Buffy Summers adjusted her sunglasses over her weary eyes and brushed back a lock of blonde hair out of her field of vision.
The bright California sun shone through the slightly bug-splattered windshield of the car, and that, plus the bright sun, made it harder to see the winding highway road in front of her.
She sat in the driver seat of her late mother’s car with her sister, Dawn, sleeping peacefully on the passenger side.
Buffy took a quick glance over to Dawn and smiled tenderly at the teen.
Dawn would soon be starting high school.
Normally, this would be a joyous milestone in the life of a girl, but for the both of them it meant a pangs of apprehension.
Dawn wasn’t going to go to just any high school. When summer came to a close, she was going to be headed to the newly rebuilt Sunnydale High School, built on the same ground the old high school had been built on.
The same ground that contained the Hellmouth, a focal point of supernatural energy that served as a portal between the mortal world and Hell itself!
Buffy, her close circle of friends and her classmates barely survived their time taking classes above the Hellmouth and who knew what was in store for Dawn and the student body this time around?
Buffy took a deep sigh and pushed the disturbing thoughts out of her mind.
If she continued to dwell on such things, she would drive herself crazy.
Dawn was going to attend high school and she would just have to deal with whatever came their way.
But first, the both of them needed some serious time together as just sisters.
That was why this road trip was so important for the two of them.
They had been through so much the last two years. Yet another apocalypse foiled by the Scoobie Gang should have been enough to do just that, but Buffy finally found it in her heart to come clean to Dawn and admit all of her shortcomings
and apologized profusely for being so distant. Buffy smiled to herself, knowing that Xander had been the world’s true hero.
He had broken through all the pain, sorrow and evil that had turned Willow into a powerful dark witch, and brought his best friend back from the brink of destroying all of existence.
Buffy sighed; still believing she had a larger part in Willow going over to the dark side.
Never could she, or any of the Scoobies ever have envisioned, Willow of all people to go dark and almost end the world.
For the betterment of all concerned her best friend had left with Giles to go to England in an effort to purge all of the dark magic from her system.
Meanwhile back in Sunnydale, Xander was busy building the new Sunnydale High School, and could not have joined the two Summers girls on the trip.
It had disappointed Dawn but Buffy thought that this would be better, as the time together would give them a chance to bond while the Hellmouth simmered dormant for now.
Buffy’s thoughts turned back to Willow and how she must be doing in England.
She must be experiencing magic withdrawal. Between that, the profound guilt of going dark, the loss of Tara and not having her best friends around her for support life had to be very hard for the redhead.
Buffy hoped that Giles and the Coven of experienced Wiccas would support Willow while purging the evil magic out of her.
Through all of this, Buffy vowed that she needed to be a better friend to those that loved her and it all started with Dawn.
Being the slayer or not. She had to make an effort to be a better sister.
The soft beep broke through the low hum of the car’s engine, interrupting Buffy’s thoughts.
Buffy looked down at the GPS system resting on the dashboard as the screen went black for a few seconds.
Buffy forcefully tapped the device, careful not to break it with her Slayer strength.
The screen blinked to life again but flashed a repeated ‘Searching For Signal’ display.
Buffy looked around uneasily at the road and her surroundings.
She and Dawn had taken a shortcut a few miles back and she was worried that this new route would not be on any map.
Buffy read the customer support number while fumbling for her cell phone, but found to her dismay that she had no signal out in the middle of nowhere.
All of this, and the fact that for miles they hadn’t seen any signs of a town or rest stop worried Buffy.
The blaring horn awoke Buffy from her daydream. Instinctively, Buffy swerved the car back to her side of the road as the oncoming 18-Wheeler narrowly missed them.
Dawn’s eyes snapped open. Her head whirled around in time to see the truck speed past them, the horn still sounding.
“You might be the world’s greatest Slayer, but you really are not a very good driver.
You know this, don’t you?” Dawn said with an accusing glare in Buffy’s direction.
“After what we just went through, I don’t really want to become a crash test dummy.”
“Zip it.” Buffy said flatly. “We’re lost.
The GPS Giles bought us stopped working a few miles back.
What could I have been thinking when I let mister non-technology buy us something like this?”
“No big deal. Let’s just stop at the next gas station or restaurant.
I’m starving anyway.” Dawn sighed as she stretched in her seat.
“So besides you dodging semi-trucks, what else has happened since I went all sleepy?”
“Just a whole lot of nothing. Haven’t even seen a gas station.
Where could we be where there are no gas stations, Dawn?” Buffy asked, “No restaurants, motels, hotels.
Not even a biker bar for miles around. I’m starting to get the wiggins.”
It was then that a sign appeared in the distance. Dawn shielded her eyes against the sun and pulled her sunglasses down from the top of her head in time to read what the sign said.
‘Stepford. 20 Miles’ Dawn rolled her eyes in disbelief and looked at Buffy, who herself had a quizzical look on her face.
“Yeah, nothing out there but a town.
Now that is creepy.” Dawn laughed, while Buffy grimaced sheepishly.
The Slayer shook her head at her unfortunate timing and tried to shed off her awkwardness.
Nevertheless she was obviously feeling embarrassed and yet relieved at the same time that this town was just a couple of miles away.
For quite a while the girls talked about everything they could do while stopping in the town, and Buffy had to temper Dawn's youthful enthusiasm for shopping and even staying the night in a hotel since they had been driving for so long.
Finally, Buffy exited off the highway, onto a road that would bring them to the little town of Stepford.