The squat pen rests. I'll dig with it.

Tara's feet are freezing. That's only to be expected, since she's huddled barefoot on her sleeping bag, while June Lynn Barran holds Tara's fingers over the plastic planchette of a Milton Bradley ouija board. June Lynn has fleecy bedsocks and Hello Kitty pajamas, but she doesn't seem to notice that Tara's wearing an old sweatshirt of Donny's over a Sears nightgown, so Tara doesn't mind. Besides, the other fifth graders in the Barran's basement have to hang back and watch. It's Tara who's been chosen to ask the ouija board a question. It's Tara whose fingers June Lynn is touching. It's Tara who feels the warmth of those (smooth, uncalloused, tipped in pink polish) fingers so thoroughly she doesn't mind her frozen feet.

June Lynn rests her palm on the back of Tara's hands and raises one eyebrow. "So, Tare, I want to know which boys wanna date me. Make it tell me." Tara looked up from their joined hands (palest cream on tanned and slightly sallow, touching in so many places), and the planchette doesn't move. June Lynn's hands squeeze, just a little. "Come on, Tare. You musta learned from your mother how to make this thing go. Do some witchy thing."

Tara contemplates being hurt, but then June Lynn might notice and take her hands away. On the other hand, Momma'd be real PO'd if Tara faked magic. So she laughs (studied, but trying real hard to sound natural, and laughing she won't stutter) and moves the planchette all obvious-like, making it real clear she's not doing magic.

J - A - S - O -

The girls all smile and laugh and cheer when Tara spells out Jason Randolph's name. If June Lynn is disappointed that Tara doesn't do real magic, Tara can't tell; she's looking at their joined hands and not at June Lynn's face. After a moment, June Lynn laughs, too, and squeezes Tara's hands more kindly. The jolt shoots all the way down to her feet, and she's no longer cold at all.

It's junior year, and Tara hasn't been so happy since she was little. Back when she didn't know it was strange and secret to make sparkles in the air, back when her daddy ignored her. She doesn't stutter much anymore, mostly because she has friends, sorta. Well, a few friends, and plenty of people who don't mind if she sits at their lunch table. She's quiet enough, and she thinks she's getting pretty, and nobody minds having the witchwoman's daughter on their side. Ethan Gregory asked her to the junior prom, which was so sweet of him, honestly it was.

Better, Dad hadn't let her go with him. "No daughter of mine is going to be whoring herself at a glorified orgy," he'd said, and Mom had soothed him down as only she could.

"Oh, Richard, let her go to the dance, at least. Mrs. Curzon will be chaperoning, and you know they can't get up to anything under her eye. Lord knows we tried, at our dances, and I swear she was 90 then, too." Mom smiled a secret private grin at Dad that made Tara a little sick.

Dad softened, but only a little. "I still don't want her going on dates at her age," he insisted.

"Well," Mom had answered, "let her ask one of her girlfriends. Then she'll be safe, and still have fun." Dad came to grumbling acquiesence, and Tara's hopes rose in a horrifying bubble of could it work? and maybe, her mom -- Mom winked at her while Dad poured himself a new cup of coffee. She winked. Like she knew. She knew. Oh...

But Tara wasn't going to worry about it now. Now she was hiding out behind the gym with Diane Gregory, Ethan's twin sister. And Diane's right hand is warm on Tara's breast, coasting lightly over the Gunne Sax knockoff she wore, sending shocks of heat and want and need and more right down to her core, making dampness pool between her thighs and flecks of light sparkle off her fingertips. The dampness is moistening Diane's knee, insinuated up under the satiny skirts of Tara's prom dress, and the sparkles are glimmering behind Diane's lips and cheek and happily grinning teeth as she runs lips and tongue over Tara's index finger. Light trickles out Diane's lips, cascades down her throat, and pools merrily in the hollow of her collarbones. Tara has to take her eyes off the tip of Diane's tongue teasing her finger just to watch the glowbugs she's made dance against Diane's skin. They call her with their play of light and shadow to put her mouth right there, and she sucks warmth to the surface like it's sustenance, because it is.

Diane's lips pull on the finger in her mouth and grinds her knee upward and moves her right hand just so. And Sheri Lynn Greerson comes running back behind the gym, averting her eyes from their warm tangle but calling, "Tare! Come quick, it's your mother. Tara!"

Tara hadn't thought she'd come from such a small town as all that, and Sunnydale was certainly no metropolis. But the girls here are different from the girls at home. The boys, too. She hasn't met many boys, but she doubts any of them would invite you to prom just so you could get it on with their twin sisters. She'd figured that the witchy girls would be like her, but nobody here makes sparkles when she's happy -- if these sour neopagans can even feel happiness.

She's started stuttering again. Why she keeps going to the meetings she'll never understand. She tells herself Mom would have wanted it that way -- she'd always been religious, and had wanted Tara to be, too -- but Mom would have wanted her to stay back home and not endanger strangers when the change came. After a while, she stops thinking about it.

She doesn't look at faces anymore. What's the use? She has nothing to say here.

One day a new girl comes. Tara won't look at her face, but her hands are smooth, uncalloused, palest cream. Tara thinks about covering those hands with her own and placing them over a ouija board planchette. She thinks about spelling out letters.

T - A - R - A - M - A - C - L - A - Y

And she thinks about heritage and demons and corrupt DNA unraveling in cursed strands, A with T, G with C, wickedness with evil. She thinks about the death of innocent strangers with cream-pale hands, and sparkles trickling still out of Diane Gergory's lips while Tara whirls in slow motion toward Sheri Lynn Greerson and the end of the world.

She ducks behind her hair, and looks only at hands.