California Stars
by Jennifer-Oksana

Growing up in California, you become immune to how perfect it is and focus on the flaws. Too much traffic, too many people, not enough rain, too many Taco Bells dotting the smog-exhaling freeways. I never got why every tourist would stare at the palm trees as though they were something else. Palm trees are oversized weeds with rats hidden inside. The Pacific Ocean is painfully cold, rip-tidey and full of kelp.

Then Giles took us all to Europe and I didn't see the sun for six months, or that's kind of what it felt like. For the first three months, I didn't even notice because England! With the history and the atmosphere and the really terrible exchange rate! And France and Italy and Germany and Denmark and for the first time in my life, I appreciated what it meant to be the kind of kid whose parents drive her to see the snow.

When I got the chance to go back to go do the recruiting tour while keeping an eye on Dawn, I jumped at the chance. Buffy was kind of busy training and having semi-serious dating with this martial arts guy, Colin, and I figured it was my turn to go home. Not that there was really a home home to go to; my mom and dad were up in Davis because my mom got a job there after UC Sunnydale ceased to exist, but I'd never seen it except in photographs. Plus, Fred had written volumes and volumes of emails about her shiny new research lab and I was jonesing to see what money could buy in the way of science-magic hybrids.

I didn't expect to look out the window of the Virgin Atlantic jet, nonstop from London to LAX, and shiver. Because, you know, miles and miles of suburbs covered in bright late afternoon light not exactly heartwarming, but then there was the ocean and the sunlight sparkling and I was glad to be home.

But it wasn't until Fred decided that we needed a break from the college touring and endless fiddling with gadgets that I knew I wasn't going to leave again. We left Dawn with Wesley, who had rather taken to Dawn and her language skills (there was SO an internship in the works there once Dawn got accepted to UCLA), and we jumped in Fred's shiny car and drove up 101 because Fred said she wanted to take me to heaven on earth.

"But I've been up 101 a million times!" I protested, because 101 was also Valley traffic and I figured that wasn't so pretty as getting to sit on the beach underneath the Santa Monica Pier and stare out at the ocean and bury my feet in warm sand.

"I promise, you'll love it," Fred said, giving me this smile, and all of a sudden, I wondered how long Fred had been waiting for me to come back from Europe and why I kept getting big pings on my gaydar whenever I looked at her. "It's pretty close..."

The first thing that nearly killed me way going over the hill into Ventura County, the whole world stretched out in front of us for miles and miles. "It's so pretty," I said, wondering when California had turned so beautiful and green and greenish-brown underneath a sky full of wispy clouds waiting for sunset. "Like fairyland."

"Just wait," Fred said, another shy smile on her face. "I bet you know where we're going. I've never been anywhere prettier. Knox took me there before he went He certainly knew how to woo a girl, what with the cute floppy-haired boyness and taste in mix cds. Of course...evil."

We kept driving, past Camarillo, Oxnard, and right out of Ventura, which kind of freaked me, because how close to Sunnydale did Fred intend to get us, I wanted to know. But we were at the end of Ventura and the trees were getting driftwood-y and the water started to sparkle.

Then we rounded a curve and the sun changed angles and suddenly...

"See?" Fred said while I just stared. "I don't know how anything could be that pretty."

Even the palm trees were beautiful, the big weeds swaying back and forth in the tiny bit of land they had to themselves between the asphalt and there were pines in that triangular way posed next to the beach before the hills rose up. There was just so much ocean, and what with it being almost sunset, it was glittering the way...once Tara had shown me how to glitter like that, not like the make-up stuff, or a glow, but actually shimmer so many colors that it wasn't any color.

Fred pulled us off the highway, and I remembered that not so far up the road, that was where Riley and Xander would go surfing, where you could park on the side of the road, jump over the concrete barrier, and surf to your heart's content. How had I never known this was here when my whole life was lost in a crater forty miles away? How had my eyes failed to see this after a lifetime of weekend trips to LA and Disneyland?

"Come on," Fred said, pulling me out of the car. "I brought food."

And the way her hair started to blow around her face in thin dark strands and the way she smiled at me and it was lit up reddish-gold because of the sun turning the sky into fire and purple clouds, I thought maybe I could learn how to shimmer again, that she and I could maybe stay on the beach here forever.

"This is so beautiful," I said, settling into the soft grey sand that was cold but not too cold, letting my feet sink into it. "I love it."

"I'm glad," she said, blushing. "When I came here, I thought that it would be the best place to go on a first Sorry. I sometimes think my tongue conspires with my brain to make me sound as bad as I possibly can. Because it doesn't have to be a first date. That would be pressuring you and you're kind of rebounding and I'm just sorry..."

I leaned over and gave her a kiss, not a big sexy kiss, just the kind of soft lip brushing against lip that Tara would give me when she was so happy that she couldn't say it in words. Because I, big chattery Willow I, finally got what she meant when she said that.

And when I pulled away, I saw the most beautiful thing in a day of seeing beautiful things: Fred's fingers resting on her pretty pink lips, long brown hair blowing back toward the water, and a look in her eyes that was all for me.


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