"Ah! Willow! There you are!"
Willow cringed. She'd been so certain that she had a clean getaway. Reluctantly bowing to the inevitable, she grinned weakly and accepted a peck on her cheek. "Here I am. I mean, uh, hello Mrs. –"
"Now, none of that! You must call me Aunt Penny! You're practically family, after all." The tall woman patted Willow on the head, as if she were three years old. "Poor child. It must be difficult being so far away from Ira and Sheila at a time like this."
"Well, actually Penny--"
"Aunt Penny," she corrected sternly.
"Actually, Aunt Penny, I'm fine. I'm great, as a mat—"
"Of course you are," she sang happily. "Poor child." Willow started to object, but Penny ran right over her. "I must say, I was quite surprised when Ira told me that his daughter was a… well… you know. What You Are."
"Lesbian," Willow gritted out.
"Yes. One of those. Anyway, I admit that I was surprised at the time, but you know how fond I've become of you ever since you moved to England."
"You've been very kind," Willow agreed. Penny might be the most annoying woman on the planet, but she did mean well. Willow just wished that she would send her well wishes in someone else's direction for a change.
"Nonsense," Penny huffed. "I know that if Steven and I had ever had any children, Ira and dear Sheila would have done the same for them if they had ever gone to America." Considering how little time her parents had ever had for her, Willow frankly doubted this assertion. "So when Sheila told me that your girlfriend recently left you, I just knew that I had to throw a party and see if I couldn't mend your shattered heart."
"That's really nice of you, but my heart isn't actually shattered. My breakup was sort of mutual. You see—"
"Of course it was! Poor child."
"Of course," Penny lilted again.
Not sure why she cared, Willow took a deep breath and tried yet again to set the record straight. "You see, Kennedy and I—"
"Oh, look!" Penny interrupted. "There's my niece, Judith." She sighed deeply. "Poor, little Judith."
Anxious to shift the conversation towards someone else, Willow scanned the room to find the new arrival. "Poor Judith?"
"Oh, yes. She's had two divorces, you know. Utter cads. She had a prospect for a third husband, a good one this time, but they recently broke it off." Penny gestured towards someone in the crowd while whispering conspiratorially, "The poor girl's nearly forty, and nary a chap in sight."
Incensed upon the mystery woman's behalf, Willow nearly snarled, "Maybe she doesn't want a chap. I mean, not all women want chaps. Pshaw on chaps! Pshaw, I say. Some of us don't want any chaps. Me, I like being chapless."
"Of course you do. Poor Willow." Penny missed Willow's outraged expression as she began waving her arms about and yelling out, "You-hoo! Judith! Over here, Judith!"
Willow finally located the woman in question, a pretty brunette with pronounced dimples. When she realized that she was trapped, Judith grimaced and straightened her shoulders as if going into battle. Willow liked her immediately.
"Hello, Aunt Penny," Judith said tightly. "Lovely party."
"Yes, it is." Penny smiled vacuously. "I want you to meet the daughter of an old friend. Willow Rosenberg."
"Nice to meet you."
Willow nodded, but before she could respond, Penny cut in again. "Willow doesn't like men. She's One of Those who don't, you know. Since you've had such rotten luck with men, Judith, I thought perhaps she might teach you how to be like her." Willow and Judith both stared at her in disbelief, but Penny remained as oblivious as always. "Ooh, look, Judith. There's your mother. How pallid she looks! I'd better go cheer her up. Well, ta-ta."
Before Willow could object, Penny disappeared in a cloud of "You-hoo, Jeans." She smiled uneasily at Judith and muttered, "Well. This is in no way awkward."
Judith shook her head, "I'm going to kill her one of these days. I've been saying that for years, but one day I really will."
"I've only lived in England for a few months, but I've lost count of how many times I've said the same thing."
Judith's eyes widened in surprise. "You're American."
"As the flag or apple pie," Willlow admitted. "Though I guess that isn't fair, since you guys have a flag too, and there's no reason to think that British people can't make apple pie. It's pretty easy, after all. Can you make an apple pie?"
"I've never tried." Judith grinned. "I'm just surprised. I didn't think Aunt Penny and Uncle Steven knew any Americans. They're not exactly world travelers."
"My parents spent a few years doing research over here before I was born. Don't ask me how they met Steven, because I have no idea." Willow smiled ruefully. "I'm not sure they've talked for the last fifteen years, but when I took a job for a company based in London, Steven and Penny suddenly became their best friends again."
"So you've only had to deal with her for a few months, then." Judith sighed. "Lucky you."
"It's been longer than that. I've worked for this company for a few years now. Before I got transferred to headquarters, the job required a lot of traveling and I finally got tired of it. I mean, yeah, South America's beautiful and all, but I just got tired of seeing a different corner of it everyday. Plus, my partner was also my, well, my partner-partner. When we broke up, it seemed easier for one of us to stay put."
"I'm sorry. That must be difficult."
"Not really," Willow said. "It was pretty mutual. We're still friends, just not naked friends."
Judith smiled. "I have a friend like that. I dated Alistair for two years, spent a year not talking to him, and now he's one of my best mates. My mother never knows where we are, and it drives her crazy."
"I heard that you were pining away for the lack of a chap," Willow told her with a sly grin.
Judith snorted. "Hardly. There's a lot of good in Alistair, but I far prefer the relationship we have now. He's a lot more considerate of his friends than he is of his… whatever I was to him."
"So that's it for romantic prospects for you?" Willow asked. "Giving up on love and all that?"
"Well, I have no intention of getting me to a nunnery, if that's what you're asking, but no, there aren't any other men on the horizon."
Willow thoughtfully considered Judith's kind smile and gentle manner. There was something about her that reminded her of Tara, and Willow realized that she would very much like to spend more time with Judith. "Does it have to be men?" she muttered to herself.
"Nothing," Willow assured her quickly. "Hey, listen. I hardly know anybody outside my office and I think it's time I expanded my horizons. Would you like to go to lunch with me sometime when we get back to London? Or coffee, maybe? Though of course, you might prefer tea, being British and all. Giles only drinks coffee when he wants to be tense and cranky, and that doesn't sound like a fun time. For you, I mean, 'cause I'm sure I'd have a good time if we…"
Judith gave her a speculative look, causing Willow to trail off in red-faced mortification. Clearly, she'd been far, far too transparent. "Never a Hellmouth around to swallow you up when you need one," she thought to herself.
"I don't know who Giles is," Judith finally said, "but perhaps you could tell me over coffee."
"Then you'd like to come, then?"
"Yes, I would." Judith smiled enigmatically. "I think perhaps it's time I expanded my horizons as well."