|Disclaimer: This is fanfic, based on the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Characters are property of Mutant Enemy. This story was written for fun, not profit.|
On the Way to Tara's Funeralby: Shadowscast
"Table for two?" the waitress asks, already grabbing two laminated menus from the stack by the cash register.
A familiar face at the back of the restaurant catches my eye before I can say 'yes.' It's Willow's friend Alexander, sitting at a table with three young women. He's looking in our direction. I give an automatic polite wave when he catches my eye, and the waitress notices.
"Oh, you know those folks? Y'all traveling together, then? I'll sit you at the next table."
Ira and I follow her mutely. I'm not sure I'm in the mood to talk with friends of my daughter, but the restaurant is small enough that there is really no avoiding them.
Alexander stands as we approach, and the three young women look up at us with expressions not quite lively enough to be called curious. I recognize one of them now—Buffy Summers, Willow's roommate. The others are a lanky teenager with long brown hair, and a thin, intense-looking woman who's probably in her mid-twenties. All four of them look haggard, pale and tired, and I can't help noticing the injuries: Alexander has three long parallel scratches on his left cheek, and Buffy and the teenager both have scrapes and bruises on their bare arms. I wonder if they were hurt by the same man who killed Tara. When Alexander called us yesterday he gave me very few details about the murder beyond what was in the paper.
"Hi," Alexander says, obviously hesitating over the proper greeting. I harbor a momentary fear that he'll come over and hug us. Instead, he clasps his hands together and says, "Um, everyone, these are Willow's parents—Ira and Sheila. And this is, uh, Buffy, you probably know, and her sister Dawn, and this is Anya."
In the awkward silence that follows I feel a wild urge to comment on what a funny coincidence it is to meet Alexander like this, in a tacky roadside diner three hundred miles from Sunnydale, but of course it isn't really a coincidence and it isn't funny at all. We all have the same destination.
"Are you going to the funeral too?" asks the woman, Anya, whose connection to the others has not been explained. I suppose she was another friend of Tara's.
"Yes," Ira says.
"Why?" Anya asks. "You didn't know her."
I am startled and embarrassed by the question. The teenager, Dawn, makes a short, sharp movement and Anya yelps; I think Dawn kicked her under the table.
"We just ordered," Dawn says to Ira and me. "Why don't you pull your table over next to ours and sit with us?"
I start to say no thank you—I'm beginning to think I'd rather just leave—but Ira is already moving the table, and Alexander is moving his chair and place setting out of the way. I shoot Ira a glare he doesn't quite catch.
The tables are covered with gaudy red-and-white checked cloths, which in turn are covered with sheets of clear plastic. There's a dusty, clashing centerpiece of fake pink roses on each one. A fly buzzes down to alight on the artificial flowers nearest me. I sit opposite Alexander, cornerwise to Ira, and study my menu.
Ira and Alexander start talking about the route ahead. Ira and I were listening to the radio on the way, so we learned that the highway ahead is partly closed for construction. Ira imparts this information, and they take out a map and discuss possible detours. I gather that Alexander and his friends, like us, plan to drive back to Sunnydale tonight after the funeral.
For years, I thought that my daughter would end up dating Alexander by default. She never had any other close friends before high school. I dreaded the eventuality; Alexander always seemed harmless enough but I can't stand Tony and Jessica Harris, and since the incident at Willow's Bat Mitzvah I have refused to speak to Tony at all.
Alexander looks shockingly old to me today. I haven't seen him in years, not since Willow moved out for college. I don't think he even went to college, and I assumed he and Willow had drifted apart. Apparently I was wrong; he remained closer to Willow than we did. I found this out when he called Ira and me yesterday to tell us that Tara was dead and Willow had gone to England.
I have been accused more than once—by my own mother, for instance—of being too distant from my daughter and her life. But Willow was so intelligent and self-possessed from such an early age; she clearly needed space to be herself, not a smothering maternal presence. And unlike many women of my generation I did not need to define myself in relation to my child. I had my own life, and I let her have hers.
Now, agonizingly, I wonder: If I had ever baked cookies or gone shoe-shopping with her, would she have come to me after her lover was killed?
"I'll have the tomato soup, and a garden salad," I say to the waitress. "No dressing."
The others have their food now. And suddenly Dawn starts to cry. She covers her mouth as if trying to press the sobs back in, but after a moment stands up and runs away from the table and out the door of the restaurant.
"I've got this," says her sister Buffy, and follows her out.
Ira fiddles with his napkin; the naked grief has embarrassed him, as it did me. I remember the question Anya asked earlier.
"We're going to the funeral because Tara was important to Willow," I say quietly.
"I don't see why you're bothering now," Anya says, shocking me with her bluntness. "Did you ever even meet Tara?"
"Anya," Alexander says in a sharp, warning tone.
"Oh, am I saying inappropriate things again, Xander? Guess what. I don't care."
I feel myself blushing. "We had Willow and Tara over for our Seder dinner last year," I say, and realize the pathetic inadequacy of it.
I remember Tara as sweet and shy. She stuttered a bit when she addressed Ira and me, but not when she spoke to Willow. I judged that Willow was the dominant partner in their relationship, and I was secretly proud of my wallflower daughter for that.
We meant to have them over again, but we were always so busy with work, and I spent the summer in Indonesia on that research trip, and then I was teaching a heavy course load this academic year and Ira had that book deadline...and there never seemed to be time.
"Let's not fight, OK?" Alexander says. I imagine he used to play the peacemaker role often in his family. "It's not like any of us is exactly invited to the funeral. The last time we saw the Maclays, well—" he looks at Anya, "you remember what happened."
"We thought that Tara wasn't out to her family," Ira says.
"Out?" Anya repeats, puzzled.
"The lesbian thing," Alexander tells her in an undertone, and I wonder what he was talking about, then.
"We planned not to introduce ourselves, just to sit at the back," Ira says.
Alexander nods. "Yeah, that was pretty much our plan, too."
Dawn and Buffy come back in. Dawn's eyes are red. "It was the milkshake," she says softly as she sits down at her place and pulls the shake towards her. "Tara and I used to go out for a movie and a milkshake. It was our thing." She closes her eyes and puts the straw to her lips, and I know she is picturing Tara. I try to do that, but all I can remember is the green sweater she wore the day I met her.
Maybe Anya is right. We don't belong at the funeral; we barely knew Tara at all. But we will go, nonetheless. My daughter is grieving in England and no one has given me her forwarding address, and so I go to her lover's funeral in her stead. It's all I can think of to do.