Author: Chris Cook
It is 5:42pm on a Friday night, and Rupert Giles has just arrived home, at number 14 Cedar Drive. He leaves his car parked in the driveway rather than the garage, because it's the kind of neighbourhood where it's safe to do that, and instead of going straight to the front door, pauses to reach into the passenger side and pick up a large box from the seat, which he holds carefully upright. Fumbling for his keys in his pocket with his free hand, he walks up the paved path towards the door, carefully avoiding treading on the lawn, despite the path having been overtaken somewhat by adventurous plants from the garden.
Inside the house, in the lounge room looking over acquisitions proposals from the museum she works at, is Joyce Summers. She doesn't particularly care whether Giles walks on the lawn or not, but as she glances out of the window and notices him conscientiously avoiding it, she chuckles to herself. Now and then she teases him good-naturedly about this, and other symptoms of what she calls his 'Britishness'. She, of course, is American, and this is one of the reasons their marriage is unlikely to ever become boring.
Upstairs, in one of the bedrooms, a fourteen-year-old girl is listening to a CD of medieval choirs, and deftly guiding Lara Croft through yet another labyrinthine tomb on her Playstation. Her name is Dawn, and her room is eclectic to say the least. One might wonder if she inherited half of her tastes from each parent, and this would be as good an explanation as any for the violin by her desk with a plastic lightsaber propped against it; the complete works of Shakespeare shelved next to her comic collection; or the bedspread with its cute little pink flower pattern, on top of which are strewn pyjamas with a chakram motif that indicate the wearer dreams of beheading warlords.
Dawn insists that all this is evidence that she's an astoundingly interesting person. Her half-sister prefers 'insane', but they do love each other. They're just that kind of sisters.
She's in the next room over, and the difference is apparent just from looking around. The seventeen-year-old's walls are covered with posters of various young men in various tight jeans and open shirts, her CD collection is aggressively Top 20, and there's something about her that suggests 'cheerleader', even when the uniform and pom-poms are in the closet as they are now. Her name is Elizabeth, though - for reasons which will never become clear - she goes by Buffy. Giles loves her like his own daughter, though he is in fact her stepfather, but swears that he'll give up tea before he'll call her 'Buffy'. She in turn takes after her mother in teasing him about his Britishness. Again, they do love each other, they're just that kind of father and daughter.
Buffy is on the phone at the moment, which is not uncommon. If it weren't for the fact that her room has a separate line, no-one else in the house would ever get a call. On the other end of the line is her best friend Anya. They're discussing the relative merits of David and James, and it isn't a discussion that's going to wrap up anytime soon.
On the bed behind her - bedspread stylishly scarlet with Japanese characters printed on it - is a cat, which opens an eye as Buffy disagrees loudly with Anya, then closes it again and returns to being serenely curled up with her tail over her face.
Her name is Tara, and this story is about her.
"Dawn?" Giles called as he closed the front door behind him.
"I'll call you back," Buffy's voice came from her room. The door opened and she leaned over the rail at the top of the staircase. "Did you get it? Can I see?"
"Back off!" Dawn insisted, ducking past her and taking the stairs two at a time.
"Hi Dad," she said as she reached the floor, "did you-" Giles nodded and glanced down at the box, which he had set down while he closed the door.
"The vet said everything is in perfect order," he said to Joyce as she appeared from the lounge room and gave him a quick kiss. Dawn rushed over and knelt next to the box, while Buffy followed in her wake.
Tara, wondering what all the excitement was about, slunk down the stairs in that slightly-accelerated way cats have of negotiating staircases from the top down. Buffy noticed her, and knelt down to stroke her fur as she wandered over to stand by her legs.
"Hey baby," she said, "your new friend is here."
"Cool," Tara purred. Buffy, hearing only the purr, nevertheless smiled, then turned her attention to her sister, who had opened the box and reached inside.
"She's so cute," she whispered, lifting a black and white kitten out and cradling her like a baby. The kitten blinked in the light, then began to purr as Dawn tickled her tummy.
"Have you worked out what you're going to call her?" Joyce asked.
"Miss Kitty Fantastico," Dawn answered promptly. She put the kitten down and lay down on the floor with her, giggling as the newly-dubbed Miss Kitty sniffed at her nose and then became interested in her own tail.
"Miss what?" Buffy protested. "What kind of name is that?"
"I can call her whatever I want," Dawn said, "Dad?"
"Miss Kitty Fantastic," he repeated in a monotone.
"Fantastico," Dawn corrected. Giles sighed theatrically, then shrugged and nodded. Dawn stuck out her tongue at Buffy, and turned her attention back to her kitten, who was now on her back trying to reach her forepaws between her back legs and corner her tail that way.
"This comes from your side of the family," Giles murmured to Joyce. She rolled her eyes and gave him a playful swat on the shoulder. Ignoring this display of parental affection, Buffy lifted Tara up and placed her closer to Miss Kitty, kneeling beside her.
"Do you think they'll get along?" Dawn wondered.
"I can't think why they wouldn't," Buffy said mock-seriously, "after all, we get along so wonderfully."
"It's okay Miss Kitty," Dawn said soothingly, "Tara hasn't picked up any of Buffy's many, many irritating qualities."
As the sisters traded good-natured barbs, Tara approached the kitten, who was rolling around on her back. She had managed to snare the tip of her tail between her two front paws, but seemed unable to figure out what came next.
"Um, hi," Tara said. Miss Kitty exploded into a microsecond-long burst of motion that ended with her lying on her belly, all four paws latched firmly into the carpet.
"...hi?" she said hesitantly.
"Oh..." Miss Kitty stared at her wide-eyed for a moment.
"And you are?" Tara ventured.
"Um..." Miss Kitty glanced at Dawn, then back at Tara. "Miss Kitty... Fantastico?" she said proudly, if slightly unsurely.
"Hello Miss Kitty Fantastico," Tara said, smiling comfortingly as she came a step closer. "Would you like to be friends?"
"Um... 'kay," Miss Kitty decided. "I gotta big name," she declared with a puzzled frown.
"That's okay," Tara purred quietly, "you'll grow up into a big cat one day."
"Oh," Miss Kitty nodded to herself, digesting this.
"How about if I call you 'Miss Kitty' for now?" Tara asked. "Is that okay?"
"Um... 'kay," Miss Kitty nodded again. She got to her paws and craned her neck forward, touching her nose to Tara's.
"You're nice," she giggled. She glanced back at Dawn, who was herself giggling at the pair of them. "'at's my person?" she asked.
"That's right," Tara said, "that's Dawn."
"Daaawn," Miss Kitty repeated, testing the name. "Oh... is Dawn your person too?"
"No, the other one's my person," Tara said, "she's Buffy. She's Dawn's big sister."
"Oh... does 'at mean... you're... my big sister?" Miss Kitty asked after a moment's thought.
"I guess it does," Tara smiled, sitting down. Miss Kitty considered this, then came closer and settled down next to Tara, rubbing her cheek against her and purring loudly. Tara grinned and began to purr herself.
"Welcome to the family, little sister," she murmured.