“Things are going well, huh?” I whispered at Willow as I curled up in Spike’s recliner with a big mug of coffee. Spike was sleeping in the next room. (We both had a Saturday off, which was a luxury.)
Willow emitted a happy sigh and had the goofiest look on her face – a look I always associated with Willow-in-love. Last time I saw it was with Tara and before that with Oz. My friend was beyond due in the love department. “So well.”
“I’m happy for you! How is the. . . you know?” I widened my eyes for emphasis. Willow had pulled the trigger sans Barry White a few weeks ago, but I hadn’t asked her about it in a while.
Her response was immediate. “It’s good.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Just good?”
Willow seemed suddenly shy but admitted, “More than good. I thought that. . . well, I thought I couldn’t go back. . . to boys, but well, it’s Oz. And well, I think maybe only with Oz.”
I grinned. “I get that.”
“I’m also really loving Falls Church.”
“I’m assuming it’s a city and not a church.” Willow had never been particularly religious. “Where Oz lives? In Virginia?” I didn’t know too much about Virginia, having only been to Norfolk. “And you’re close to Xander.”
Willow was glowing as she gushed. “Yeah. It’s close enough to Richmond that I can go into the city for some sisterly bonding. They have a thriving Wiccan community and some really powerful witches. I went the other weekend; they were welcoming and super excited to learn about the English coven and what I learned there. Plus, Richmond itself has so much history. So much supernatural history. And Falls Church is close enough to the open country that Oz can run wild if he feels the wolfie urge.” Oz could still control himself during the full moon if he wanted. “And seeing Xander is just like a little bonus. I didn’t realize how much I missed him, and he’s totally crushing on Carrie. He needs to make a move already.”
A wave of nostalgia, homesickness, and jealousy rolled over me. “Wow. Sounds pretty perfect.”
I couldn’t help but smile at my friend as she leaned dreamily into her palm. “Yeah.”
Oz’s face suddenly appeared over Willow’s shoulder from where she sat at the kitchen bar. His face was seemingly timeless with only an extra wrinkle or two around the eyes, presumably from smiling a lot. Today, his hair was black and spiky with electric blue tips. “Hey, Buffy.”
“Hey.” I waved at him. “What’s up?”
“Heard my name. You guys talking about me?”
I shrugged. “Well, yeah.”
“In a good, cool vibe kinda way?”
Willow kissed his cheek and then gave his face a little playful shove. “Of course! Now, go away. It’s girl time.”
Oz moved right back into place and nuzzled her temple. “I’m headed to the grocery store. Need anything?”
She smiled over at him. “Some hummus and those almond crackers.”
“Got it.” He gave her a very Oz smile, which she returned with a schmoopy one of her own.
As he walked away, Willow perked up and turned toward him. “Oh! And ice cream!”
I could barely see Oz in the distance, but he said, “Text me the flavor.”
“Thanks! I will.” Willow’s mouth pushed to one side, and I could tell she was contemplating flavor choices. “Mint chocolate chip. Edy’s.”
“Mint chocolate chip. Edy’s,” he turned back and repeated. “Love you.”
Willow’s neck turned red, and she covered the blotchiness with her free hand. “Love you, too,” she called with confidence despite all signs pointing to embarrassment.
Now both my eyebrows were up. “Ohhhh. The L-word.”
My friend rolled her eyes at me as Oz exited the room. “Okay, okay. Let’s change the subject back to you. You got the genetic results back yesterday.”
“Yeah.” The results had come in at nine days rather than the 21 that Rachel had quoted me. I’d used my phone calls with Willow as a nice distraction but hadn’t really explained to anyone how excruciating each of those nine days was. Some moments I felt okay, but other moments, I felt like my heart was swelling inside my chest, and my stomach would drop in panic. Then, when I did get the phone call from the doctor, I’d called Spike in on the phone, so he could hear, too. “We have two embryos with all the little chromosomes in place.”
“Only two of the six?”
“Yeah.” I sighed. Both were the higher-grade embryos: the day five and six 5AA’s despite the prediction that they might not be.
The line of concern appeared between Willow’s green eyes. “And that’s good, right?”
“I was hoping for more. It’s not that I want more than one kiddo necessarily. I just wanted more chances in case something went wrong.” Saying this out loud made my breath catch in my throat for a moment.
“What did the doctor say?”
“He was hopeful. He has a lot of hope for us. He’s all with the hope.” I had been, too, on the phone with the doctor, but now, I was anxious again.
“His hope didn’t exactly bring you hope.”
“Right, and he’d predicted we’d have more normal embryos given my age and Shane’s age.”
Willow’s eyes were full of sympathy, and I suddenly wished that they weren’t. “Did the doctor say why you didn’t get more?”
“Think it has to do with. . .” Willow trailed off and then, asked, “Think it has anything to do with the resurrection? I mean, after what Tara found with the cell stuff?”
I shook my head. I didn’t need Willow feeling guilty for something that probably wasn’t a factor. She’d already beat herself up too much about what happened so long ago, and these days, I was grateful to be alive. “No,” I said firmly. “Honestly, Wil, I think IVF’s a lot about luck of the draw. I feel good knowing that we went to a really good place, and we have two little frost babies.”
Willow hesitated, but she went a different direction than self-punishment. “How does Spike feel about it?”
“He’s more excited than me, I think.”
“Really?” Willow took a sip of her own coffee, which reminded me to take one as well.
The hazelnut-flavored liquid was still hot on my tongue. “Yeah. I’m not sure why. I mean, I should be ecstatic, right?”
Running my finger over the rim of my mug to wipe off a drop of coffee, I put my thoughts together. “I think I’m just exhausted.”
Willow was quiet for a moment as she studied my face across the airwaves. “It has been quite a journey for you.”
I nodded. “For me and Spike.”
“For you and Spike. It makes sense that you’re exhausted.” Willow drank from her cup again. “You should give yourself a break.”
“This whole thing has been a roller coaster, and we did take a break. Spike took me to dinner, and we went slaying. There were beignets.” The memory of the mountains of sugar made me nostalgic. What made me even more nostalgic was holding Spike’s hand as we walked through the Quarter after a good slay. He’d even indulged my wish to have fortune told by one of the group of soothsayers and psychics that camped around the Cathedral at night. They lured in tourists for readings and for the first time, me. The lady who ran her rough fingers over my palm and squinted at the lines in my hand wasn’t very good; she just told me that my life would be dramatically changing. Could she have vagued it up anymore?
“And when was that? Months ago?” The image of Willow jerked and blurred as she got up from her seat and headed into her kitchen.
“I guess you’re right.” I leaned back a little in the recliner, propping the warm mug on my stomach.
Willow rummaged around in the pantry as she talked. I heard a Tupperware lid unseal. “What about Slayer self-care? Isn’t that in the handbook somewhere?”
“Which one? The old one or the one we wrote with Giles?” There was no Slayer handbook. It’d all been a big running joke until Giles and the rest of us who were in Sunnydale (Xander, Willow, Dawn, Faith, Robin, and I) wrote one after the collapse of Sunnydale. There were whole sections on how to identify the individual, personalized thing that kept each Slayer going. (For me, it was anger and passion; for Kendra, it was her Zen.) There were chapters on using proper slaying technique, researching, and accessing the Slayer senses by Giles with a few additions by me. There was a section on forging relationships as a protective factor with warnings about the forces of evil being insidious and prone to interfering with group dynamics. Faith may have snuck in and mostly written the initial draft on self-care. Willow later modified the chapter and added more on actual self-care beyond just “blowing off steam” after a good slay through partying and sex.
“The one that actually exists.” Willow put a large chocolate chip cookie between her lips, clicked the lid back in place, and shut the cabinet with a clunk.
“You mostly wrote that chapter.” I stuck my bottom lip out at her. “Did you make those? I want one!”
“Wish I could give you one.” She poked the cookie at the screen. “And I did, and it’s a very important chapter!”
“If only I had a copy, I’d read the whole thing,” I joked, turning on my side on the chair’s gentle, cushiony incline and setting my coffee on the lampstand.
“I can email you one.” The screen shifted again as she found her way to her sofa and settled down, all while juggling her phone, cookie, and coffee.
I frowned. “I wasn’t serious.”
Willow’s resolve face was a force to be reckoned with all on its own. “I was. I am.”
“Fine.” I chewed the inside of my cheek. “Spike and I have plenty of vacation time saved, and we do have a week before we have to start prepping for the transfer.”
Willow wasn’t caving; her jaw was still set. “Good. Transfer?”
“That’s what they call putting the embryo back into my,” I circled my finger at my abdomen even though Willow couldn’t see it, “uterus. It’s called a frozen embryo transfer. F.E.T. Little embryo reunited with me. Then, he or she just has to snuggle in.”
She took a bite of cookie, chewed and swallowed, and then said, “He or she will definitely want to snuggle in. You and Spike will make good parents.” Her unequivocal acceptance of Spike still felt new despite the years that had passed.
I smiled, letting myself feel a little bit of happiness. It was hard to. “I hope so.”
“Now, back to vacations.” Willow sure was persistent.
I sighed. “A weekend away does sound nice, but we don’t have the money with all the travelling we’ve already been doing and the medical bills.”
“Don’t worry about that. Remember, I work from home, making an excellent salary for an IT company. I don’t spend my money on anything really. Name the place, and it’s done.”