"Ladies, shall we? Time is music, music is time..." The pianist with the bad attitude looked down his nose at them, unnecessarily tapping his watch to prove his pointWillow realised she wouldn't have time to tell Tara how wonderful she had been earlier.
"I need to tell you something later, but we better get on with it, because that one thinks he's the king of the world," Willow huffed as they went into the rehersal room. The singers went up to the grand piano and started to get ready for the first scene from the second act.
"I thought we might also take the opportunity to rehearse the first act aria properly, Miss Rosenberg," since this was suggested by Mr Giles.
Willow felt her stomach clenching and suddenly had a bad taste in her mouth.
"Yes of course, if he thinks so," she stated with a chill to her voice. She tensely tried to smooth out the creases on her brow with her fingers. Tension was always bad for singing.
"Are you ok?" Willow turned to meet Tara's concerned gaze.
"Yes, of course!" She realised that she had snapped at her, so she bent over and whispered: "Truth is, I hate that aria and it gives me the creeps. Please don't tell anyone..." She flashed Tara a self deprecating smile.
"Your secret is safe with me. I'm like that with the Seguidilla from Carmen," Tara whispered back conspiratorially.
They both smiled. Willow looked into Tara's kind blue eyes and felt suddenly calm.
'Oh, my, she is large with the looks, isn't she...' the soprano thought to herself. 'Sandro is surely going to fall for this one...If Anja doesn't catch him first, that is!' she thought ruefully.
She suddenly realised with surprise that she didn't like the idea of Sandro hitting on Tara. Could she still have feelings left forhim even though their short fling, and her crush on him, had been over long ago? She shook the thought and decided that the best policy right now was to make sure that she didn't panic in the middle of Un bel di.
She almost missed her first entry, being so wrapped up in the gorgeous sound of Tara's voice close to her ear. She wished intensely that she wouldn't have to sing herself. She just wanted to stand here for hours and listen. Her singing teacher had sometimes let her lean her head on her back when she was singing, to demonstrate how the sound should both feel and sound on the inside. She wished that she could have snuggled up to Tara in that way. She wanted to get as close to this voice as possible. So close that she would be able to feel it in her own body...
Snapping back into reality, she tried to concentrate on her own part. It went better that she had dared to hope for. She noticed with contentment that their voices blended perfectly together.
She was just starting to relax as the accompanist suggested they'd move on to the big aria. With a sinking feeling, she realised that she hadn't sung it with anyone but her singing teacher since her infamous graduation concert. She breathed deeply and tried to block everything out but her own voice.The first part went ok. Tara stood by listening, quiet as a mouse.
Willow couldn't even hear her breathe. As she came closer to the place where she always failed, she temporarily lost control of her breathing and felt the quality of her voice drop.
"Stop, please", she told the accompanist curtly. "I need to do this part from the beginning".
She started over, but again felt the nervousness get the better of her. To her utter amazement, she suddenly felt a soft touch.When she looked down in confusion, her fingers were being entwined with the white, elegant digits of Tara Maclay. The mezzo looked up at her with an expressionless face, but her hand squeezed Willows firmly and encouragingly. It felt wonderful. Willow had no idea that she had needed reassurance this badly. She pulled herself together and regained control of her breathing again. When she neared the feared crescendo she tightened her grip on Tara's hand almost to the point of pain, but the other singer didn't seem to mind. She just looked attentively at her. Willow sang the notes clearly and brilliantly, making the top resound with a crystal clear radiance.
When she had stopped singing, she couldn't bring herself to let go of Tara's hand. She knew that she ought to, but she felt so safe and warm holding it. Not just that, she could feel her whole body tingling with physical awareness. Tara didn't seem to want to let go either. They looked at each other and then down on their joined hands, but neither spoke. They rehearsed a few more things from the first act, and Willow sang better than she had for a very long time. Tara's mezzo surrounded her body like a warm, comforting cloak, making her feel slightly light-headed, as if tipsy fromthe sound. All through this, they kept holding hands. Willow knew in her head that this was strange and should feel awkward, but it just didn't. For once, her inner voice didn't send out any alarm signals. After the rehearsal was over and the reluctant letting go of joined hands, they sat down on the little sofa in Willows dressing room and talked.
"My first singing teacher used to do that when I was little," Tara explained about the handholding.
"She used to pretend that she could transfer her knowledge to me by doing it whenever something seemed difficult. Silly, I know, but I thought it was kind of comforting. I hope you don't mind".
"Of course not! You saved my day... How old were you when you started singing?"
"I've always been singing. My mother was a singer and she taught me. Well, she wasn't a professional singer, she just sang in the kirk at home, but she was very good, almost as good as you. I think she was better than me, but she never had a chance to sing for real."
"Tara, frankly, I don't think anyone could be better than you," Willow said earnestly.
"That's very n-nice of you... But Mr Giles didn't seem too impressed," Tara said, hanging her head.
"Are you mad? He absolutely adored you," Willow said emphatically.
"Very good" he said. That's code for 'barely adequate', isn't it," the mezzo said resignedly.
"No..." Willow said soothingly and put a hand on Tara's knee. "Very good" is Gilestalk for 'Totally, utterly, frickin' brilliant!" Willow assured her. "Trust me; I've known him for years! Anyways, since I heard it too, I can only swear to you that it was the best Dalila ever..."
"You listened?" Tara looked up from behind her hair and met Willows eyes. Willow looked into the little lakes of azure and started when she realised she was supposed to give an answer.
"Eh, well, eavesdropped, actually. Not in a creepy-stalkery-gonna-boil-yourrabbity- kind of way, though, you know... Well, you just have to suit yourself for singing so well," she said with a feigned pout. Tara tried to hold back a giggle.
"I saw the shadow of someone skulking behind a pillar. Good thing I didn't know it was you or I would have been even more nervous... Did you really like it?"
"Like isn't the word, Tara. I loved it." She realised she still had her hand on Tara's knee and removed it with a slight sense of confusion. The atmosphere seemed to thicken somehow. They were quiet for a few moments.
"Maybe we can start a mutual fan club, then, since your recital in Edinburgh was the best concert I've ever been to," Tara said, and the tense moment was gone.
"Only if I get to be president," Willow answered promptly.
"You can be president of the Tara Maclay branch. I'm president of the Willow Rosenberg branch," Tara said in a mock serious tone of voice, with a feigned upper class accent.
"And what about that repetiteur! What's his problem, you think? Oedipus complex and bed wetting issues?" Willow suggested wickedly. Tara laughed happily at Willow's bad joke.
As they left the opera house together, Willow suddenly realised that everything just might be ok. Butterfly might be ok. And just maybe life would be as well. For the first time since Oz left, she felt that life might be ok. She stopped abruptly, closed her eyes and turned her face up towards the blazing August sun. She felt her spirit rise like a fiery angel into the sky and up through the atmosphere. She thought to herself that if she opened her eyes, she would see the world beneath her as the tiny defenceless globe it really was, but she herself would be gigantic and awesome. She heard the faint movement of wings behind her. The universe was in her hand, all because a Scottish mezzo had decided that she needed her hand held during Un bel di... She turned to Tara and embraced her tightly.
"Thank you!" She said earnestly.
"For what?" Tara said, puzzled.
"Everything!" Willow said happily. She couldn't very well tell the truth, now could she? She held Tara close for a little longer than what was strictly polite, but she couldn't seem to care.