After few hours of brisk shopping and a quick lunch at the Lambertville Station Pub across the bridge in Lambertville, New Jersey, Tara and Willow decided that they each needed to get a little work done before stepping out for the evening. They had returned to Tara's home around 4:30pm and they each had acquired an overstuffed chair in different corners of her living room ostentatiously for that purpose. However, Willow found that it was damn near impossible to pay attention to anything while Tara was so near to her. She caught herself staring at her lover's flowing jaw line as she absently chewed on the end of her pencil, jotting down a line or two in the midst of deep concentration on the notes spread out in front of her. The redhead allowed herself the luxury of a tiny shudder of pleasure because Tara was wearing her glasses to do work. It was ever the turn on in her humble opinion. Try as she might, Willow couldn't concentrate of project timelines and software development metrics. With a resigned sigh, she piled up her paperwork neatly and stacked them in her briefcase.
Truth be told, that night's impending surprise had her more than a little on edge. Willow had briefly gone off on her own during their little spendfest and sought out her favourite shop to make a purchase that was sure to set her back almost a car payment and a half. She smiled to herself, remembering the raised eyebrow Tara had given her when they met back up for lunch. Willow had ambled down the crowded sidewalk, whistling (or at least attempting to whistle... Tara wasn't quite sure which) merrily with her hands stuffed in her pockets, looking for all the world like a red-headed Tom Sawyer up to no good. Willow idly fingered the small velvet box in her pocket, her mind reeling with a half dozen details she needed to talk with Chad about before they left for the evening. She stood up, stretching out some of the kinks in her lithe frame.
"Hmm?" Tara murmured distractedly.
"I'm going to head back to my place to get ready," Willow placed a gentle kiss on top of her lover's head.
"You're leaving me?" Tara asked in a plaintive tone.
"Just for a little bit. I left my Palm Pilot at home and need to make calls to a couple of numbers that are in it. You know... annoying stuff for Cole." She rolled her eyes when mentioning her decidedly anal boss.
"Oh well, ok," Tara heaved a resigned sigh. "But don't be late. I'm timing you."
"Yeeees, dear." Willow deadpanned.
"Ah hah, I say this only because I know how you are when you get distracted," the blonde gave Willow a faux innocent smile.
"Do not!" Willow protested, then paused. "Well, only around you. Really."
Tara just raised an amused eyebrow. Willow glared back at her.
"Honest! Really! No mocking the computer geek. Mocking is not allowed."
Tara chuckled and went back to her work. "Call me before you leave your house, dear."
The former hacker gathered up her things, pausing only to give her lover a brief kiss before heading out the door.
"Are we good to go, Chad?" Willow spoke into the cordless hands-free Bluetooth headset attached to her cell phone.
"Oh grrlfriend, please," Chad's voice drawled on the other end. "I make the Fab Five look like the Drab 5. Leave it to lil ole me, will ya? We'll have your kitten simply purring by the end of the evening."
The redhead was a little worried at Chad's boasting. She loved the good looking, dark-haired programmer to pieces; he had helped her try to feel her way around the "City of Queer Family Love" as he liked to call it, when she was feeling overwhelmed and lonely. The last time she trusted him with an important occasion, he had a straight up hissy fit with Cole who managed to look rather worried that he had gotten Chad's bad side. Willow thought that was strange at the time because no one had been able to drop Cole like the self-proclaimed diva. Chad must have understood what Willow's silence at the end of the line meant, for he gave an irritated huff. "Now look," he said with an exaggerated sigh of patience. "I didn't embarrass you or anything." He paused briefly. "Well not too much at any rate... but the point is, you've got a venue and the sparklies and the bubbly. What more could a girl ask for?"
"Who knew," the redhead said with a wry smile, "that a gay man would have all of the secrets to winning a girl's heart?"
"Hmph," Chad sniffed. "Your problem is you think too much. Now get moving, dear! You don't have much time left and I know how long it takes for you to decide on what to wear."
Willow giggled at him, promised to spill all of the juicy bits to him the next day and rang off.
Forty minutes later, Willow pulled into Tara's driveway, thoroughly nervous and excited at the same time. She had to admit that she was looking rather dashing in the dark blue summer wool Brooks Brothers single-breasted blazer, white cotton blouse, light coloured Irish linen slacks and dark blue Kenneth Cole loafers. A slight smirk of satisfaction crossed her face with the knowledge that Chad might just faint on the spot when she tells him that it only took her ten minutes to put her outfit together.
It was with mild surprise that Willow noted the slight trembling in her hands when she was attempting to lock the door to her car. It's ok, Will... you can do this. It's just Tara and you have nothing to be afraid of. She chuckled quietly at her own silliness and knocked on the door. The erstwhile hacker almost fell over in awe when Tara came to the door to receive her. The blonde definitely had style, Willow had to admit. "Whoa..." was the only word that seemed to be able to come out of her mouth. Her lover was resplendent in a black David Meister jersey dress with matching black Manolo Blahnik slides and an amazingly silken black wrap. Apparently, she did more than a bit of shopping for this occasion. Willow remained hovering over the threshold, gazing with rapt attention as Tara finished putting on her diamond and platinum earrings.
"Willow!" Tara's voice snapped the redhead back to reality.
"Huh?" was her stunned reply.
"I said, are you ready?" Tara asked, repeated her sentence slowly.
"Oh! Oh yeah! Sure. All set," she chattered. Willow stuck out her arm for Tara to take. "Your chariot awaits milady." she drawled.
Tara rolled her eyes. "It seems that someone's been letting you read lesbian romance novels again."
"Hey now, I've been good! Becca only had to confiscate one novel from my desk this time."
Tara's eyes twinkled with mirth. "I'll bet. We'd better get moving. Traffic on I-95 will be a nightmare even at this time of night. You are going to tell me where we're going, right?"
"Nothing doing," Willow said firmly. "It's a surprise so you're just going to have to deal."
"All right, all right," the blonde acquiesced, raising her hands in mock defeat.
Willow helped her lover into the car and then got in beside her. The drive to downtown Philadelphia wasn't nearly as troublesome as they thought. The car was filled with witty banter and intermittent giggles as they chatted amiably about everything and nothing important. Willow asked Tara to close her eyes just before they pulled up to the front of the restaurant. She got out, handed her car keys to the waiting valet and helped Tara out of the front seat. The blonde took a few tentative steps before she felt her lover's arm wrap around her slim waist. She allowed herself to be guided into the restaurant; her senses soon were greeted with the sounds and smells within.
Willow took a deep breath. "You can open your eyes now."
Tara blinked a few times to clear her vision. They stood in the moody, languid lobby of Warmdaddy's, one of the most renowned blues-style/Southern Cuisine restaurants in the city. Piano music tinkled in the background as servers bustled to set up tables and light candles in preparation for guests.
"Willow!" she exclaimed. "Ooh, how did you know that I wanted to come here?"
Willow blushed deep crimson and managed to look slightly ashamed. "Actually, I didn't know. A friend of mine thought you might like it and the owner owes him a favour, soo..." her voice trailed off. Blue eyes gazed into deep green ones. Tara gave Willow a quick peck on the cheek and held her close.
"That's all right, love. I forgive you. Now let's go find a table. I'm starved for some reason."
The former hacker looked around the room, surprised that she and Tara seemed to be the only people there at the moment. A young woman was warming up on the Roland keyboard in the center of one of the two small stages toward the side of the restaurant while her bandmates were busy setting up their microphones, monitors and other assorted instruments. A balding, youngish-looking black man approached the couple just as they found a table closest to one of them.
"Evening, ladies," his deep voice greeted them, giving each of them a firm, yet gentle handshake. "My name is Ben Bynum Jr. and welcome to my place. Chad said you might be a little early," he said as he gave a knowing wink to Willow. She looked a little shocked but recovered easily. Tara was totally oblivious to her lover's reaction. She was too busy looking around the spacious, comfortable dining room.
"It's everything I imagined it would be, Mr. Bynum," she said lightly. "Any bands playing tonight?"
Bynum chuckled. "Was there ever any doubt that there would be? We've got a special guest tonight. I think you'll like her. She's got a little bit of this, a little more of that. Smooth and easy, like a good martini. Speaking of martinis, what would you folks like to drink?"
"I think I'll live on the wild side tonight," Tara murmured. "How about a tiramisu martini?"
"Good choice!" Bynum exclaimed. "And you, Ms. Rosenberg?"
"Hmm?" she asked blankly. "Oh, just a shot of Knob Creek for me. Thanks." Tara stared at her with one eyebrow raised but said nothing.
"Okie dokie," the owner said. "Jana is going to be your server tonight so if you need anything else, just let her know. Enjoy yourselves, ladies and she'll be right along with your drinks."
They both nodded in assent and he left their table to greet other guests coming in the front door.
"What was that all about, dear? And who's Chad?" the blonde queried.
Willow cleared her throat and nervously fingered the blue velvet box in her blazer pocket. She noticed that the restaurant was filling rapidly which didn't help to ease her ragged nerves.
"Hey," Tara touched her arm. "Are you ok?"
The redhead took a deep, calming breath, more to help get her thoughts together than anything. "You know how I've been going on about how Cole has been driving me nuts lately and how I really should just leave and get it over with?"
Tara nodded her head, her eyes silently prodding Willow to continue.
"Well," she hesitated, turning to stare deeply into her lover's eyes. "I got a letter recently from Rupert Giles, CEO of Giles/Berman International. He's a real bigwig in the software development world; his company created the premier cataloguing database for the Library of Congress, among other customers. He's asked me to work for him as Director of Developmental Projects."
Tara gasped in excitement. "Willow, that's great! When do you start?"
"Erm, as soon as possible, actually. But there's a catch."
"What's that?" Tara frowned.
"I'd have to move to England. That's where their corporate headquarters is located."
The look on Tara's face changed from joy to sadness instantly. "So what will happen to us?" she asked, a slight quiver in her voice.
"That's why we're here tonight," Willow said in a half-whisper. The woman onstage was still practicing, it seemed, as she started singing softly so that her voice carried only to the first few rows of tables.
Come away with me in the night
Willow removed her hand from her pocket and placed the velvet box on the table.
Come away with me on a bus
"This is for you," she remarked as she pushed the box toward Tara. "I wanted this to be so special but I'm a putz. I can't even find the words when I need them most." Willow gazed at her lover with unshed tears in her eyes. "Go ahead, open it."
I want to walk with you
Tara reached for it, her hands now trembling visibly. She opened the box with what seemed to be an agonizing slowness. Nestled within the velvety folds was a Diana platinum engagement ring with a half carat solitaire diamond.
Come away with me and we'll kiss
The blonde almost fainted with shock. "Is this..." she gasped. "Does this mean what I think it means?"
She looked back at Willow who had an almost serene expression on her face. "Yes, I think it does." Willow slid off her chair and got down on one knee beside Tara. She picked up the last strains of the mellow song that had wrapped itself like a comfortable blanket around the pair. Her voice floated clear and low, meant for Tara's ears only.
And I want to wake up with the rain
"So what do you say?" Willow asked quietly. Her heart was hammering triple time in her chest but she tried not to show it.
Tears were streaming openly down Tara's alabaster skin, a crooked smile on her face. "When do we leave?" she whispered.
Years later, Willow would be hard-pressed to remember a more perfect moment, an event that had changed her life so much as this one had. As the music played on and the world swirled around them, the fire of love rose higher and higher until their happiness filled the sky.