Tara looked down at the freckled hand lightly clasped in her own. She smiled as she lifted the hand to her lips and placed a gentle kiss on the knuckles. The entwined hands dropped to her side and continued to swing as she walked along the shore with her love. Again, she smiled as she turned to look into the green eyes that had captured her heart so many years earlier.
Tara's heart leapt as she saw Willow return an affectionate gaze. Pulling gently on Tara's arm, Willow brought them to a halt and guided the other woman into her arms. The two stood, wrapped in each other's embrace, looking lovingly at each other. Tara felt weightless, as if she were floating, suspended above the rest of the world. Willow placed a light kiss on the tip of Tara's nose and took a breath before speaking.
"Tara, I lo-"
Suddenly, Tara was plucked from her spot above the clouds and unceremoniously slammed back into her seat. She blinked her eyes a few times before opening them fully and focusing on her surroundings.
"Ladies and gentleman, this is the captain. We're going to be experiencing a bit of turbulence as we approach California."
A bit?! My stomach is in my sinus passages and he says 'a bit' of turbulence?
"I've turned on the seatbelt sign and we ask that you return to your seats and buckle up at this time." The captain finished droning his obviously memorized speech just as the "ding" of the fasten seatbelt sign was heard.
Not being one for flitting about the cabin of a plane while in flight, Tara was already securely "buckled up." She removed the blanket she'd had over her legs and readjusted her paper-covered airline pillow to use as an armrest. Spotting a passing flight attendant, Tara waved her hand hoping for a little attention.
"Would you like me to take care of that blanket for you?" The flight attendant - Brigette, according to her wing-shaped nameplate - was particularly cheerful, causing Tara to internally grimace. She tried to not take out her fatigue on the unsuspecting woman and mustered a little of her own energy.
"Yes, thank you. And would it be possible to get some water please?"
"Of course. I'll be right back."
As she waited for her beverage, Tara looked out the window at the earth below. She could make out patches of farmland through the clouds and guessed they were over Kansas. Shouldn't be much longer.
"Here you go, ma'am. I brought you a full bottle rather than a little glass." Brigette winked at Tara and smiled.
Huh! Is she flirting with me? Tara took the bottle and gave the woman a small smile. "Thank you. How much longer until we land? I've lost track of time zones."
Brigette looked at her watch then casually leaned on the empty seat a row in front of Tara before answering. "Well, we're scheduled to land in about 2 hours, but this bumpy ride may slow us down a bit. So my guess is 2 ½ hours."
"Well, after 19 hours on planes and in airports, 2 ½ more doesn't seem like much. Thank you." Deciding to avoid giving Brigette more encouragement, Tara took a drink from her water and turned back to the window. Brigette seemed to get the hint - shrugging as if to say "can't blame me for trying" - and moved on to help other passengers.
Tara stared out the window, watching as the farms below gradually gave way to mountain ranges. Close...I'm so close. She'd been anticipating this trip for 8 years...8 long, lonely years. But now that she was just a few hours from her destination she felt anxious. Who am I kidding? I'm scared...just plain scared.
There were so many "what ifs" Tara kept playing over and over in her head - what if Willow wasn't there? What if she'd misread Willow's letters all these years? What if Willow wasn't the same person? Well, of course she's not the same person, stupid. She's an adult now. I'm not the same person either. We've gone to school in different countries, had different experiences. Of course she's changed. I wouldn't expect any different from Willow.
Tara reached into the carry-on bag at her feet and pulled out a well-wrapped bundle. Setting the item in her lap, she gently removed the protective covering to reveal a beautifully hand-painted picture frame. She looked at the picture under the glass and smiled. Since neither of them was fond of having her picture taken, they had exchanged only one picture in all of the 8 years they were apart. Willow sent Tara a picture of herself and Buffy on the day they graduated from high school-each with one arm wrapped around the other, diplomas held in their free hands, mortarboards askew, each looking as though they were ready to conquer the world. What am I going on about? No matter what, she'll still be my Willow. Tara traced the outline of Willow's features lightly with her finger. She didn't need to look at the picture to see Willow's image in her mind. It had been set in her memory for the last 4 years, happily mingling with images of Willow from a time years earlier. Tara's gaze returned to the window at her side as she remembered.
Tara walked slowly through the field as she made her way to their special place. On any other day, she would have been running through the tall grass. But this day was not any other day. This was a day she'd never thought would come. Her brow furrowed as she considered how she would say all that needed to be said. A familiar voice brought her out of her thoughts as she approached the large, stately oak in the center of the field.
"Hey, Tara! C'mon, hurry up! Today is the day I beat your record, Missy!"
Tara looked over to see Willow sitting on the makeshift swing hanging from the tree's strongest branch. The redhead grasped the ropes tightly and pushed off the ground, setting the swing in motion.
"Willow, can we just sit down for a while? I kinda need to talk to you."
Willow immediately stopped pumping her legs and dragged her feet along the ground. She hopped off the swing and turned to her friend with a concerned expression.
"What is it, Tara? Is everything okay?"
Tara hesitated and looked down at her hands, which were currently fidgeting with the hem of her shirt.
"C'mon, Will, let's sit down."
The girls moved to the base of the large oak and sat. Tara patted her lap and Willow happily put her head down and looked up at her friend. Tara was looking rather blankly at the swing her father had helped the girls hang years earlier. It still swung slightly from the gentle breeze and seemed to have a hypnotic effect on Tara. Willow finally broke the silence that hung heavily over the two friends.
"Tare? What is it? There's something wrong. I can tell."
Tara blinked a few times and then looked down at her friend. I've never been able to keep anything from her. She knows me too well. She smiled at the concern...and fear?...she saw in the redhead's deep green eyes. The prettiest eyes in the world...and they see right through to my soul. Tara's eyes glistened with the tears she fought so hard to keep back.
Her suspicions confirmed, Willow sat up quickly and reached for Tara's hands - she needed to comfort the blonde, but also needed the contact to calm her own rapidly beating heart.
Understanding Willow's intention as soon as the redhead began to move, Tara quickly pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs; she bowed her head so that her blonde hair covered her face - she drew into herself, feeling undeserving of the comfort her friend offered. This did not go unnoticed by Willow.
"Tara, please, tell me what it is. You know you can tell me anything." Willow spoke softly. She pushed aside her own bruised feelings when Tara pulled away and offered support to her friend.
Tara continued to fight back the tears as she raised her head to look at Willow. She tried to speak, but stopped before any words came out - her throat clenched and she held back a sob. This is so hard. Finally, she took a deep breath and tried again.
"Daddy got promoted."
"Tara...that...that's great! Good for your dad!" Willow noticed that Tara didn't seem to mirror her own excitement. "I'm all with the ‘whoo hoo' here...and you're...well...not. Aren't you happy for him?"
"Oh yes! I am. I really am. He worked hard to get this promotion. It's been his dream." But it's not my dream.
Willow could hear the pride in Tara's tone, but missed the undercurrent of sadness.
"So.... what does that make him now? An admiral?" Still bubbling with excitement for Tara's father, Willow flounced back down and placed her head on Tara's lap again.
Tara let a small giggle escape as she marveled at her friend's innocence and poked her playfully in the ribs. "No, silly. Admirals are in the Navy, not the Air Force. He...He's been promoted to Colonel."
Willow smiled as she looked into Tara's sapphire blue eyes. "Well," she bubbled, "this must be a really great opportunity for him."
"Yes...it is." Tara sounded less enthusiastic, but this went unnoticed by the redhead.
"So, what's he gonna be doing now? Something secretive and mysterious? All cloak and dagger like in the novels?" Willow asked as she waggled her eyebrows.
"Will! You're such a goof!" Tara couldn't help but chuckle slightly at her friend's behavior. Her grin soon faded as she once again remembered the task that lay before her.
"Yes, but I'm a lovable goof, " Willow stated with a quick nod and a self-satisfied smirk.
"This is true." And you'll always be my lovable goof, Will...always.
"So, c'mon, Tare...what's he gonna be doing? The suspense is killing me!"
Tara glanced at the field of wildflowers gently swaying in the breeze, absentmindedly playing with Willow's red locks. After a few moments - and a gentle tap on her knee from Willow - she gathered enough courage to speak.
"Command Surgeon at Ramstein Air Force Base." Again, Tara struggled to hold back her tears.
Willow jumped up from her place on Tara's lap and knelt in front of the blonde, bouncing with enthusiasm. "Wow, Tare! That's GREAT! Go, Mr. Maclay...actually, that should be Go, Colonel Maclay! Ramstein...that's in Germany, isn't it? I remember it from that Iron Eagles movie we watched...which was okay...but I don't think it was very realistic, do you? I mean...pfft...a 17-year-old flying a jet to the Middle East and blowing things up? Right! But...Germany! Wow! When does he leave? How long will he be there? Will he be gone as long as he was when he had to go to Iraq? I bet you and Donnie are really gonna miss him. Will you get to visit?"
The redhead finally ended her torrent of questions as she began to feel herself getting dizzy from lack of oxygen. She sat back on her heels and took a few deep breaths while looking at Tara expectantly, waiting for the blonde to answer her questions.
Tara was dumbstruck. For a few moments she just stared at her effervescent friend. Did she really say all that without taking a breath? That had to be the longest case of Willow-babble ever...and the cutest. Finally tuning into the fact that Willow was awaiting answers - answers that she did not want to give - Tara pulled herself out of her stupor and took a deep breath; she prepared herself for what was to come. Her eyes were firmly fixed on her hands, which were fidgeting in her lap.
"Um, yes, Ramstein is in Germany. And, uh, I didn't think Iron Eagles was realistic either. Daddy leaves in a month and he's going to be gone a long time." Tara took another breath and then looked directly into Willow's sparkling green eyes. Oh, God. This hurts. "And I won't have to visit him...because...well...I'm going too...all of us...the whole family." Tara couldn't hold back the tears any longer. "Oh, Will, we're moving away...to Germany...in a month.... and I don't know when I'll be back!"
Tara's eyes shimmered with unshed tears as she continued to gaze out the window. The mountains were slowly giving way to desert; she knew they would be landing soon.
I'm coming back, Willow. I'm coming back. Please be there.