Xander was standing in front of a large display of teddy bears of varying hues and sizes, scratching his chin contemplatively. Dawn stood beside him, arms crossed over her chest in that time-honoured pose of retail boredom. She'd agreed to go to the mall with him, to help him select a Valentine's gift for Anya, and God was she regretting it.
When it came to Anya, one thing held true: if the gift was expensive and ostentatious, Anya would love it. Simple, really. But Xander was agonising over the selection of stuffed toys and had narrowed it down to two choices. The first was a chocolate brown bear holding a pink frilly heart embroidered with the words "be my Valentine" and the other choice was an insufferably cute white bear with a similar heart, reading "for my girlfriend."
"What do you think, Dawnster?"
Both just as lame and barf-inducing as each other, Dawn thought, indulging her mean streak. Instead she gave a weak smile and shrugged. "The white one looks a little too rabbit-y with those ears. And she's your fiancee not your girlfriend. I don't think she'd be too thrilled about the distinction, y'know."
Xander's expression was one of wild-eyed alarm. "Good point. Brown one it is. Back in two shakes of a rabbit's . . . whatever."
He snatched the teddy bear off the shelf and headed for the cash desk, deluged as the sales assistant was with customers already. She had that slightly crazed look that people in retail get, as if she was ready to snap any second and pull a shotgun out from under the cash register.
While Xander joined the line and disappeared from view, Dawn peered around furtively, hoping that no one she knew was in the store. There was nothing worse than being caught in the act. Satisfied that the coast was clear, she slinked down the aisle towards the card section.
She came to an abrupt stop when the twinkle of glitter caught her eye. A small card, heart-shaped, shimmering with sequins. Picking it up, she looked inside. It was blank. She glanced up the aisle again, making sure that she wasn't being watched, then in one quick movement, she shoved the card inside her denim jacket. It wasn't her fault if nobody caught her, really. . .
Sauntering nonchalantly back to the front of the store, she joined Xander in the line, which hadn't seemed to move. He flashed a grin at her. "I think she's really gonna love this. At least I hope so. I could do without vengeance demon nostalgia. Thanks, Dawnie."
"How about you? Any lucky guy on the receiving end of the Dawnmeister affections this year?"
"Are you kidding? Most guys my age are gross."
Xander patted her on the shoulder in sympathy and she smiled a secret smile, crossing her arms protectively over the card, careful not to bend it.
Grabbing her terrycloth bathrobe with the tear at the hem (Miss Kitty liked to swing on the robe when Tara wasn't looking)and her toiletries bag, Tara padded towards the dorm room door. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and took a moment to scratch Miss Kitty's neck as the cat rubbed against her shin in greeting, before returning to its warm space on the unmade bed. As she opened the door, she noticed a red envelope sitting on the carpeted corridor floor.
Curious, she picked it up and opened it. A card, shaped like a heart. The sequins and glitter on the front caught the morning light and reflected dazzlingly. Inside, two words were inscribed in big, bold lettering. "Guess who." A smiley face beamed back at her from inside the 'o'.
It wasn't Willow's handwriting, of that she was sure. Puzzled, but flattered, she gave the card pride of place on her bookshelf, next to a lucky charm her mother had given Tara when she was a little girl.
Looked like today was going to be a day of firsts. She'd never had a secret admirer before.