Tara sat at the brand new version of the comfortable chair at the corner of the Espresso Pump, looking intently at the space on the wall which currently housed a poster of mountains and lakes. She took out a hardcover book and the letters neatly placed inside. From Willow.
I waited all afternoon and until it got dark. At the risk of sounding like a member of the bad poet society, my heart grew dark with the passing of the day.
They both returned to the Espresso Pump the next day, in their own times of course, painfully aware of their separation.
Willow took her laptop but ended up staring at the painting of Miss Kitty on the wall. Buffy asked about her when they met for their morning coffee, but she managed to pull off a fake smile and was thankful the demands of work took the slayer away. One click on her dock brought up her program, she made a table.
Aug 2001 - Tara arrives in Sunnydale. I'm in Junior year at UCS. We never met. She receives my first letter.
We're both in Sunnydale.
Jan 2002 - Oz leaves. We fight the nerds.
Where is she?
July 2003 - we fight the First. I graduate and move into the apartment. Is Tara still in Sunnydale? When did she move out?
Aug 2004 - I move out. I write her a letter.
The last positive proof of Tara being in Sunnydale was December 2001, their "current" timeline. The Miss Kitty painting was dated April 2002 so there was a high possibility that she was still in Sunnydale up till then.
Willow moved into the basement apartment summer of 2003, so sometime between April 2002 and July 2003 Tara must have moved out. What happened then? And what happened to Tara between July 2003 and December 2004? Did she stay in Sunnydale? Did they continue writing to each other? Her 2005 was Tara's 2002. Did it mean she would have to wait until 2007 to find out?
She decided to flex her research and hacking muscle, respecting the timeline be damned. Her thoughts grew intense and she quickly mapped out a project plan.
UCS had no record of a Tara Maclay ever enrolling into any program. The trail at the SSA and DMV grew cold after sometime mid-2002. Paul and Becky were out of town. The gallery was closed. She was about to dive into more detailed research when Scooby news distracted her.
The rest of Sunnydale's population went about their Christmas preparations enthusiastically. But neither witches mustered enough energy to get caught up with the vacation spirit. Willow used her Jewish heritage as excuse, Tara had few friends to ask her about her lack of Christmas-ness anyway.
Tara made it a habit to visit the Espresso Pump every morning to buy her coffee. She would sit at 'their' table for a few minutes, puzzling over her future self's inaction and not getting any answers.
She spent most days painting. The portrait of Miss Kitty was coming along nicely, after she got over the initial shock of being told what she would be painting before she even started the painting.
Some days she would visit the street where Willow would move to, but of course the building had not been built yet, the space was still an empty plot.
She lingered a bit longer than usual today, getting a second cup of coffee, watching the place thin out after the morning pre-work / pre-school rush for caffeine. She was about to pick up her bag and take her dirty cup back to the bar when she heard soft sobs behind her.
"-said it's only gonna be 4 years. Only. My god, that's like, forever," she heard a voice cry. A familiar voice, even though she had only heard it once before.
"It'll go by so fast and before you know it he's back. You've still got us, the gang, remember?" the other voice comforted.
"I know I'm being irrational, cos I'm usually pro-study gal. But why can't he transfer his credits? Why make someone already in Junior year start again?"
She turned around and saw Buffy lending emotional support to a clearly distressed Willow. It was ironic and unreal, how she instantaneously knew why the young redhead was upset. Oz had broken the news that he was leaving for New York.
She stood transfixed, at once seething at the musician, and on the other hand almost physically hurting to see Willow like that.
With a rush of adrenaline and courage she did not know she possessed, she turned toward the most important girl in her life. Temporal disturbances be damned.
"A-a-are you okay?" she managed to squeak out. Way to go to make an impression, Maclay.
Teary green eyes stared back at her, a flicker of recognition rapidly replaced by guarded confusion.
"Um, yeah. Just being a bit emotional," a tentative smile trying to appear on the tear-streaked pale face.
"She heard some sad news last night, but she'll be okay. Thanks," Buffy added.
There was nothing else much she could say even though so many words were on her lips. Parts of her screamed that she should stick around and befriend the redhead, but other parts recognized the slayer in full defender mode.
"Buffy, be nice," Willow said. Turning to Tara, "I'm sorry, my friend's just overdosing on the protective pie."
"Hey!" Buffy exclaimed. "I'm looking out for your best interest, and doing best friend duty. Otherwise you'll have to cry on the shoulders of Xander, Dawn or, god forbid, Anya."
"Okay, okay," Willow protested, but a glimmer of a smile appeared on her face. Tara thought it was the most beautiful sight she had seen all day. The more beautiful was when the smile was then directed at her. "Don't mind us, we're just a couple of crazy girls, you don't really want to be seen near us, it could be contagious."
"Oh no. I don't think you're c-c-crazy. But it looks like you're fine, so I'll be, um, on my way," Tara made motions to leave. As much as she wanted to spend time with Willow, she had probably overstayed her welcome.
I'm just a nice girl showing a bit of concern, a nice girl in a total stranger sort of way. Am I just a stranger to you? I thought I sensed recognition in your eyes, if only for a second. Was there a hint that deep down you know me as well as I know you?
She was stopped by the sounds of scuffling outside the café, a bzzzz followed by a thud. A few more bzzzz's and thuds followed. Car alarms started going off en masse.
Buffy was out of her seat in a tick. She told Willow, "Stay here, I'll go see. I smell nerds." To Tara, "Can you stay with my friend for a second, I just have to check on my, erm, car."
Tara arched her eyebrows at Buffy's remarks, but luckily it was not noticed by either Scooby. She smiled privately that Buffy had to hide being a slayer from her. But then she was a total stranger whom they met just a few minutes ago. That sobered her up a little.
"Sorry, she's not usually this bossy, wait, she is," Willow said. "Really, I'm okay, I don't want to hold you up."
"That's fine. I've got time," Tara replied. Lots and lots of it when it comes to you. Why didn't I show up when we finally get to meet officially?
"That's great. Do you want another coffee or something?" Willow asked.
"I'm good, I've had 2 already, any more and I'll be too buzzed to work all day."
"I know the feeling, I can't take too much caffeine, otherwise I'm even more of a spaz than normal. Oz says I'm one of those people with high caffeine absorbency level, sounds like a disease, doesn't it?"
"You friend's mind works in a funny way."
"That's my b-b-, Oz. And yes I can say his name, he's the reason I was brawling my eyes out earlier."
"Oh, I'm sorry for bringing him up."
"Hey, I was the one, not you, it's just, he told me some news yesterday ..."
Tara gave Willow a sympathetic squeeze on the arm, "You don't have to talk about it if it makes you feel bad, but if you do ..."
"Thanks," Willow sighed and looked away for a minute. "No, it wasn't the break up speech, he got a scholarship to NYU, it's a really good opportunity but it's 4 years."
Tara was about to commiserate the redhead with some clichéd remark about absence making the heart fonder when she was cut short by Buffy's return.
"Will, we gotta go. Trio's on the rampage. I'm calling the others." She rushed out again, without stopping for a breath.
Willow gave Tara a wry smile and a quick "Thank you" before running after Buffy.
Goddess bless you both. I can't believe not wanting Willow in my life. Nothing's making any sense.