lets keep on running
Don't let me fall out of love
[Chorus:]
Running, running
As fast as we can
I really hope you make it
(Do you think we'll make it?)
We're running
Keep holding my hand
It's so we don't get separated
Be
Be the one I need
Be the one I trust most
Don't stop inspiring me
Sometimes it's hard to keep on running
We work so much to keep it going
Don't make me want to give up

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