TITLE: College Confidential
CHAPTER RATING: PG-13
DISCLAIMER: Willow, Tara and any other characters from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise belong to Joss Whedon, FOX, ME and a whole host of other entities, none of which are me.
PAIRING: Willow/Tara (from Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
SUMMARY: The first part of the prequel to Hacker Confidential and Family Confidential - the college years!
SPOILERS: Perhaps minor references to the show or stealage of dialogue, but nothing that would spoil the series.
FEEDBACK: Yes please
Tara stared up at the ceiling, as she had been doing in the hours since they’d gone to bed.
While Willow was fast asleep and snoring softly into Tara’s neck, slumber had evaded Tara as worries for the next morning plagued her mind.
Her first internship in the foster home started the next day and she had huge anxieties. As long as she had known she could have a career, helping children was all she wanted to do and it killed her to think all her dreams and work during college could go down the drain if she just didn’t have the competency to actually do it.
She glanced at the alarm clock but that didn’t encourage any sleep. She sighed and thought about turning on the light to read, but Willow started to move around first. She stayed still to let her girlfriend get comfortable again, but instead Willow rolled out of bed and groggily padded across to the bathroom.
The toilet flushed a minute later and Willow came back out, though jumped in the middle of the floor and almost fell on her ass.
“Fuck! Jesus Tara you scared me half to death! I thought you were asleep!”
“I didn’t do anything,” Tara protested, having not moved an inch.
Willow scoffed and got back into bed, yanking the blanket more over herself.
“Your eyes were all bright…in the dark!”
“Sorry for having eyes,” Tara replied, turning her back.
Willow looked over, then shuffled over and embraced Tara from behind.
“I’m sorry I was grumpy,” she said with a sleepy kiss behind Tara’s ear, “Did I wake you up?”
Tara shook her head.
“I can’t sleep.”
“Worried about tomorrow?” Willow asked, giving Tara’s mid-section a squeeze, “You’re gonna be great.”
Tara didn’t respond but Willow didn’t need her to.
“I know you don’t believe me but in say, sixteen hours or so, you will.”
Tara covered Willow’s hand on her belly.
“Glad one of us believes in me.”
“Oh, Tara,” Willow replied, inhaling softly from her girlfriend, “You’re gonna see. And I’ll just cuddle you ‘til you do.”
Tara settled a little easier and closed her eyes.
She wouldn’t sleep, but being awake in Willow’s arms was the very best she could ask as a consolation prize.
Willow woke again, though had the more pleasant experience of waking to sunlight and not darkness. She reached for Tara but just found more sheets. She wearily opened her eyes and looked around, finally seeing Tara sitting at the desk, applying some make-up.
She shuffled out, rubbing her eyes, and put a hand on Tara’s shoulder.
“Baby, did you sleep?” she asked, affectionately touching her girlfriend’s cheek when she turned around, “I don’t have to ask, I can see your eyes.”
Tara spun back around sharply at that and started furiously dabbing make-up under her eyes.
“I didn’t mean…” Willow tried but sensed it didn’t matter what she said, “You look really nice. Is that a new shirt?”
Tara stood up and walked over to the mirror.
“Yeah, I swapped it out at the clothes bank when I volunteered last weekend.”
Willow felt a pang of guilt; she’d organised her finances to give a bit to a sister shelter to the one Mia had brought them to every month, but had neglected to give time, even with Tara making a weekly trip at the very least.
“I could have bought you a shirt,” she answered meagrely to try and offset the guilt somewhere.
Tara tried to straighten it out, distressed.
“You can tell it’s old, can’t you? Does it seem lazy?”
“No, no. It’s great,” Willow rushed to reassure, “Professional. Can’t even tell it’s second-hand. Really.”
Tara didn’t seem convinced but didn’t have time to wallow.
“I have to go, I want to be there early.”
She grabbed the purse she had picked out and had ready with everything she needed and made for the door. Willow ran over and grabbed her wrist.
“Stop, stop, stop,” she said, turning Tara to her and looking her straight in the eye, “I love you. Believe in yourself, or at least know that I do, one hundred percent.”
She held Tara’s cheeks gently and leaned in to give her a peck for good luck. Tara took in a sharp breath and rushed into the bathroom.
“I’m sorry,” Willow called after, feeling like she was doing everything wrong, as Tara dashed back out, “I love you. You’re gonna do–”
The door slammed before she could finish and she sighed, but took out her phone and texted the rest.
Tara walked as fast as she could to the T station without wrinkling her clothes or ruining her make-up with sweat. She held her purse to her chest as she rode the train and remembered at the last second to turn her phone off. She noticed the message icon before she shut it off and read Willow’s text. Then reread it until she almost missed her stop and had to sprint off the train before the doors closed.
She got bumped into so much leaving the platform; she was glad she’d brought a compact mirror to straighten out again, though could never be totally unconcerned about her appearance.
She arrived at the building and checked the address twice as well as the sign to make sure it matched where she was supposed to be. Once sure, and with a final smoothing down of everything, she walked inside.
There was a reception desk near the front with one woman sitting behind it and another at the front, flicking through mail. She approached and spoke to the girl behind.
“Hi, um, I’m Tara, Tara Maclay. I’m–”
“The new intern,” the other woman said, turning to Tara with a smile, “I just saw your name on an email on the way in. I’m Vanessa, the director. Come with me.”
Tara dutifully followed Vanessa down a corridor with various doors marked with different people’s names.
“So this is our main office where we do admin and technical work. You’ll have a few days here over your two weeks, experiencing what we do here. It is a critical part of the agency. Here is where we co-ordinate parent counselling and preparation, foster care placement, we administer home studies, infant placement, facilitate open adoption and post-placement supervision. We also offer family and individual therapy, crisis intervention and search/reunion services when both parties are willing.”
Tara grabbed a notepad out of her purse and starting making notes. Vanessa saw and gave a slight smile as she brought them into her office at the end of the hall.
“You’re doing well in college?”
Tara made a gesture to indicate agreement.
“Oh yes, yes. I’ve completed all my required classes and have an emphasis on child welfare and development.”
“Well we’ll have you rotate around so you get experience in all departments. You’re here for a very condensed period of practice, so we expect you to work hard and keep up.”
“Yes ma’am,” Tara replied, nodding obediently.
Vanessa offered another smile and a shoulder squeeze.
“Don’t be so scared, if you pull your weight you’ll get on fine. Do you have your evaluation papers?”
Tara opened her purse and handed her a brown envelope with the evaluation papers she’d have to bring back to her professors when her stint was over. Vanessa did a brief look through to make sure they were there, then left it on her desk.
“Okay, I’ll make sure each department has a copy, just make sure you get them from me before you leave for good. Do you have any questions?”
Tara hadn’t prepared any questions, but didn’t want to seem unorganised.
“Um…h-how are you different to the state department for children?”
Vanessa sat on the corner of her desk.
“We don’t intervene in custody issues relating to welfare of children and specialise in domestic adoption. Pregnant women will come to us looking to facilitate an adoption. We find parents in 90% of cases pre-birth and those who don’t stay in our residential care home until parents are found. And that is where we’re sending you today, actually, we are short-staffed as a carer just had to leave suddenly with illness,” she replied, then smiled warmly as a man knocked and walked in, “And this is who will be taking care of you today. Carl, Tara, I told you about her; Tara, Carl. He’s one of six full time carers we have in our home that rotate, so there’s always at least two adults there. You’ll spend your first week there, learning how the home works, the needs and requirements of the children, etc, then next week we’ll bring you back here for this side of things. Carl, I know you need to get back, so Tara, are you ready?”
“Y-yes,” Tara replied and quickly cleared her throat, “Yes, ready.”
“Great, come with,” Carl replied, giving Tara a friendly smile and revealing very white teeth which contrasted nicely with his jet black, floppy hair and dark bronze skin, “I’ll show you the ropes.”
The r’s rolled off his tongue smoothly with his very slight Guatemalan-influenced accent and Tara thought she saw Vanessa fan herself with a piece of paper on the corner of the desk.
Tara figured he was quite handsome to her untrained eye and sensed this was thought throughout, as the company of mostly women all looked up from their offices as they walked back through. He brought them out and opened the passenger door of an old but perfectly clean car, then moved around to the driver’s side.
“The house is out in the suburbs a bit,” he said as he fastened his safety belt, “Where do you go to school?”
“BC,” Tara replied, securing her belt too.
“Great,” Carl replied with a smile, “That’s on the way, so I can collect you in the mornings if you want. The bus serves the area, but you’d be wasting an hour.”
“Oh, thank you very much,” Tara replied, feeling at ease by his welcoming attitude.
Carl pulled out of from the curb and turned the radio on low.
“So I heard you ask about the difference from the state. I’ve worked in state homes and private, and the level of care is excellent in both. I would say the private homes are better equipped to deal with infants, because most of the children there are. The state homes can have all kinds of children from newborn to eighteen,” he replied, then glanced at her and leaned over like he was telling a secret, “They’ll never say it in the office of course, but the main difference is money. People willing to pay for a more streamlined adoption. All I care about is a child going to a wanted family, and you’d be surprised how many people are vying for one of these jobs. Just wouldn’t want to prejudice you against the state by working here. It’s just different avenues.”
“Of course,” Tara replied, appreciating his honesty, and noting it in her notebook.
“You’re not going to have time for too much writing on the job,” Carl said with a laugh, “How are you with babies?”
Tara blushed and put her paper back in her purse.
“I’ve looked after some a little,” she said, unsure whether helping out in the day-care at shelters in high school and in recent times counted.
“Can you change a diaper?” Carl asked, quirking an eyebrow.
Carl nodded and smiled too.
“I’ll try to make sure you’re getting a varied experience, but you should probably expect some scut work.”
“That’s okay…” Tara replied genuinely, “I really appreciate the opportunity.”
“Are you interning anywhere else?” Carl enquired, indicating onto a new street that was the start of more suburban housing.
“At the YMCA when this is over and I applied for the state department for next year,” Tara replied, and Carl looked impressed.
“Wow, you’re organised.”
Tara nodded, very serious.
“They can only take a few people, everyone wants to get in.”
“I remember, I was one of them,” Carl replied and noted Tara’s surprise, “I did a degree in Social Work but opted to work in the carer field instead. My internships helped me decide that actually, so I’m always happy to see someone doing a few instead of all in one place. We’re just up here on the right.”
He pulled into a driveway of a large, detached house that looked nondescript from any other house on the street, with a neatly tended lawn and the agency name on a sign where you might see a house name. Carl led her in.
“We have a baby room and a toddler room downstairs, but no toddlers at the moment so you’ll be with the babies. We’re all specialised in infant care, so you will of course be supervised at all times,” he said, bringing her through the house to a large room where two women and six babies were, the babies in the same see-through cots that were in a hospital nursery.
“Carl, finally,” one of the women said, approaching, then walking straight past them and into an office.
“Sorry, picking up the intern,” Carl called after, then addressed Tara, “That is and was Sherry, one of our night nurses we have in resident, forgive her brusque manner, I assume it’s been a long night and she still has to write up reports.”
He brought her over to the other woman, who was assembling some bottles.
“And this is Lisa, our other carer. I will leave you in her capable hands, I need to get a handover from Sherry.”
He left for the same office and Tara watched him go a little lost for a moment, then approached the other woman.
“Um, hi. I’m Tara. My mom’s name was Lisa,” she said, then felt stupid for saying so.
Lisa just smiled though and continued making up the bottles.
“Hi Tara,” she said, then nodded towards the door with a grin, “So you met Dr. Dishy.”
Tara looked behind herself, confused.
“Carl. Well, he’s not a doctor yet, but he’s getting his PhD in childhood development at the moment, so we call him that,” Lisa replied and saw Tara’s raised eyebrows, “He knows, it’s a friendly work thing.”
“Oh, I’m sure,” Tara replied, more concerned with not wanting to give too much away about herself than any nicknames they had going around, “Um, so, is there always children here to care for? V…Vanessa said 90% of the children are placed pre-birth.”
“There’s always at least one, but they come and go very quick. Newborn American babies are in high demand,” Lisa replied airily but when met with the same look realised she was being too at ease given Tara’s inexperience, “Forgive me, this must seem so impersonal when you haven’t been here a while.”
“No, no. It’s good, and they all seem very happy,” Tara replied, hoping she hadn’t got on anyone’s bad side, “Um, what can I do?”
“I’ll show you how to change a diaper and then you can take the initiative from there – if you see one that need’s changing, go ahead and do it.”
“I’ve changed a few diapers before,” Tara replied, not dreading the task too much.
Lisa nodded and brought Tara over to a sink.
“Great, it shouldn’t be a problem, but I need to show you the regulated way. Number one and most important. Always wash your hands.”
Tara thoroughly scrubbed her hands, as did Lisa.
“We have a routine; feeding, playing, walking etc, obviously newborns have more specialised needs. We have to write a report on each baby we have in care every evening. The night carers and nurses do the same. Tonight, I’ll have you write some with me and then I’ll get you to submit your own the following nights too. Now, let’s start with Trent here.”
Tara noted the baby’s name on the little plague on the cot and made sure to remember to learn all of the others too. She was shown the right way to diaper, then to dress and feed.
It was more hectic than she imagined and saw Lisa had to write down carefully every little thing as she did it; some things being left to memory as she was called on to help.
She had the hardship of dealing with the colic-y screams of one baby, then the joy of introducing another to his new parents. The easiest part turned out to be writing up the report and she was thankful she’d been able to jot down a few things along the way to help.
She got a lift back with Carl, who gave her his card and took her number so they could arrange rides for the morning. She thanked him profusely and politely, then walked across campus to the dorm with a spring in her step.
When she walked in, Willow jumped up from the desk and came over to her eagerly.
“Hey!” she greeted, kissing Tara’s cheek, “How was it?”
A slow smile spread across Tara’s face, full of joy. Her cheeks were straining under the weight of it and flushed with happiness.
“I know this is what I’m meant to do.”
Willow was almost fit to burst with pride and relief, having spent most of the day anxious despite her positivity that morning. She flung her arms around her girlfriend and squeezed tight.
“Tara, that’s so great.”
She held on, wanting to convey just how happy she was.
“Told you. I told you!” she said, grin matching Tara’s, “Tell me all about it.”
Tara left her satchel down and sat on the bed to take off her shoes while launching into a detailed account of her day.
“…and I think they were kind of jealous I was getting rides with the hot guy.”
Willow’s body jarred a little from where she was standing in front of Tara.
“Hot?” she asked, voice rising at the end despite her best efforts to seem casual.
“I mean, objectively, he was hot,” Tara replied, cocking her head in thought, “I think. All the girls were looking. It was kind of funny actually.”
Willow chuckled awkwardly.
“Hot and good with kids, I bet he has the ladies lining up.”
Tara shrugged one shoulder.
“Probably, I didn’t ask. Shouldn’t assume actually, he might not even date women.”
“Oh, so he’s gay?” Willow asked, body deflating a little.
Tara looked up and quirked an eyebrow.
“I don’t know, but I am.”
Willow scratched the back of her neck, avoiding eye contact for a moment.
“Busted,” she said, offering a contrite and apologetic look, “Being silly. Still working on the whole jealously thing. Know I have nothing to worry about. My stuff, my insecurities, not you.”
“It’s okay,” Tara replied, standing and kissing Willow’s cheek, “I’m sure I have my own moments too.”
“Thanks,” Willow said, rubbing Tara’s shoulder affectionately, “Hey, let me take you out.”
“Where?” Tara asked, bouncing delicately from heel to toe.
“Wherever you want,” Willow replied, delighted Tara didn’t have her usual shyness around the idea, “That Chinese place you really like. Or somewhere else. Anywhere.”
“Let’s try somewhere new,” Tara said, going over to the closet, “What should I wear?”
Willow bounced over.
“Let’s get dressed up and everything. I’m so proud of you, I just have to show you off.”
Tara blushed but couldn’t stop her smile. She picked out a tight-ish, black, floral-themed dress with three-quarter length sleeves and went into the bathroom to shower and get ready. Willow found a greyish-green, patterned, long-sleeved dress that was flowed more at the sleeves and she hoped complimented Tara nicely.
Tara came out a little while later, dressed immaculately with just some light make-up and pretty pink lips.
Willow’s eyes nearly popped out of her head and she had to take a hold of the nearby chair to steady her knees.
“Whoa,” was all she could muster, but it was enough to make Tara smile coyly.
“If my legs will hold me,” Willow replied, still scanning Tara from head to toe.
Tara held out a hand for her to take.
“My hand will hold you.”
Willow beamed and took a firm hold with both hands.
“Then let’s go.”
- College Confidential (Chapter 67)