Words of Hope
Willow had to admit that she'd been a bit surprised that Riley had actually arrived to pick her up. It wasn't that she'd expected him to stand her up, but... well, he was there, and smiling at her like she made his day a bit better. It gave her this warm fuzzy feeling inside, sort of like the fizzy bubbles from a carbonated soda. Riley had arrived, actually a bit early. Was it because Riley didn't want to be late, or was it because he wanted to spend time with her?
"Good morning, Willow." Riley looked slightly nervous as he smiled, and offered his arm, like a gentleman in one of those girly Victorian movies that Buffy liked.
She placed her hand on his arm, feeling herself blushing. This was a date, the first one that she'd been on in a long time. Her voice was barely over a whisper as she replied, glancing at his eyes. "Morning Riley. Are you ready for the beach?"
"I even remembered sun block." He grinned, leading her out the doors. His other hand gestured at a battered looking tan jeep, with a couple small dents in the side. "It's not a fancy carriage, but I promise my jeep will run."
"That's good, because I burn pretty badly, and then I peel, and if it's a bad burn then I even end up peeling in layers, which is sort of disturbing, and... ummm." Willow blushed again, realizing that she'd nearly gone into a flurry of babbling. "Right, sun block."
Riley chuckled as he started the jeep, shaking his head a little bit. "It's okay, I have a cousin who burns like that. There's some more in the glove box if you need it."
Willow smeared the sun block over her face and arms, the coconut scent already making her feel like they were at the beach. They listened to the radio on the way to the beach, not really saying much, but the trip somehow managed to relax Willow, enough that she hoped she could talk to him after they stepped onto the sand, instead of blushing and murmuring or babbling.
"I brought a Frisbee, just in case. And a couple beach towels." Riley offered, making Willow wonder if maybe Riley could be nervous about this as well.
“That could be fun. And maybe we could...” Willow blushed a bit, glancing at Riley. “This will sound silly, but could we build a sandcastle? I haven’t been able to actually make one in years.”
“Not that silly.” Riley glanced around for a few moments and then leaned close enough to whisper in her ear. “I thought about becoming an architect, but all the math classes that I’d need sort of scared me away from the whole engineering department.”
Giggling, Willow smiled. “Your secret is safe with me. But I bet between the two of us we can make a really good one.”
“Good? Why settle for good when we can try for awesome?” Riley grinned, grabbing the bag holding the towels and Frisbee. “And what sane guy would pass up that much quality time with a pretty girl?”
“You’re making me blush…” Willow found herself giggling again, something that she’d rarely done. Especially in the last four years. “I sort of like it.”
Slowly, Riley reached out, tucking a lock of her hair behind her ear, tracing over her forehead and down her cheek. “You have really pretty eyes, Willow.”
Her breath caught in her throat, and Willow just looked at Riley, staring into his eyes as if entranced. She felt as if everything was changing around her, all because of Riley and this growing potential between them. Could she and Riley be happy together? It was looking an awful lot like he wanted to find out…
Of course, all things must come to an end, and their moment of staring into each other’s eyes was snapped by a faded blue Frisbee connecting to Riley’s shoulder with a loud thwapp! Riley jumped and dropped the bag, rubbing at his arm while Willow picked up the Frisbee, looking around to figure out who had thrown it. “Are you okay, Riley?”
“It’s a mere flesh wound.” Smiling, he crouched to pick up the bag of towels, and shook his head. “Maybe we should catch a spot on the sand, and think about some of that barbecued whatever it is?”
“Sounds like a good plan.” Willow nodded, feeling only slightly nervous about being here, on the beach when it was so crowded. At least she wouldn’t have to worry about Cordelia mocking her not-so-filled-out swimming suit like in seventh grade. No, her suit was sufficiently filled, thank you, even if she wasn’t as endowed as some people. She really should have known that the beach would be crowded - sunshine, food, and nothing better to do today made it pretty obvious. She tried to calm herself with a deep breath, but it wasn’t working very well.
“Is something wrong? You look... paler than you did in the jeep.” Riley reached out, his hand brushing along the back of her arm, as if he wanted to hold her and wasn’t certain if he was allowed.
“When I asked you to come with me to this, I sort of... forgot that there would be a crowd of people. I sort of get nervous around a lot of people.” She moved, reaching for his hand with her own. The idea of holding Riley’s hand was pretty appealing, and he had that same comforting quality of a much beloved teddy bear that she’d had as a child, only less fuzzy and more muscley.
“You don’t have to deal with them alone.” Riley had that helpful-serious look on his face, something that Willow had often seen when he was dealing with questions after the Psychology lectures. “I’m here. I’d like to help you.”
“Thanks.” She was certain that she was blushing again. Riley was just being so sweet that he was giving her this fluttery feeling in her tummy.
The fluttery feeling was joined by an almost giddy and nervous floaty feeling as they walked out onto the sand, finding a nice little patch. It wasn’t too close to the ocean or the tide line, and while it was a bit away from the food, it was still close enough that no beach lurking monsters were likely to try to have them as a public snack. She tried to distract herself by unfolding the beach towels.
“So, Riley. We finally get to meet your new girlfriend?” The teasing voice wasn’t someone that Willow recognized. Actually, he was a tall, well muscled black man that she had a vague memory of seeing around the campus between classes.
“Forrest. Why are you... nevermind. There’s nothing else going on today. Forrest, this is Willow, Willow, this is my old friend Forrest. We’re both dorming at Lowell house, so...” Riley shrugged, as if he wasn’t quite certain how to explain his friend.
“It could be worse. I had this awful roommate at first... well, maybe it was just that she was awful to live with. Loud parties every night until three, a dozen people that I didn’t even know names for crowded into a little dorm room, God only knows what being smoked…” Willow sighed. “And then I moved in with Buffy, who has her own quirks, but not like that.”
“Maybe I should look this other roommate up?” Forrest’s voice was teasing again as he smiled.
“I think I saw her over by the lifeguard’s chair. In a little pink swimsuit with the row of rings up her ear… Her name’s Shelly.” Willow wondered if this guy took things seriously, or if he was only trying to tease Riley.
“She sounds good to me.” Grinning, Forrest waved a goodbye as he walked away.
“That’s Forrest. He’s not really that bad, it’s just..." Riley looked a bit nervous now, and his ears were turning red.
“He called me your girlfriend.” The words were a soft whisper, and Willow turned the idea over in her mind. Riley’s girlfriend… It wasn’t exactly the first time that she’d thought about it, but it was the first time she knew of anyone else thinking similar things.
“Would you like to be? I mean, this isn’t quite how I thought I’d ask you, but…” Riley stopped, one hand coming to rest over his eyes. “This is coming out badly.”
“Riley, are you... I mean... How did you want to say what you’re trying to say?” Willow found herself hoping, those same fuzzy hopes from earlier in the week. But they were coming into focus now.
“I like you, Willow. And I’ve enjoyed spending time with you, getting to know you better. Learning about Willow the girl… woman, not Willow the student. I was hoping that maybe we could go out. Date. I mean, really date and call it that, not just be a pair of people who have coffee together.” Riley had the look that hinted at feeling like the words were coming out all tangled and awkward, a feeling that Willow was well acquainted with.
“I like you too, Riley.” Smiling, she reached out, resting her fingers on his hand. “And I think that you might make a pretty good boyfriend. Shall we find out?”
“Yeah.” Riley leaned forward, his lips brushing over hers in a gentle kiss.
It didn’t curl her toes or send fireworks bursting in the air overhead, but it was a sweet kiss, tasting faintly of orange juice and salt with a hint of coconut sunscreen. Willow smiled at him, only then realizing that her hand had moved from the back of Riley’s hand up his arm, now resting on his shoulder. Smiling at him, Willow realized that while the aftermath of Oz still hurt, she was healing and moving on. Thanks to Riley Finn.
“My future is looking a lot better today than it did yesterday.” Willow leaned against him, discovering that her head fit nicely just under his jaw. And his arm fit so nicely around her shoulders.
Life was getting better.
End Words of Hope.
End Words series.