Title: The First Step
Rating: 13 for one swear word, violence, and implied femslash.
Disclaimer: I don't own Tara, more's the pity. I don't own Mr. Maclay or Donnie either, but who would want them? All things Buffy belong to Joss.
A/N1: There are a few references to Tara’s background that were mentioned in the 5th season episode “Family.”
A/N2: This was written for the Buffyverse Lyric Wheel. Thanks to CharlotteB for the lyrics to "Down for the Count" by Bowling for Soup. I didn't include the lyrics here because I couldn't remember the rules about posting lyrics. If you're interested, let me know and I'll send them to you.
I’ve made my decision. I’m going to California. Now, I just need to figure out how to get there – how to tell Dad. Maybe if I just –
Wait, I need to write this all down from the beginning. I can’t forget any of it, the reasons why I made the choices I did. Later, when I see how it all turned out, I can look back and remember how I started, and then maybe I can understand the journey a little better. I hope so. Mom always said the journey was more important than the destination. I didn’t really understand what that meant, and I’m still not sure if she was right. But I guess it makes sense to live that way, at least until you figure out where you’re supposed to be. We’ll see.
Last Friday, Karen asked if she could walk with me on the way home from school. She had been acting kind of nice the past couple of weeks. She even ate lunch with me a few times. So, of course, I said yes. I couldn’t believe that she was volunteering to spend time with me. She talked about school until we got to the three-way stop and then she got really quiet. I asked her what was wrong and it all came spilling out. She said that she’s sorry that we weren’t friends before, but I’m so quiet, and everyone says that I’m strange, and she was stupid for listening to them ‘cause she thinks I’m nice now that she’s gotten to know me.
Then she tells me that she’s been having some confusing feelings. She thinks that maybe she might like girls. People say that about me, so she was hoping she could talk to me about it. She looked like she was about to start crying, so I dropped my backpack on the ground to give her a hug. I told her everything was going to be okay. I told her not to worry. I told her she wasn’t alone.
I am such an idiot.
She was lying, of course, about all of it. She pushed me away with this triumphant look on her face. Then she said, “I knew it. I knew you were a fucking dyke.” Then she looked toward the trees on the side of the road and yelled, “I told you I could get her to admit it. Pay up!” Her brother Zach and his friends Ray and Bobby John came over. They each gave her five dollars.
I’m just sitting there, sprawled out from when she had pushed me. It had rained the night before and I could feel the cold damp of the ground leaching through my skirt. I watched them laugh at me and I couldn’t help thinking that there were easier ways for her to get fifteen dollars. She had spent time with me for weeks, when she could have just worked three hours at the Dairy Queen on High Street. I know, what a stupid thing for me to focus on, but I was feeling sort of numb – like I was one remove away from reality. It was almost as though I was watching this happen to someone else. I felt a little sorry for this poor desperate girl, sitting in the mud, who had wanted a friend so badly that she let herself be taken in by sweet-sounding lies.
I was shaken out of my stupor when Ray smiled a condescending smile and said that I just needed some experience with a real man. Then he reached for his fly. It was so clichéd it would have been funny if I hadn’t been so scared.
As I cut through the woods my detachment followed me, and I imagined that I must look like every dumb victim in every teen slasher movie. A silly blonde who runs into the forest when she should head for civilization. But I knew I wouldn’t get to an area with people before they caught me. Besides, who would help? They chased me, yelling ‘Dyke’ and ‘Witch’ as loud as they could. They threw some rocks, but only managed to hit me once.
I couldn’t think of anything to do except run, and pray. I pleaded to the Goddess, first in panting breaths, then in my head. ‘Don’t let them catch me. Don’t let them catch me. Don’t let them catch me.’
I think She heard me, or maybe my own power did something. They kept tripping over roots and getting caught on branches. Eventually, they gave up.
The house was empty when I got home. By the time I reached the dubious sanctuary of my room, my protective numbness had deserted me. The muscles in my legs trembled and my chest burned as I tried to catch my breath. A glance in the mirror showed me that my clothes were streaked with mud. I started to take them off, but suddenly I couldn’t stand the idea of getting undressed. Then I kind of fell apart. I wound up on the floor with my back pressed into the corner. My hands were shaking and it took a while for the tears to start, and even longer for them to stop.
I’d gotten used to the sideways looks and the anonymous insults flung at me in the midst of a crowded school hallway. But that didn’t prepare me for this. I don’t know if Ray would have actually tried to rape me. I don’t know if the others would have let him. I don’t know what I’ll do next time. But I do know with a terrible certainty that there will be a next time. And Dad and Donnie won’t be sympathetic. They’ll say that I brought it on myself.
I think if I don’t get out, then I’ll probably end up dead.
That was a terrifying realization, as I sat huddled on the floor. I hated my life. I always felt useless and helpless and vaguely guilty for existing in the first place, but I don’t want to die. And I don’t think I deserve to die, whatever my unintentional sins might be. I can’t go on being quietly and unobtrusively miserable. I have to leave. I can’t just try to hide. One day, one of them will go too far. I have to get out.
I had broached the topic of college more than once with Dad, and he was opposed to the whole idea. Now, I knew that I had to stand up to him. I jumped out of my corner and retrieved the three college acceptance letters that I had taped to the underside of my sock drawer. How do I choose? I knew I needed to go, but I couldn’t blindly leap into the abyss.
I didn’t let myself think about what I was doing as I ran down the hall and climbed the stairs to the attic. At the top of the stairs, I stopped for a moment and inhaled deeply. I wanted to remember the smell of this place. Hidden beneath the mustiness of old clothes and dusty wood lingered the faintest hint of something spicy, rich, and earthy. Mom’s homemade incense.
I opened the small chest that held everything that was left of Mom’s magical supplies. Dad didn’t miss much when he threw out most of her books and herbs after she died, but he didn’t know about this secret cache. I had always been too scared to try anything from her spellbooks on my own. I halfway expected to grow scales or sprout horns if I purposefully tried to work magic. But nothing like that happened with Mom. I don’t feel like I’m part-demon. And the magic doesn’t feel evil, it feels good and pure.
And anyway, this was my future, my entire life. I needed to know what to do – and if I’m headed for damnation, I guess I might as well earn it. So, I sketched a circle in the dust on the floor, lit the candles and incense, and performed a divination spell from one of Mom’s books. I laid the three acceptance letters in front of me and took a deep breath.
First, I touched the one from the local community college, the only one Dad knew about. It was such a battle just getting him to allow me to apply. The future I saw there was pretty dismal, and hardly a surprise. I saw myself living at home and commuting to school. Eventually, school faded away, replaced with an image of myself behind a cash register at the Piggly Wiggly – the day-shift, so I could be home in time to cook dinner for Dad and Donnie.
I touched the second letter, the one from Columbia. I don’t know what possessed me to apply to a school in New York City. Sheer frustration and defiance, I suppose. I might need to leave this small town, but the idea of living alone in a city like that terrifies me. Unfortunately, that fear wasn’t going to dissipate. I saw myself being afraid of everything, living in a tiny room, and slowly growing bitter as I watched the rest of the world go on without me. I saw my envy and self-hatred grow as I watched others live their lives with a reckless enthusiasm that I couldn’t summon for myself.
When I touched the third letter, the vision was different. It was less straight-forward, jumbled and chaotic. I saw a bright flash of sunlight, the green grass of a sprawling campus, and a huge library – like a cathedral. Then there was darkness and pain and fear. I saw myself facing my fears with a strength and courage that I never would have imagined.
And then I felt a caress of sensation race down my spine. Soft hands slid fingertips across my skin. My breath caught in my throat. I felt silky strands brush over my face and I opened my eyes to peek through a coppery veil.
And that was it. I knew I was going to Sunnydale. It’s the only one of my choices where I’ll be able to continue my journey, where I can take a step forward, instead of waiting in stagnant misery for my life to end with an inevitably sad whimper. Now, I just need to figure out a way to convince my father to let me go, or, failing that, find a way to escape on my own.
I have to go. She’s waiting for me.
I don’t know if she is my salvation or if she will lead me to take my place among the damned. But whatever my fate might be, I think I will find happiness, and peace, and love in her arms. And that’s more than I ever dreamed possible.