“Hey Willow, what are you doing?”
Willow slams her laptop shut, glancing up at Tara. “Oh, nothing. Just a project. For class.” Internally, she winces. What else would a project be for?
“Oh, the one for English?”
“Yeah,” Willow lies. She’d really been researching a project of her own after an offhand comment about new criteria for autism diagnosis had been mentioned in psychology class. Her interest had been piqued, to say the least.
Tara sits down next to her, clearly intending to stay. Normally this would thrill Willow. Today, she’s nearly jumping out of her skin with tension. She had picked the lobby to do her research because almost no one ever stayed there – and because her roommate was currently holding a party that was probably breaking a number of laws, as well as Willow’s eardrums – but she hadn’t counted on seeing someone she knew – let alone someone she liked. A lot.
“Which book did you pick for your project?” Tara asks, tucking her hair behind her ear and smiling faintly at Willow.
“Um…Sense and Sensibility?” Willow says, hoping that it was on the list.
Tara nods. “That’s a good choice.”
“Yeah…I’m just getting a head start, you know?”
Tara smiles again. “I should probably do that, too.”
“Okay!” Willow says, thinking that Tara means she’s going to go work on her English project now. “I’ll see you later.”
“Actually I came to ask you something,” Tara says, ducking her head slightly. Willow feels her heart rate speed up. “I found a new spell, and I was wondering if you wanted to try…”
Willow practically feels herself deflate. “Tara, I’d love to, but…”
“T-that’s okay,” Tara says quickly. “I’ll see you around, Willow.”
“Tara, wait—” Willow begins, but Tara is already gone. She sighs and hopes Tara will understand once she explains. And she will explain. She just needs to figure some things out.
She considers opening her laptop again, but at this point her research has hit a standstill. Reading lists of diagnostic criteria feels like reading a description of herself, but they mostly all say the same thing and she’s not sure how much more she’s going to learn today. She’ll have to look elsewhere.
She’s already checked the school library, but all the information on autism is either outdated or briefly mentioned in larger psychology texts. She’s combed the most recent edition of the DSM for the slightest mention, with no more results than what she found online. Asking her psychology professor is not an option – it would only lead to awkward questions.
That leaves one option: Giles. It’s not his area of expertise, per se, but Willow is sure that if anyone knows more on the subject (or any number of other subjects), it’s Giles. She just has to work up the courage to ask him.
She glances at the clock – not too late to call him, but she still hesitates. Finally, before she can overthink it any more, she grabs the phone.
“Hi, Giles, it’s Willow.” Somehow, she manages to keep her voice normal-sounding, or at least she thinks she does.
“Oh, hello. What sort of creature is roaming the campus this time?”
“Nothing that I know about. Actually, I wanted to ask about something for a project.”
Giles sighs in a way that’s more fond than annoyed. “Willow, you know I shouldn’t be helping you with your homework anymore. College is a time for you to learn to do more independent research.”
“No, I know, and it’s not for school. It’s a…personal project, I guess.”
“Ah.” Giles sounds more interest. “Well, I’ll see what I can do.”
Willow takes a deep breath. “I’m, well, I’m researching autism. Diagnostic criteria, different forms, that sort of thing.” There. She said it.
“Really? How fascinating. You know, in my day everyone thought it was the mother’s personality that caused any type of social impairment – or, well, just about anything actually. It was all completely false, but of course they weren’t looking into genetics and all thought it was the same thing as schizophrenia. You might look into diagnostic history, it’s all quite interesting, as well as, um, horrifying. How did you become interested in the subject?”
It’s harder to lie to Giles than to Tara. For one thing, it’s pointless – Giles can always tell. Instead, Willow avoids the question. “I didn’t realize you were an expert on the topic,” she says. “As well as, you know, vampires and werewolves and stuff.”
“Yes, well, it’s something of a personal interest, actually,” Giles says.
Willow sits up. “Really?”
“Yes. As I said, diagnoses were often – frankly – entirely wrong when I was young, and certainly far less common than they are now. But I’ve always had my suspicions – about myself, you see.”
“Me too!” Willow bursts out. “I mean, only as of yesterday. But that’s why I wanted to know.”
“Ah,” is all Giles says.
Willow starts babbling. “I know I’m not a psychologist or anything, but it just sounds a lot like me, you know? And I thought if I did some more research…”
Giles, thankfully, interrupts. “Willow, you know yourself better than any psychiatrist. With a bit of research, you might know a good deal more about autism than most of them,” he adds dryly.
“Really. If you want them, I have some books you might find useful.”
Willow smiles in relief. “Thanks, Giles.”
She hangs up, full of nervous energy. She needs to tell the Scoobies at some point, but first, she needs to tell Tara. Also, she really does need to do her English project at some point.
She knocks on Tara’s door, hoping that she’s home and not mad at her.
“Hi, Willow.” Tara doesn’t seem angry, which Willow takes as a good sign.
She practiced what to say in advance: “I’d really love to try out that spell with you, but first I need to tell you something.”
“Okay.” Concern flashes across Tara’s face. “Come on in.” It’s blissfully quiet in Tara’s room.
“I wasn’t really working on my English project earlier,” Willow admits as she walks in, twisting her hands together. Tara frowns.
“I’m sorry for lying, I just needed to figure something out first before I told anyone.” Willow paces as she works out exactly what to say next. “See, my psychology professor mentioned something about autism in class, and it sounded really familiar, so I was doing some research. And there’s this thing called self-diagnosis, and I was thinking—”
“You—you’re autistic?” Tara interrupts, looking at her incredulously.
“Maybe?” Willow says.
Tara beams at her. “I am too. W-when I was younger, after—after I got my powers, my dad took me to a psychiatrist.”
Willow stops pacing. “Really?”
Tara nods. “I think it was the only diagnosis they got right.”
Willow can’t help herself – she has to hug Tara.
Tara is surprised, but hugs her back. “Thanks for telling me.”
“I’m glad I did,” Willow replies. “I’m glad I’m not the only one.”
Willow goes to Giles’s house the next day to get the books, and she brings Tara along. Actually, Tara wanted to go almost as much as Willow. She imagines the rest of the afternoon spent in Tara’s dorm, reading the books and practicing spells. It sounds perfect.
“Hello, Willow,” Giles says. “I expect you’re here for the books. And who’s this?”
“This is Tara,” Willow says, glancing over. Tara nods. “She’s autistic, too.”
“Ah. Nice to meet you, Tara.” Giles offers his hand, which Tara shakes, smiling. “Come in, both of you.”
Now Tara looks over at Willow, exchanging another grin before they walk through the door.