"Hi. Sorry to keep you waiting."
"No, no, I've only been here like 2 minutes. Besides, you're the one who's had to wait years."
"Years, I know. Wow. I can't believe it."
She was transfixed, speechless. She's even more beautiful in person, the photos don't do her justice.
"I feel like we should introduce ourselves but it seems redundant and silly. Ah well, here goes. Hi, I'm Tara Maclay, pleased to meet you."
"Willow Rosenberg, the pleasure, believe me, is all mine."
And then Tara took her hand into hers and they shook hands. After the formality neither of them let go of the other's hand, once they had established their first touch, there did not seem any reason to let go.
"God, I don't know where to start," Tara laughed.
"Me too. I have so many things I want to say but now I'm totally blank," she agreed.
"Just let me look at you," Tara turned a little more serious and regarded her for a long minute, her blue eyes reading her, reaching deep down into her, touching her very core. She felt breathless.
A minute. Three. Six. She did not know how long they stared at each other. Tara's thumb traced little circles on the back of her hand. Eventually she did a little cough that brought both somewhat back to solid ground.
"What have you been up to? I mean, you know all about me up to this point, but I don't know anything about what you did for the last 3 years. Or am I not allowed," she joked.
"You're allowed a little. Well it's a little funny, cos you will get to know in time, so I don't want to spill too much," Tara replied, with a twinkle in her eyes.
"I mean. Okay, let me give you the short version without giving too much away. After we agreed on the date I went out and bought a 5 year diary, so I can put today's appointment in straightaway. Then I started a painting which I added a little to every day, so I'm reminded of you. It's the first thing I see every day and the last thing I see at night. It's beautiful, some day I'll want to show you," Tara recounted.
"I'd like that. What is the painting about?" she asked, curious.
"Um, well. I wanted to have a daily reminder of you, so, well, it's a portrait of you," Tara blushed as she replied.
"Me?" she asked with a stupid grin.
"Uh huh. But it's only based on the one time I saw you, at the Bronze. The rest is my imagination."
"Wow. I have a portrait. So then what?"
"So I have this painting I work on everyday and I'm here now and may be I get to finish it."
"It's so touching," she paused. "Almost, um, romantic."
They talked and talked, not a raging torrent of unfinished thoughts, but a smooth, natural flow between two connected minds.
"Do you want to take a walk before it gets dark and too dangerous?" she ventured.
"I'd like that."
Tara's left hand was entwined in her right, they walked as close as they could without tripping over each other. Their silence was companionable, they had all the time in the world to talk.
Tara's thumb was circling her hand again, causing her heart rate to rocket, so much so that she turned suddenly and pulled the blonde close, wrapping her other arm round her waist.
"I, I, Tara, can I ask you-" she said breathlessly.
"Way ahead of you," the girl of her dreams whispered.
And kissed her.
Their kiss was rudely interrupted by a college student careening into them, causing her to tumble in a heap of arms and legs.
"Oh my, I'm so sorry, are you hurt?" the clumsy boy stammered.
"No, it's fine," Willow groaned sullenly. She sighed and pouted to no one in particular as she picked up her backpack and climbed back to her feet. Just completely ruined my daydream, that's all. Stupid boy. Oh Tara. I can't wait for this afternoon.
She arrived deliberately early at the Espresso Pump, grabbed a mocha from George the owner and found a soft chair at the corner. To the other patrons she appeared to be a young woman anxiously waiting for a friend, or a date. How little they knew.
It was the most important day of her life.
She watched as other people come and went, feeling detached. People seemed to be moving in slow motion today. She looked at the other customers, trying to imagine who they were, what they were talking to each other about, where they would go to after their coffee. She idly wondered what her friends were doing.
Buffy and Dawn came back from the visit to their aunt with a carload of tupperwared goodies. Spike and Gunn returned to LA shortly before. Xander and Anya arrived back from Mexico tanned and with a different energy about them. Giles called to say he was staying in Bath a little while more to sort out heating problems at his house.
Hellmouth activities suddenly picked up at the beginning of December but the well-oiled Scooby research and demon-fighting machine smoothly sprang into action and the world did not end.
Correspondence with Tara reverted back to normal. Well, as normal as it could get before her inspired invitation. She updated Tara on the hellmouth activities, and Tara asked her opinion on whether to enroll into UC Sunnydale's Art program.
They talked very little about the forthcoming meeting, Willow was chock-full of anticipation, and having increasingly detailed and borderline erotic fantasies, but she was sensitive to the fact that it was a long wait for Tara, who must not be finding it easy. The only time it was mentioned was when Tara told her how odd she might feel if she received a letter from future her and Willow.
Willow's thoughts on the matter were uncharacteristically simple. It never occurred to her that writing to Tara would ever stop even after their meeting. She would spend the next few years in happy correspondence with the Tara of the past, perhaps even together with the Tara of the present, until the 2 Tara's caught up. With the Tara she was about to meet, her vision was even more simple.
Meet the girl, may be fall in love a little (or a lot), live happily ever after.
The red flags of warning about this undertaking were reasoned away or ignored. These were the facts: one, she was straight for as long as she had known about the difference between boys and girls; two, here she was, wanting to fall in love with a girl; three, it totally did not matter, as long as she and Tara had the rest of their lives together.
There were none of the usual Willow-styled analysis or internal discussion, she did not discuss with Buffy or Xander, her feelings toward Tara transcended the conventional realms of how a "normal" relationship should be. Besides, she reasoned to herself, how "normal" was being with a werewolf for the better part of 6 years.
The only thing she worried about was the small matter that the Tara she wanted to fall in love with actually lived in the past. It did occur to her that the Tara she was about to meet would not be "her" Tara, people change, circumstances change. She tried hard to imagine what their meeting would be like (fantasies about kissing Tara aside) but was completely and oddly stumped. She would just have to meet her to find out.
Which brought her back to the most important day of her life.
It was coming up to 3pm. She straightened herself and scanned the entrance for Tara's arrival.
5 minutes turned into 10, then 30, an hour. Then another.
People came and went. Bought their coffees, met their friends, hugged, smiled, argued.
Her emotions cycled through puzzlement, annoyance, panic, fear, anger, hurt, finally settling on resignation.
She isn't coming.
A thousand different scenarios went through her head at breakneck speed, none of them pleasant, all of them with the same end result. That for all her asking and planning and anticipating, this was not the day she would get to meet Tara.
Nothing felt worst. Not losing Oz. Not when Buffy died. Not facing the First.
She isn't coming.
A loud crash jolted her somewhat back to reality. When she glanced over at the bar, it was George and Mrs George putting up a new picture and accidentally knocking over a chair.
She was about to dismiss it and crawl back into her cave of unending misery when her eye was caught by the picture itself. Intriguing enough for her to gather her senses and walk over to study it more closely.
A sketch, and a very good one at that, of a black cat with white paws and yellow eyes. Its head leaning to one side, as if curiously observing what is going on around it. Its pose and expression were so familiar.
Miss Kitty. The cat that arrived out of the blue not long after she moved into the basement apartment and had stayed with her since.
Miss Kitty Fantastico. Tara's cat. Her cat. Their cat.
Her eyes widened and she almost gasped when she saw the initials at the bottom right.
She finally found her voice. "Mrs George, a new picture?" she asked the matronly yet always fashionable co-proprietor of the café.
"Oh yes, picked it up from the gallery on Main," Mrs George replied. "They're having an exhibition of works by local young artists."
"Thanks Willow. They have lots more, though only a few by this particular artist. You want another mocha?"
She looked at her watch. Almost six. It seemed pointless to continue to wait, yet she could not tear herself away. She would stay here, keep sentry until closing time.