She wished that she could close her eyes and everything would be different. That the world would stop moving so fast and all would be normal again. But that was impossible, and she knew it. She knew that nothing would ever be the same again.
How could she begin?
Tara ducked her head as if willing herself invisible. But she wasn't invisible to Willow; perhaps it was Willow who was invisible to her. The doctor watched as Tara remained silent while her eyes took on a distant stare.
The blonde young woman seemed to shrink under the gentle curiosity of Willow's gaze. She had tried so hard not to forget and yet as the red-haired woman patiently waited beside her, forget was all she wanted to do. Willow had helped her, saved her, could she lie? Could she go back to hiding within herself where the corners of doubt bound her to the darkness?
Fear crept into Tara's thoughts as the weight on the bed shifted and Willow moved her foot underneath herself, turning to fully face the blonde.
Looking up, briefly, Tara saw compassionate green before staring at the floor.
"It's okay. You can tell me," Willow whispered, understanding Tara's hesitance and silently berating herself for her previous forcefulness.
Could she really tell? Could Tara really put words to what she had done? And would Willow believe her sorrow? A flash of green tried to quell her doubt, but to no avail. Tara's heart pounded as her slender frame breathed heavily. No, the words, though uttered with genuineness, would merely fade as Willow learned what the confession truly meant?
"I," the doctor began, "I don't know what you're going through, but I understand that you're afraid. I can help you if you would only t-."
"Are you awake, Willow?" Soft, cautious knocks echoed against the closed door. Robin put her ear closer to the wood, listening for any signs of movement. Just as the prosecutor turned to leave, the door creaked and her roommate stuck her head out to confirm that she had heard something.
Opening the door wider, the redhead stepped a little into the hallway. "Hey," Willow's facial expression was one of exhaustion but her eyes seemed lively, contrasting against the lines of concern.
"I interrupted, didn't I?" Robin noticed the slouched figure of Tara sitting on the bed. It was no secret that she had the worst timing, and she would be the first to let everyone know.
"It's okay," the doctor briefly glanced back into the room, "What's up?"
"Giles is on his way over."
"What? How do you know?" Willow nibbled on her lip nervously. The last thing she needed was for her mentor to stop by, especially when it seemed as if she were finally getting somewhere with Tara... well, sort of.
"He called to see if we were home then he told me he would be stopping by," Robin's gaze switched from the hunched over body in the room to her best friend. "He didn't say why, but he sounded like he wanted to say more."
Willow sighed heavily, staring off into some unknown place. He was her mentor, thus she always felt the need to never displease him. Sure they have had their ups and downs, but he was like a father to her. Fathers and daughters always disagreed about certain issues. But how would Giles react to her... recklessness? She mentally envisioned what word he would use.
"How do you want to handle this?" The prosecutor asked, noticing her roommate's contemplative expression.
"When he gets here let him inside," Willow ran a hand through her hair, "I'll be down in a little while."
Nodding, Robin pulled the door shut and jogged down the stairs to meet Giles who, she was sure, would be there soon. As if his punctuality was synchronized with the lawyer's mental clock, the elder doctor arrived five minutes later.
"Morning," he smiled brightly once the door had been opened and Robin let him inside. Stepping into the foyer, Giles removed his gloves and looked around himself. "Is Willow still asleep?" In mock disapprove, he glanced up the staircase.
"No, she's..." there was no need to finish as Willow trotted down the stairs.
"Hey, Giles," the red-haired woman cast an anxious look toward her best friend. "Do you want some coffee, I can make-."
"No, no, I'm good." He checked his watch, "I haven't much time," he said and looked at her somewhat expectedly.
Robin and Willow looked at each other, both unsure of what to say. When it was clear to the older man that neither of the young women was going to speak, he spoke up. "Haven't you heard the news?"
"Giles, look, I-," Willow began, fidgeting slightly.
"It's wonderful, isn't it?" Barely containing his excitement, the older man's eyes resembled those of an excited child. I received the letter yesterday and," he paused, realizing how foolish he must look with his hands thrown every which way as he spoke, "...and I want you to come on board with me as a co-writer."
The redhead's eyes widened with relief and confusion. It took her a moment to search her brain, but when the answer came, she smiled, "The research grant?"
"Yes, I-," Giles stopped abruptly as if listening to something, "Is there someone upstairs?" Footsteps padding on the ceiling had caught his attention.
"Oh! That's..." Willow's face darkened. Robin cleared her throat as her eyes shot around the room nervously. No matter how much older they grew, Giles still had the ability to make both women act as guilty as teenagers who had just skipped school.
Giles misinterpreted the blush on his protégé's face and noted the skittish way in which Robin's eyes scanned every item in the room. He, in turn, blushed as well and immediately removed his glasses, rubbing the glass and straightening the frames. "Yes, well, uh ... what do you think? Are you interested?"
"Could I..." the soft thump of footsteps on weak spots vibrated against the ceiling, "could I think about it?"
"Of course," Giles smiled but he couldn't stop from frowning too. He had expected Willow to jump at such a great opportunity. "I should be going," he checked his watch again. "You two, er," the older doctor glanced up the stairway, "girls, have a nice day."
Robin closed the door behind him and having been silent the majority of the conversation, she blew out a relieved breath and cast a sideways glance toward her best friend. "I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop."
"Maybe he doesn't know. He would've said something if he had known, right?" As if seeking assurance, Willow gave her roommate a fleeting look.
"I suppose," Robin shrugged, apologetic that she couldn't give more of a response. Willow moved toward the stairway, convincing herself that Giles didn't know about Pines View, "Has she said anything?"
Turning, the doctor frowned. "It's all confusing. I mean, there are times when I think she's perfectly fine and then something happens and she's... lost." Willow turned her eyes toward the ceiling, "I want to know what's going on so bad, and it's frustrating."
"Maybe," her best friend sighed, sympathizing with the redhead's feelings, "maybe it would be best if you slowed things down a bit and focused on one problem at a time." Licking dry lips, the prosecutor went on, "Is there any chance that someone would come looking for her here? Considering that you were her doctor and technically the last person to see her other than the hospital staff."
"No, no one knows. I don't think," the redhead frowned, "and there wouldn't be a reason. I had already told them everything... before I found her."
"What about her parents? Someone she trusts?"
"She has family listed in her records but no contact information," Willow pushed her hair behind her ears and leaned back against the banister. "Honestly, I wonder if they even care about what happens to her."
Stepping closer to gather her wistful friend into a hug, Robin smiled reassuringly, "You care, and that's all the matters right now."
Grateful for the comfort, the doctor shrugged, "I only want to help her. I'm not doing anything special."
"I'm sure she doesn't believe that," the dark-haired young woman released her best friend. "And neither should you, Willow." She playfully poked her roommate.
Attempting to lighten the mood, the prosecutor rubbed her hands together, "So wants for breakfast... um, lunch?"
Mortified, Willow slapped her forehead, "How stupid can I be? Here I am, whining about my problems and Tara's probably upstairs starving to death. Oh, geez," groaning she shook her head at her own thoughtlessness.
"Don't worry, I'll whip something up real quick," Willow followed her as she moved toward the kitchen, but before the redhead could speak, Robin silenced her with a knowing look. "And no... I won't be making my 'guess-the-meat-casserole'. Now, go."
The red-haired doctor rolled her eyes before heading upstairs.
She found Tara sitting on the bench built into the base of the windowsill. The doctor had often fallen asleep there while reading, and seeing how 'at home' the blonde looked, Willow smiled.
Tara slightly turned her head upon hearing the sound of Willow entering the room. Having toned out her surroundings, the former patient hadn't heard the conversation that took place downstairs. The ash-blueness of the sky relaxed a part of her while the other half remained desolate.
"Are you hungry?" The soft voice behind her asked.
Was she hungry? The question seemed foreign. After living a scheduled life for so many years, it had been so long since she had been asked a simple question about herself.
Willow regarded the young woman as she gazed out at the blue-black sky. Pale and clothed in white, the blonde reminded her of a broken Angel painted against a dark canvas.
"The food should be done soon," the doctor smiled when Tara glanced at her from over her shoulder. "But you probably want to shower first... uh, n-not that you smell or-... I'll get you some clothes." Willow finished, stupidly. What was up with the sudden bumbling fool syndrome? The redhead disappeared quietly and returned after a few minutes with a pair of Robin's jeans and a tee shirt.
The silent blonde followed her down the hall to the bathroom door where Willow stopped awkwardly. Blushing, the doctor spoke, "Just pull the lever on the side of the faucet down all the way... it's sort of tricky. We'll be downstairs."
Given back her old freedoms, Tara closed the door behind herself.
With a brief look back, Willow descended the stairs and joined her roommate in the kitchen.
Robin stopped sucking on her thumb, which she had burnt during cooking, and watched her best friend wordlessly settle into one of the stools. She heard the shower going and guessed the obvious, but something else had been bothering her since her and Willow's short conversation earlier.
Closely watching her friend, the prosecutor asked, "Has she told you why she ran away yet?"
"No, not yet. Everything's sort of been put on hold," Willow shrugged, "I think I may have been a little forceful earlier."
"You mean persistent," Robin corrected. She knew her best friend and she knew that Willow, once her interest was piqued, would stop at next to nothing until she was satisfied with an answer. The old Willow she knew would still possibly be grilling Tara for information. And yet Robin couldn't help but to respect the new Willow sitting across the kitchen. The Willow that learned to back down when it was necessary; she loved them both.
"She... she put herself into that place, Robin," the deep confusion in the doctor's green eyes was clear to the other woman. "There are reason's why she left, I'm sure... but why had she stayed? If she really signed herself in, like her file says, then why stay? Why not just check yourself out?"
"Hun, your guess is as good as mine," the dark-haired woman rounded the counter and leaned back against the wooden island to face Willow. "Even if she had checked herself in, once she's in there, she's in the hospital's care. Technically, it's up to them to decide whether or not they want to release her, and whether or not she is sane enough to be let back into society.
"So basically, she gave up her rights... her thoughts and actions belong to them," angered by her conclusion, Willow blew out a frustrated breath. "This is so..." her words faded.
"Willow," empathetic, the lawyer paused, carefully choosing her words, "you know that it requires a certain degree of competence to petition for release. They're not going to let just anyone walk up to them and say 'I want leave'."
Robin took a quick glance toward the stove before continuing. "I'm sure a lot of requests have been made, but because Crazy John checked himself in, doesn't mean they're going to immediately unlock the doors for him. If they feel that he's not yet ready for the 'real world', they can keep him right where he is no matter what forms he may have signed."
Willow's logical mind completely agreed with Robin, but a different part of her clashed with her brain. "It doesn't seem right. It's not prison and they have no right to decide her freedom."
"No, but remember that if they had released her and she went out and did something illegal or harmed someone, they could be held liable," the prosecutor continued reasoning with her best friend.
"There has to be some sort of test though, something to determine whether she's sane or not." Frowning, the doctor muttered, "I'm obviously not doing the best job." Both were unaware that the shower had stopped, too lost in the deadening silence of the house to notice the lack of noise as if they were inside of their own bubbles.
Robin silently watched as Willow picked at the cotton table cloth. Lately it seemed as if all of Willow's self-doubts were surfacing. She couldn't fault the redhead, having been in similar situations, but she hated seeing this side of the young doctor. Willow had always been the strong one, alert, persistent... her rock. There was always so much hope within Willow's eyes, although it was often shadowed by the doubt.
"You're doing what you believe is right, Willow." Robin broke the silence, "Good or bad, you're following your heart, and if you believe, even the tiniest bit, in what you're doing... that's really all the matters." The young woman finished, sincerely.
The red-haired doctor was silent for a moment as her mood shifted a little. She believed in what she was doing, what she could do. Tara was counting on her, wasn't she? Why else would she have put so much faith into her? She didn't have all the answers and probably never would, but that wasn't going to stop her from doing what was right.
Willow grinned, "You know, it is frightening when you're this insightful."
"I've been working on it," smiling, Robin winked. "So no more of this 'I can't do this, I'm not good enough' crap, or I'll really scare you with my newly found wisdom."
The doctor rolled her eyes but chuckled. She was about to speak again when she caught Tara standing in the entrance to the kitchen. "Hey," she whispered.
Confused, Robin followed the redhead's gaze. When she saw the young blonde standing in the doorway, she smiled, wondering if Willow planned to say more than "hey."
It was strange, of course, to have her roommate's former patient standing within her kitchen, but she didn't want to scare the poor girl. With a friendly smile, she said, "Come on in."
Taking the invitation, Tara slowly moved toward the table where Willow was sitting. The doctor gave her a smile, which the blonde returned carefully as if the gesture was unfamiliar. Sliding into the seat, Tara rested a hand on the counter to steady herself.
When the food was done, they ate in silence.
Donald Maclay greeted his guests with a thin smile that never met his eyes. The sermon the he had recently finished had drawn a large crowd of supporters and the preacher couldn't be happier with himself. Shaking hands with the men and giving the women and children a brief nod of acknowledgement, Mr. Maclay excused himself, his attention fixed on a man in the far corner of the room who had been signaling for him.
The guests continued talking amongst themselves while the older man made his way to the opposite side of the church.
"It's Donnie, Father," the man said once the preacher was close enough.
Cold, gray eyes bore into a small picture hanging on the wall as Donald spoke into the telephone, "Well?" He said with his back toward the scattered group of people.
"You won't believe what a few bucks will do," the younger man chuckled. "I even-."
"Get on with it, boy," impatient; Donald Sr.'s tone wiped the smirk from Donnie's face.
"We're an hour away," Donnie glanced down at his beat-up, plastic watch.
"Good... good," the preacher nodded.
Donald Jr. frowned, "Why can't we just leave her there? It's been more than five years, and besides, she's probably a vegetable anyway."
"Tara belongs at home with her family. We'll be taking care of her from now on." Donald said, watching as some of the churchgoers began to leave.
"But you were there when-." The younger man decided to stop any further protest.
Gripping the receiver, the reverend whispered, harshly, into the telephone, "I don't want to hear from you again until it's done. Do you understand me?" An answer wasn't required as he hung up the telephone.
Donnie's jaw tightened as he slammed the payphone back onto its hook. Muttering under his breath, the young Maclay ran an angry hand through his dirty blonde hair as he stormed back to the truck.
Returning from her morning errands, Paula started a pot of coffee and settled into her favorite reclining chair. Switching on the television, the older woman flipped through the channels uninterestedly, sighing ever so often. The red dot on her answering machine flickered steadily and went unnoticed by the former nanny.
While the strong aroma of coffee filtered into the living room, Mrs. Evans found a semi-interesting channel, the local news, and paid little attention as the broadcasters recited their memorized lines.
"...and now it's time..." The words melted. Meaningless.
Time moved so quickly within the small living room. The coffee beans had turned into grit and Paula's limbs thickened with numbness while the evening sky darkened with rain. Pulling a small booklet from its place beside the chair, the former nanny quietly read over the pages.
Across town a battered truck pulled into the Pines View parking lot. Exiting the vehicle, the two men strolled up the main path where they were met by a burly security guard.
"I need to see some identification." His soft voice startled the two young men, but they flashed him their ID's. "What's your business here, gentlemen?" The guard suspiciously eyed the two.
"Uh, I'm here to see my sister," one of the men answered. The officer cut his eye to the other young man.
"She's my cousin," he answered, lamely, knowing that he should never have agreed to the plan. All they needed to do was convince the doctors that Tara was okay to be released into her family's care... or something like that.
Anyone who saw them could tell that they weren't the brightest people ever put on the earth. They were never going to be able to pull it off.
The guard studied the cards, checking for bumps in the plastic where one picture could have been placed over another. Finding nothing, he stepped aside. "Continue down the hall, you'll be coming to a checkpoint. Tell them who you are and they'll put you on the visitation list."
Relieved, the two young men hurried into the building.