The house was full of Tara, everywhere she went. The couch cushions she'd bought that summer, a bottle of nail-polish no-one had thought to throw away, a photo she'd taken of Dawn sticking her tongue out at the camera, a dent in the table from where she'd dropped the lasagne, a novel left half-finished, a window no longer cracked, the mail put in the wrong place because she wasn't the one putting it there, a space where candles used to be… everywhere, everything was full of Tara, repeated Tara, sang Tara, and Willow would be stopped and stand still, remembering.
This time it was a brownish, still-greasy circle, permanently staining a page.
She'd opened the book looking for something else – not this, never this – but somehow her hands had taken over from her brain and she'd ended up on this page. This page of Tara.
Willow closed her eyes.
"No, see, you have to whisk the egg whites until they're fluffy. That way the bubbles end up bubbling up the batter, too – which makes it all much yummier."
Half-laughing protests from Dawn. "Yeah, but it doesn't say that. Not anywhere."
Clanking sounds as the whisk swishes round the sides of the bowl. "I know. But my mom taught me this way – and it really is yummier." A soft smile. "Will, can you get out the syrup?"
"Okay. Syrupy goodness coming right up."
Third shelf. On the right hand side, next to the flour.
"What's the point in using the recipe if you're not actually going to, you know, use the recipe?"
"We are using the recipe. Just with different eggs."
"What about the extra oil? And you've totally changed the amount of milk."
"No I haven't."
"Yes you have! See – it's right there: one cup per– ack!"
"Well, see, now I can't read any of the ingredients at all."
"Uh-huh. That was my plan – you know, so you'd have to trust that I'm getting the recipe right."
A grin. "So, did your plan include getting pancake in my hair?"
"Of course. It tastes much better in hair. See, you lick it…"
Giggles and more pancakey splashes, and then Dawn picks up the bowl and–
Willow looked up. Dawn was standing in the kitchen doorway, smiling tentatively.
The page was still stained with Tara's clumsy pancake stirring. She ran her finger along the edge. "Oh, nothing."
A moment of nothing, and then Dawn was sitting next to her. "Yeah?"
Willow swallowed. "I was going to make muffins."
Dawn glanced down at the cookbook. "Oh."
"We've been mostly using pre-made mix. Pancakes are kinda hard to get right."
(A splash. "Uh-huh. That was my plan – you know, so you'd have to trust that…")
Funny. It had been just another morning, at the time. "Too many lumps of flour?"
"Uh-huh. And they don't just stir out, either."
"Nope. Flour's stubborn like that."
Dawn's voice was gentle, waiting. "Tara was pretty good at them, though."
"Yeah, she was." Willow lifted her eyes from the page. Dawn was watching her, carefully. "No-one's mentioned her… since I got back."
"We haven't, have we?"
"I think we just… It's too…" A frown. "I guess we don't really know what to say."
Silence fell; the two of them sitting there, wondering what would come next. And she was right – it was hard to know what to say.
It was strange, how they'd bought the recipe book so Dawn would be getting proper home-cooked meals instead of constant pizza, and then ended up cooking pancakes much more than anything else. Not really that nutritious, in retrospect…
"I'd better go get started on my homework. I've got way too much to do."
"Uh-huh." Willow blinked, and managed a smile. "Yeah – you'd better do that. What is it?"
"Uch – geography. So very pointless. We have to write an essay on life in Russia."
"Well, that… could be interesting."
"It's not like I'm ever going to go there." Dawn sighed. "Homework, and then more homework. It never ends…"
"Oh well. Have fun."
"I'll try. Oh… and Willow?" She paused in the doorway, suddenly serious again.
"I miss her too. Tara. And I'm really sorry."
Willow sat, still, unmoving – as Dawn walked back over and gently planted a kiss on top of her head. A whispered "It's going to be okay," and she retreated to her bedroom.
She really was growing up fast.
Willow's eyes turned back to the pancake recipe, still – forever – stained with old pancake mix, eggs well whipped for extra flavour.
Any minute now, she'd turn the page, and start making muffins.
Any minute now.