The moment Willow stepped through the doors she was nearly bowled over by her Husky puppy. He started wagging his tail with such enthusiasm that his entire back end wiggled back and forth, and he crowded her legs and licked her hand when it strayed near. She looked at him and laughed; his paws were big and ungainly, and every movement he made screamed of his puppishness, even though he was as tall as her knees.
His eyes were the most remarkable blue
set inside his white face blazed with black on his forehead. One ear was folded over, and his nose was wet and cold. Willow didn't care a snit about her clothing; she went to her knees to give him a big hug, rubbing his back and then thumping his rump.
She finally hauled herself to her feet and slid out of her shoes. The puppy ran in front of her, then behind her, not quite sure where in the huge house they were going. "This way, Jupi," she announced as she headed down a hallway lit with precious naphtha, where paintings hung every ten metres lit by soft spotlights. Caravaggio, Monet, Blake; Willow paused as she often did at the painting Whirlwind of Lovers.
(Tara had naphtha lamps
and her lips were)
Willow shook her head as she entered her dressing room. It was almost large enough to get lost in, walls for shoes, endless drawers for her jewelry, long mirror gilded closets for her clothing. As she entered the room, it automatically lit, and the computer screen became active. She tapped the vid and it scrolled to a picture of the outfit she was wearing; there was a low hum, and a closet door slid open, showing her the precise spot where she had taken the clothes she was wearing.
Jupiter wiggled about her legs as Willow stripped her clothing off. Wrinkling her nose at the smell, she tossed them into the laundry chute instead of replacing them in the closet. Then she stripped off her lacy bra to have it laundered; the room was a perfect 21 degress Celius, but still her breasts pebbled in memory. Clad only in panties, she moved to the computer again. A few quick taps called up the appropriate screen; a new closet door slid open.
Willow pulled on a sport bra, a pair of yoga pants that clung to her shapely muscles, followed by a white tank top. She whistled to Jupi as she left the room; the lights automatically dimmed as she left.
Next stop was the bathroom, the clawed tub in the corner, the space lit again with creamy and expensive naphtha. Only the upper classes could afford naphtha; the lower classes had to make do with electricity or oil. Filling the basin with water, Willow combed her hair and remembered the soft touch of Tara's fingers. Tying her hair into a ponytail, Willow started to wash the makeup from her face. Before the cloth touched her lips, she stopped. She touched her lips with her tongue and left them unwashed.
Barefoot with Jupi at her side, she wandered into the kitchen. Miss Calendar was in there, humming to herself as she read from a textbook and stirred a pot on the stove. Willow grinned; she must not have made any noise to alert Jenny of her arrival.
Jupi soon did it for her. He tried to run to the chef, but his paws slid and scrabbled on the polished tile floor. Jenny looked up and smiled, both at the dog and at her employer. "Can I get anything for you, Miss Rosenberg?" the woman asked.
"I can manage fine, thanks," said Willow as she made her way into the spacious kitchen. This most beautiful of rooms was laid against the back of the house; Willow could watch the sunrise over the trees of Miller's Woods. "What are you reading?" Willow asked as she opened the fridge. It was fairly bursting with food; Miss Calendar cooked for the entire household. The smell coming from the pot was incredible, synergistically mingling with the smell of fresh bread in the oven.
Taking out a bottle of spring water, Willow leaned against the counter, sipping slowly to counter the aching coolness of it. Last thing she needed was a water cramp just before training.
"Something Giles lent to me," Jenny said, flipping idly through the pages.
(It's no CS Lewis, though, is it?)
Willow tried to force her attention back to the present
(white tea and jasmine)
as Jenny went on enthusiastically about the shamanistic rites of the Tartars.
(think of Buffy!)
"They do it when you're conscious, you know," Jenny concluded.
Willow blinked her eyes. She had zoned out for a moment there and didn't catch what Jenny was speaking of. "I'm sorry," Willow apologized. "I guess the listening comprehension part of my brain went to Florida for spring break. I'll just courier them back home and you can repeat what you just said."
The dark haired gyptian smiled. "Trepanning. They do it when you're conscious."
"Trepanning? That's all with the wooden drills and the chanting and the deliberately inflicted holes in the skull, yes?"
"You're right," Jenny replied.
"And they attach some sort of mystical importance to this ritual? I mean, hopefully they do it for more than a token paragraph or two in some book."
"It's a whole chapter."
"Well, that makes it all right then."
(Tara's hair smelled like honeysuckle. Why did she behave the way she did after we...)
"It says that only the most powerful of shamans are allowed this rite. They do it to communicate with the gods."
"Uh huh. I guess heaven is a little remote for a cellular signal. They should just try a new interlink program before they go around boring holes in their heads. I'm sure there must be some site on there that proclaims to send messages to God. I mean, if it works enough to send messages to Kris Kringle it should work to send messages to God."
Jenny smiled, but it was a little sad. "Neither of which you really believe in, do you?"
Willow stared at her water bottle as Jenny's cheeks coloured. "I'm sorry, ma'am," the woman said, her voice trembling. "I had no right..." "It's okay," Willow said shortly. She glanced at the horloge on the wall. It had been built in the seventeenth century by a blind monk, all of pulleys, springs, and gears. It had cost her two million dollars.
(God died with Buffy.
There wasn't a lot of time before the Armsmaster arrived.
"What's for supper?" Willow asked, as much from curiosity over the embracing smells, as to change the topic.
"Manhattan clam chowder and fresh bread," Jenny replied, just as happy to get on a safe topic. "Probably an arugula salad on the side."
(what does the apothecary eat?)
"Arugula," Willow snorted. "It sounds like a sneeze."
"I can change it, Miss Rosenberg," Jenny started, but Willow immediately shook her head, controlling an inward sigh.
"It will be fine, Jenny," she said. Tipping the bottle, Willow drained the last of her water. "Keep Jupi up here again, please. He can get rather distracting." She mock-glared at the puppy as he perked his ears at his name.
"Of course, ma'am."
Willow could have slumped. She hated being called ma'am. She addressed her staff by their first names, and all of them save Giles reciprocated in kind, at least most of the time. For some reason no one referred to her steward as Rupert. He was as tight lipped and straight-laced as any Briton had a right to be, what with all the scowling and polishing of glasses and brewing of teas. No wonder Britons made the best stewards.
(the best armsmasters)
His first day on the job he had actually ironed her newspaper before giving it to her, just to get rid of that bothersome crease. She had laughed at him, and told him to never do that again.
That was back when she used to laugh.
Willow put the empty bottle on the counter; Jenny would put it in the recycling. Beyond Jenny Willow could see through the impact-proof windows, see her gardener at work in the orchard, the wall of trees surrounding her estate, all glowing with the vibrant Californian sun. She almost regretted having an appointment with the Armsmaster, but
(better safe than sorry)
Willow would never be caught by surprise again. That night had been so perfect, with the crickets and the jazz and the vastly bloated moon. There was marzipan on her tongue, its taste magnified by the jenniver wine. If only she had been more careful, if only she had trained harder, if only
(wishes and buts were candy and nuts
don't think of Persia, either)
Willow turned to leave and for a moment Jupi gambolled next to her. There was a quick whistle from Jenny, and the puppy turned around, slipping again on the smooth tile, likely to gobble whatever treat Jenny had in her hand to coerce him away.
Willow wasn't sure she wanted to eat anything tonight; she might lose the taste she had on her lips right now. She touched her lips with her tongue, remembering. A fluttering obsidian butterfly took up residence in Willow's chest as she briefly thought about Tara, about their
(I give it with a kiss)
Hopefully night would come soon. For the first time in months, Willow looked forward to the silken sheets of her bed. She would focus on the kiss, and not on the closed off and hostile face of the apothecary she saw afterwards.
(was it me? Am I a bad kisser?)
Tonight she would dream of better things
(of puppy dog tails, and bright berry pails, and glittering butterfly wings)
Ten thousand dollars.
Once upon a time it had taken her an entire year to save that amount of money. Willow was no foreigner to the steely clink of rupahs, to Nipponese ramen noodles, to impudent and garish furniture. Back then she dreamed of traveling to Lapland, and Nippon, and the Arctic, each destination as impossible as the other.
Each conquered by the time she turned 28 years old.
Why did she give Tara fifteen, when all Tara wanted was ten?
And was that all that Tara wanted?
Walking through her house to her dojo, her yoga pants whisking with every stride, young and confident and strong in her tank top, Willow finally touched her lips with the tips of her fingers. Then she ran her tongue over her lips, her stride growing a little slower.
(She didn't kiss me.)
It was the only way, Rosenberg. You wanted a dream, remember? You told yourself you would do anything to get it. Even walking into the bank and withdrawing twenty thousand dollars. Even choosing the sedan over the Rolls. Even ignoring Giles' protests.
(I kissed her.
and I loved it.)