Buffy sat on the beach, enjoying the last of the sun’s rays. She loved this time of day. The setting sun lit up the horizon, creating a prism of reds, oranges, purples, and blues that scattered throughout the sky and reflected off the ocean beneath it. But what she loved most about dusk was that one moment when the sun’s light faded and the world was bathed in a deep, beautiful blue…
“—At least, that’s what I heard,” Madison stated with a snap of her gum. “Whatta you think, Buffy?”
“Huh?” Buffy’s attention turned back to the circle of her friends that had been sunbathing on the beach beside her.
“Darla? Pregnant?” Madison demanded.
“Darla’s pregnant?” Buffy said in disbelief.
“That’s the rumor anyway,” Candy said excitedly. “She wasn’t at graduation, you know, and no one’s seen her in weeks.”
“If no one’s seen her,” Missy retorted, “it’s undoubtedly because Daddy had her rushed off to get an abortion.”
Madison rolled her eyes. “It’d be just like Darla to get knocked up at eighteen,” she said, carefully examining her nails and pulling out her file when she discovered an imperfection. “I mean, she is such a slut!”
“I totally heard that she blew the entire basketball team at the Homecoming party last year,” Candy said conspiratorially. “You ask me, she was just begging for it.”
“And rumor had it that you boinked the chess team,” Buffy retorted, “so I guess that must be true, too.”
Candy’s jaw hung open.
“Ooh, busted!” Missy laughed at her friend’s distress.
“Jeez,” Candy replied, offended, “I was just talking about Darla. There’s no reason to go all bitchy on me…”
“I think it’s funny,” Madison went on. “Chubby Darla gets even fatter.” She laughed at what she perceived as her own wittiness.
“Do we even know that she’s really pregnant?” Buffy demanded skeptically.
Madison shrugged. “Why else would she miss the last two weeks of school? And graduation?”
“She wasn’t even at prom,” Candy pointed out.
“Maybe she was sick,” Buffy suggested.
“VD,” Missy said in delight. “Now there’s one for the old rumor mill…”
“No, I just meant…” Buffy let out a little sigh of exasperation. “Who do they say the father is?” she finally asked.
“Who do you think?” Madison retorted.
Buffy’s eyes widened and she pulled back as if she’d been slapped. “Y-You don’t think…?” she began, gulping slightly. Suddenly, she felt very cold. She wrapped her spare towel around her shoulders and moved to pull her sweatpants up over her suit.
“Oh, grow up, Buffy!” Madison said in annoyance. “So Angel dumped you. You don’t have to freak out every time he gets mentioned.”
“I’m not freaking out,” Buffy insisted, pulling on her sweatshirt as well. “It’s just that the sun’s set, and it’s cold and—”
She was cold, very cold. She closed her eyes and tried to ignore it. It didn’t work. Her eyes opened again, and there was Angel, his face twisted into a cold sneer, his eyes as black as the night and just as deadly…
“—I still have some packing to do,” Buffy snapped out of her daze, snatching up her towel to go.
“But you’ll miss the last night beach party!” Candy protested. “One last night to party down before we all have to go to stupid college…”
“Yeah, well,” Buffy said primly, “I can party once I get to ‘stupid college’.” With that, she walked off into the night.
“What’s her damage, anyway?” Madison demanded.
“She’s just mad because Angel found out what a stuck-up little brat she is and dumped her on her ass,” Missy answered just loudly enough that Buffy could still hear her.
I don’t care what they think; I don’t care what they think; I don’t care what they think, Buffy repeated her mantra over and over again. Soon none of this will matter anymore… No matter what she told herself, the tears will still streaming down her eyes, however.
She suddenly found that her feet weren’t taking her home like she intended, but rather were leading her down a familiar side street to the skirts of town. It was dark by the time she reached the graveyard.
She who hangs out in cemeteries, Buffy couldn’t help but remember. She winced at the childhood nickname, but in a way it was true. This was where she came to get away from the world…
She wove her way between the stone crosses with ease, the path to the grave she sought well known. She climbed the small hill and froze when she reached the top. The small mausoleum stood out as a black outline against the midnight blue sky. The mausoleum wasn’t why she was here, though.
She walked around the small structure to see the one cross that called out to her personally. Quietly, she went over to it, settling herself down beside it and looking at the view before her.
“Hello, Mom,” she finally said in a quiet voice, not wanting to disturb the sacred hush that always shrouded this place. “I just wanted to let you know,” she began slowly, “that I’ll be going away tomorrow. Me in college? Can you believe it?”
She sat for a minute or two, not speaking but just enjoying the silence.
“So,” I won’t be coming by for a while since I’ll be, y’know, on the other side of the country,” she finally continued. “I just wanted to let you know,” she repeated for emphasis.
The grave didn’t respond.
Buffy sat for a little while longer, looking up at the sky. Her mother’s grave faced east, so it was always cold at dusk. Buffy often wondered if her mother missed seeing the sunset. As she looked now, the horizon was pitch black.
Slowly, she rose to her feet and made her way home. This was it. After tonight, Sunnydale could be as distant a memory as she wanted it to be. She still felt slightly giddy at the thought that she’d finally be escaping this hellhole. She couldn’t think of anything she’d miss, except maybe this – coming to her mother’s grave.
But tomorrow everything changed. By the end of the day, she’d be almost three thousand miles away.
And the Buffy Summers she knew would be no more…
Bu-Not, not Buffy! she chided herself. Not anymore…
Elizabeth Anne Summers stepped from the bus into the small town of Shady Glen. Behind her, the bus driver unloaded her two huge trunks from the bus’ storage compartment. She gave him a grateful little smile and looked around. It was very…small. And kind of old-looking, although not in a bad, dilapidated way.
She heard the bus’ engine start up again behind her and watched it drive away. A sudden feeling of panic spread over her. Wasn’t someone supposed to be here to meet her? And, if they didn’t come, how was she going to find her dorm? She knew absolutely nothing about this town, and it was nine o’clock at night here, and—
As if to reassure all her fears, at that moment the doors to the bus station burst inward, and a petite red-headed woman ran inside, a sign with the name ‘Elizabeth’ written in bold, precise letters slung over her shoulder. She saw the bus riding off and turned to Elizabeth.
“Please tell me you’re Elizabeth Summers,” she said, still panting.
“That’s me,” Elizabeth agreed with a wide smile.
“Hi,” the redhead gave her a little finger wave, still panting. “My name is…pant…Willow Rosenberg…gasp…I’m your…gulp…roommate. I’m the one who…pant…e-mailed you.”
“Yeah,” Elizabeth agreed, “I kinda recognized you from your five page description.”
Willow chuckled slightly, breath seemingly caught. “So sorry about being late. We had another freshman arrive this morning, and there was this huge mix-up with all his boxes, and we finally got them right before the post office shut down,” she said all in a rush, grabbing the handle of one of Elizabeth’s trunks and dragging it toward the door.
Elizabeth mirrored her action, struggling to keep apace with the enthusiastic redhead.
“So we had to pile all the stuff out on the curb while the security guard gave us the evil eye for taking so long, and then we had to cart it all the way back to the dorm and unload it since otherwise there wouldn’t be any room in the van for your stuff, and…” Willow turned to see Elizabeth’s overwhelmed expression. “Sorry,” she said with a sheepish grin, “I’m babbling, amn’t I?”
“It’s OK,” Elizabeth assured her, “and I was only here for, like, ten seconds before you.”
Willow flashed her a contagious grin. “My freshman year,” she said, “the people who were supposed to pick me up were two hours late. I had to sit in the lobby re-reading the same old issue of ‘Cat Fancy’ until they finally showed up.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Well, thanks for saving me from that fate.”
“They still have the magazine, too,” Willow took a slight detour and picked it up off the small table between the benches. “Page 84, the pros and cons of white versus gray Persians – easily the most boring article ever written.”
“Don’t know about that,” Elizabeth countered, “did you read last month’s ‘Elle’?”
“Um, no.” Willow opened the doors and propped one open with one trunk so that Elizabeth could pull hers though.
“Oh,” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Well, it had a really boring article in it.”
“I can believe it,” Willow agreed. “That’s our ride.”
She gestured to a beat-up blue van that was parked right in front of the station. A short man with spiky blue-black hair was leaning against it, waiting for them. He quickly got up to take Elizabeth’s trunk for her.
“Elizabeth, Oz,” Willow introduced. “Oz, Elizabeth.”
“Elizabeth,” Oz nodded slowly as if he were thoroughly processing her name. “That’s cool. You got any nicknames? Liz? Beth?”
“No,” Elizabeth said just a shade more vehemently than she had intended.
Oz just kind of blinked in response. “Just Elizabeth,” he agreed.
“OK,” Willow said, “here’s the fun part. We get to move these,” she gestured to the two heavy trunks, “up here.” She opened the back doors to the van.
Elizabeth winced. “These are pretty heavy…” She looked back and forth between Oz and Willow, neither of whom were exactly the bodybuilding type.
“Trust me,” Willow said with a little eye roll, “we can handle it.”
“Jonathan had rocks in his boxes,” Oz said simply.
The young man’s face didn’t alter expression in the slightest as he said this. Elizabeth spent way too long trying to figure out if he was being sarcastic.
“OK,” Willow had thoroughly analyzed their problem and come to a conclusion, “Oz, you take the back. Elizabeth and I will get the front, and then you can just climb into the van and we’ll push it in.”
Oz nodded and took up his position. The first trunk went in without too much effort. The second was a bit harder since the only way they could fit it was to put it on top of the first. All three of them were panting by the time they were done.
“And just think,” Oz commented dryly as he put the van into gear, “pretty soon we get to drag them up two flights of stairs…”
“Joy,” Elizabeth said with a small smile. She’d quickly come to the (correct) assumption that no facial or tonal cues accompanied Oz’s humor.
“So, Elizabeth,” Willow said from the back, one elbow on the back of Elizabeth’s seat and the other on Oz’s, “you’re from California?”
“Sunnydale,” Elizabeth agreed.
Oz’s brow furrowed slightly as he tried to remember something. “That near LA?” he finally asked.
“A couple hours,” Elizabeth agreed.
“So you’re really far from home then,” Willow commented. “What drew you to the College of New York?”
“I’m really far from home,” Elizabeth joked.
Willow laughed at that, and Oz did this little half-smile thing.
“Away from the parents for the first time?” Oz inquired.
“Well, not really,” Elizabeth said after thinking for a minute. “My parents travel a lot for work,” she explained.
“Oh, do I sympathize,” Willow agreed. “My Mom’s at conferences all the time.”
“My Dad vanished to Hong Kong for two years,” Elizabeth retorted.
“It took my Mom eight months to realize I’d cut off all my hair.”
“I didn’t find out that my Dad had married my Step-mom until after the wedding.”
“My Dad once mistook one of my friends for me,” Willow countered. “And rumor has it he can’t even identify my Mom.”
“I left home the instant I turned sixteen,” Oz fully acknowledged that he couldn’t compete with their tales of woe.
“Lucky,” Elizabeth muttered before she could stop herself.
Willow laughed at her guilty look. “Parent bashing is encouraged,” she informed her, “especially during orientation.”
“So,” Elizabeth asked, “where are you two from?”
“Pretty much everywhere.”
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at Oz’s response.
“The longest I’ve ever stayed in one place has been here,” he explained, making a right turn into a back alley. “Shortcut,” he said to Elizabeth’s curious look.
“Cool,” Elizabeth nodded, “this is the first time I’ve been out of California.”
“What do you think of the trees?” Oz inquired. “First time I went to California and saw the vegetation I completely freaked out.”
Elizabeth tries to picture Oz freaking out and couldn’t quite manage it. He seemed so mellow that blinking a lot probably counted as ‘freaking out’, though… “It’s weird,” she admitted, “but kinda like the movies.”
“So speaks the person who lives near Hollywood,” Willow joked.
Elizabeth laughed. “Yeah, well, they’ll come into your house to film, but they’ll travel halfway around the world for the exteriors…” She looked out the window at the old-style Victorian houses they were passing. “Just like the ones here.”
“Ooh!” Willow suddenly exclaimed in delight. “Have you ever seen snow before?”
“Nope,” Elizabeth shook her head. “I’ve heard you’ve got it here, though.”
“Just a little,” Oz commented.
“More like snowdrifts so high you can’t get to class in the morning,” Willow clarified Oz’s sarcasm to Elizabeth. “You’ve got boots, right? And a coat? And snow pants?”
Elizabeth laughed at the worried expression on Willow’s face. “Yes, I did get your list of things to bring.”
“Good,” Willow breathed a sigh of relief. “So, this means you’ve never been in a snowball fight, huh?” she said with an evil little grin.
“Finally, someone Willow has a chance in hell of hitting,” Oz joked.
Willow playfully batted him on the shoulder before seeming to recognize something out the window. “You taking us to the delivery entrance?” she asked.
“Yup,” Oz agreed, pulling to a halt. “Welcome to Westing Hall,” he announced.
“The freaky back entrance,” Willow amended. “It’s closer to the stairs, so we won’t have to carry your stuff so far.”
“Sounds good,” Elizabeth agreed, getting out of the van.
She and Oz pushed the trunks out onto the ground while Willow ran up to the large stone building and propped open the doors. They dragged the trunks inside, and Elizabeth flinched when she saw the staircase in front of them.
“Spiral, just to make it extra easy to carry stuff up and down,” Willow agreed with a bit of a grimace.
“Yeah, who designed that?” Elizabeth wanted to know.
“This building was originally for classrooms,” Oz informed her. “It got converted into a gym after that, and then a cafeteria.”
“But they kept parts of the third floor intact, even when they hollowed out the interior,” Willow added. “Hence our unique living conditions.”
“ ‘Unique’?” Elizabeth asked.
“House of ten,” Willow explained, “smallest on campus.”
“But I thought—” Elizabeth began.
“Forty,” Willow nodded. “The other thirty are on the far side of the cafeteria,” she gestured through the large wooden doors to their right, “over there. The ten of us are cut off all by ourselves.”
“It’s useful for not having to remember a lot of names,” Oz commented, beginning his ascent.
Willow took the other handle of Elizabeth’s trunk, and together they lifted it.
“Be prepared to flee if I drop this trunk and it comes careening down the stairs at you,” Oz joked wryly.
“Break both our backs,” Elizabeth retorted, “and you’ll have to carry up all the stuff I had shipped by yourself!”
“There’s more?” Willow groaned.
“Only half a dozen or so boxes,” Elizabeth assured her, “and they’re nowhere near this heavy.”
“Meet Oz,” Willow joked, “your new best friend…and coincidently the only one with a car as well.”
“I expect complete sycophantic behavior,” Oz joked, reaching the third floor and dropping the trunk with a loud thump.
“Hear that?” Willow encouraged Elizabeth. “Almost there.”
The trunk finally bounced up the top stair, and the two women stopped to rest for a minute, using the trunk as a seat.
“Not so bad,” Elizabeth finally declared, wincing.
“You want the name of a good chiropractor?” Willow teased.
Elizabeth smiled. “OK, you got me. That was brutal.” She was amazed at just how quickly she’d decided that she liked Willow. The other girl hadn’t managed to rub her the wrong way once so far, putting her completely at ease.
“Ready to go down the hall?” Willow asked.
Willow counted past the door numbers as they passed. “Three-one-one, three-one-two, three-one-three, ah…three-fourteen, good old pi room…”
“Pi room?” Elizabeth inquired.
“Three point one four,” Oz provided from within the twelve by twelve foot room that looked more like a TV lounge than a dorm room, “pi.”
“Congratulations,” Willow said with a sheepish smile, “you’re roomed with a math nerd.”
“Lucky me,” Elizabeth set the trunk down in the center of the room.
“Now,” Willow said, “before I forget…”
She dug around in a drawer of the end table by the couch. “Here is your room key,” she handed a small silver key to Elizabeth, “and here’s the dorm one, and…” more fiddling in the drawer, “here’s the kitchen. Only rule is, if you use the kitchen, you have to clean up afterwards. You lose any of the keys, I’ll hafta find you, so don’t.”
Elizabeth fastened the three keys to her ring. “Think I can manage that,” she agreed.
“Good,” Willow said, pulling out a piece of paper. “Now, if you’ll just sign so housing knows I did my job and gave you your keys…”
Elizabeth quickly signed and dated the form. ‘Elizabeth Anne Summers’, she looked at her signature. It looked nice, different…
“Your job?” Elizabeth inquired. “Are you the RA?”
“Sort of,” Willow replied. “We’re too small a house for a real RA, so at the end of every year we vote a returning student to fill the position.”
“Unanimous vote last year,” Oz commented.
“So you’re a…?” Elizabeth asked.
“Senior,” Willow replied. “Actually graduating this year. Very cool and very scary.”
“What in?” Elizabeth asked, looking down at the spot on the couch next to Oz.
“Sit down,” Willow insisted. “After all, it’s your room, too.”
Elizabeth sat, and Willow took the beat-up armchair across from them.
“Biology and computer science,” Willow answered.
“She was doing physics, too, last year,” Oz added, “but even the undefeatable Willow caved in when she saw she’d have a lab four days a week.”
“Even I have my limits,” Willow agreed with a laugh.
“What about you?” Elizabeth asked Oz.
“Non-graduating senior,” he shrugged, “also known as a second-year junior. I just switched to philosophy last spring.”
“Philosophy?” Elizabeth raised a skeptical eyebrow. “You’re gonna get a job thinking?”
“Actually I’ve already got a job playing guitar,” Oz clarified.
“Oz is in this really cool band,” Willow gestured to the poster behind her, “Dingoes Ate My Baby.”
“So I see,” Elizabeth nodded at the poster.
“What about you?” Willow asked. “What do you do?” She proceeded to slap herself in the forehead. “If you know, of course. I mean, most freshmen don’t, so you shouldn’t feel pressured to—”
“Breathe,” Oz advised.
Willow took a deep breath. “Good idea,” she agreed.
“It’s OK,” Elizabeth assured. “I’m an Econ major.”
“You and Anya,” Willow commented. “Just please tell me you don’t fondle your money, too…”
“Fondle my money?” Elizabeth asked in disbelief.
“That’s Anya,” Oz agreed.
“Last year Dru decided to pull this prank on her and rearranged all her furniture while she was in class,” Willow added. “So Anya comes back, sees her room, and instantly says: ‘I demand monetary compensation!’ It was kind of hilarious.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “And Dru is?”
“She graduated last year,” Oz provided.
“Oh yeah,” Willow shook her head. “I’ll mention all sorts of people you’ve never heard of. Just hit me when I do it.”
“It’s a deal,” Elizabeth agreed with a wry grin.
“So, yeah, this is home,” Willow gestured to the room. “The bedroom’s in back. I kinda put both the beds in that room, so we can use this one as a common room. We’re too small to have a lounge, and all the rooms are filled right now…but if it’s a problem, we can switch things up. Really. Right now. Do you wanna switch it?”
“It’s fine,” Elizabeth assured her. She then flashed Willow a guilty, apologetic look. “I’m not actually sure how long I’ll be staying here,” she admitted. “I’m rushing Tri Xi, so it’ll probably only be a couple of weeks…”
“That other girls’ doing that, too,” Oz commented. “Kathy.”
“And then Cordy’ll be able to move back in next semester,” Willow agreed. “It’s OK. Really.”
Elizabeth breathed a little sigh of relief. She hadn’t been too excited about telling her roommate the first day that she’d be moving out. Willow seemed to just take everything in stride, however.
“I think I’m gonna crash,” Oz announced. “Moving three freshmen in in one day…that even wears me out.”
“’Night, Oz,” Willow flashed him a little wave as he got up.
“’Night,” Elizabeth agreed, “and thanks for helping with my stuff.”
“No problem,” he said before vanishing into the room across the hall.
“Do you wanna get something to eat?” Willow asked. “I know it’s late, but…”
“I already ate,” Elizabeth lied. “Plus, I kinda wanna get settled in, get some sleep myself…”
“Do you want any help?” Willow asked as Elizabeth opened her first trunk.
“No,” Elizabeth assured her. “I’m sure you’ve got things you’d rather be doing anyway…”
“Well, I was supposed to drop my O-Chem text off at my girlfriend’s…” Willow thought to herself before her eyes widened in alarm again. “I did mention that I’m a lesbian, right?” And you’re OK with that? I mean, normally I would just say ‘live with it’, but since we’re actually living together and all, it would be really, really bad if you were uncomfortable, and—”
“I’m fine,” Elizabeth cut her off, laughing. “And you mentioned it in your e-mail. Like, eight times.”
“Sorry,” Willow said sheepishly, “I tend to get carried away.”
“I’ve noticed,” Elizabeth said with a small smile. “Now, go meet that girlfriend of yours.”
“She’s really great,” Willow said with a love struck grin. “Her name is Tara. You’ll love her.” Her eyes widened with alarm. “But, oh! We won’t do anything…y’know, in our room, since you’re living there, too.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Elizabeth assured her.
“You sure you won’t be lonely?” Willow asked nervously. “All the other freshmen already went out, and Oz is sleeping, and Devon’s stoned out of his mind, and no one else has arrived yet…”
“All I want to do is sleep,” Elizabeth insisted. “It was a long flight…”
“Ok, then,” Willow agreed. “Bathroom’s at the end of the hall. It’s labeled. Instructions for dialing out are on the phone. Help yourself to anything in the fridge. I think that’s it…”
“Go, sweep Tara off her feet,” Elizabeth teased.
Willow’s face turned beet red. “Normally I’m not like this,” she assured her, “but Tara just got back into town yesterday, and I haven’t seen her yet…”
“Have fun,” Elizabeth said with a wave.
Willow grabbed her textbook and purse and dashed from the room.
Elizabeth chuckled to herself as she removed the bare essentials from her trunk. She quickly made the empty bed in their bedroom before heading off in search of the bathroom. It was conveniently right next to them. She brushed her teeth before setting off to explore their floor.
Her and Willow’s door had two college printed nametags that read “Willow Rosenberg, ’00’ and ‘Elizabeth Summers, ’03’.
Across the hall from them, the nametags had been removed and replaced with a ‘Dingoes Ate My Baby’ poster. The names ‘Oz’ and ‘Devon’ were written upon it in black permanent marker.
Next to them was ‘Anya Jenkins, ’02’ – the Anya Elizabeth had been told about, she presumed.
Next was ‘Kathy Ashton, ’03’. That was the other Tri Xi girl. Elizabeth made note to talk to her as soon as possible.
‘Jonathan Levenson, ’03’ was right by the stairs. Elizabeth was pretty sure he was the one Oz had said had the problems with shipping.
That left her side of the hall…and three names she didn’t recognize. ‘Faith Vlore, ’03’, ‘William Giles, ’02’, and ‘Alexander Harris, ’03’. Faith’s door didn’t have anything else on it. Alexander’s had the ‘Ale’ in his first name crossed out. ‘Xander’, Elizabeth gathered. William’s…
For some reason that was unfathomable to her, his door was covered with little yellow sticky notes that said things like “Welcome back, ‘William’,” “Nice nametag, ‘William’,” “Hey there, ‘William’.” In all of them, the name ‘William’ appeared in quotes. Elizabeth couldn’t quite figure it out and decided it was too late to bother trying.
With a yawn, she headed off to bed. Tomorrow was going to be a big day…