Willow opened the door to the small modern art gallery on Sunnydale's main street for the first time in her life. Having been labeled as a scientist since a young age, art and its appreciation was not something she immersed herself in to a large extent. If it were not for Joyce's gallery, she would not have even set foot into one before now.
Her first impression was, how spacious it felt, though she knew the gallery did not occupy a large space. Wide open windows, high ceiling, distinct lack of pillars and sparse furnishings added to the sleek feel.
She looked at the pictures on the walls, she was sure they were arranged tastefully and to achieve maximum effect, but was a little bit overwhelmed. She looked slowly and carefully at each, trying to read and appreciate them, but only doing so-so.
Pretty colors, pretty patterns, but I have no clue how to describe them. All I know is this feeling of whether I like it or not.
Then she moved deeper into the gallery, to more secluded pieces. The lighting changed subtly, no longer bright and glaring, the inner section was all about understatement. The paintings there were more raw, more ... she searched for words and could only came up with subtle again. They seemed to move, to fill out, no longer just specks or lines of paint on pieces of canvas or paper, but telling real stories, real emotions, real movement.
She was awestruck at the effects, she had not expected to be so affected. One by one she drew her eyes along the various different works by different artists, none of whom she had ever heard of.
Until she saw herself.
Ten drawings. Charcoal on parchment, her dry inner mind described. Black on white, with very few strokes or, to her untrained eye, details, but so realistic. She had no real idea what she looked like to other people, and could only look at herself from photos or in the mirror. It was the first time she had seen herself from the eyes of another person, and she was blown away by how 3 dimensional it was, like another her was going to jump out from behind the parchment.
The series were arranged with the first six in two lines of three, then the remaining four in a square, with sufficient space between each set to maintain its independence, however close enough to the rest to signify its place in the order. There was a small difference between the portraits and herself, the series showed her a few years younger, though her fresh face already hinted at a depth and a certain amount of tragedy.
Buffy just came back from the dead, things were tense then.
The smaller set of six were rough, almost unfinished, in different poses. Some with more than one image on the same canvas.
The set of four had more detail and background, obviously at a further stage of "completeness" than the other ones.
The first was of her on stage, backlit and staring at a dark audience, a generous smile on her face. That night at the Bronze, the Dingoes' 300th concert.
The second was her half turned, a small frown on her forehead, eyes half closed and looking to the side, as if searching for something or someone. Her head cocked to one side, her left hand stretched out, trying to reach out.
The third was from a wide perspective, of her sitting at a table and chair, background recognizable as the Espresso Pump, a cup of coffee in front of her, with steam floating up, her hands wrapped tightly round the cup to keep warm.
The last one in the series was extreme close up, head only. In it she seemed to be staring straight at the observer with a meaningful grin and what appeared to be a hungry, almost lustful look that followed her even if she moved a little to the side. When had she ever looked like that?
She was transfixed, an indefinable shiver traveled up her spine and she shuddered at the unfamiliar feeling.
"A powerful series of sketches, don't you agree?" She literally jumped out of her skin when the voice appeared so suddenly from behind her.
She could only stare at the dapper middle aged man who had materialized next to her with a confused expression on her face, but her gaze was soon drawn back to the sketches.
The gallery proprietor had seen Willow come in, but had decided to let the young redhead look around at the paintings on display at her own pace. Ordinarily he would dismiss the younger woman as just a browser, her demeanor did not say "collector" or "art patron" or even "nerd with money to burn". However she did seem to be there for a purpose, but knowing people who came into galleries preferred to be left alone in their perusals, he had kept his distance until she came to the charcoal series.
The series of sketches had been included in the stock when he bought the gallery from the previous owners, with a note that they were not for sale, and were waiting to be collected by their rightful owner. It also came with a rather unusual request regarding timing of exhibition. He thought it was strange, but out of respect for the artist, and genuine appreciation of the work, had no qualms in complying to the request.
Many people had looked at, and asked about, the series, and his answer was always the same. He thought he should let the young woman know before she asked.
"Unfortunately they are not for sale, at the artist's request. If you're interested I have some other portraits I can show you," he said.
Willow turned and looked at him again, she was about to say something but had trouble forming words. She stood there, slightly wringing her hands together, a deep frown on her face, shook her head and turned back to the sketches.
He looked at the girl, and at the sketches, not understanding why the girl was so flustered.
"Look, Miss-" and stopped when he spotted the wild look in her eyes. She looked like she had seen a ghost.
Still she had not said a word.
He looked more carefully at her, and at the sketches, and back at her again.
"It's you!" he exclaimed, the loudness of his cry startling them both. "That's you in these sketches. I didn't recognize you at first."
She turned to him, still with that strange, wild expression, her eyes grew wider.
"You're the person I've been waiting for. Are you here to claim them? I have the documentation somewhere, let me go get them," he blubbered. Though he was expecting a visit like this eventually, he expected, well he did not know what to expect, but he was used to an older clientele and was unsettled at the unguarded, exposed display of emotion displayed by the young woman when she saw the sketches. He thought the series had just been loaned to the gallery for safekeeping, perhaps their owner was abroad or something like that. The redhead had obviously not seen them before although it was now abundantly clear that she was the subject.
When he retrieved the paperwork from the gallery files and returned to Willow, the redhead was more composed.
"Miss, do you mind coming with me to the office, there's some paperwork that needs to be signed," he explained.
She said nothing, but followed him to the office where he motioned her to sit at one of the gallery's modern designer chairs.
She sat very still, watching him struggling with the file, trying to retrieve what he was looking for. She had only a vague idea what he was talking about, something about claiming the sketches. She recognized herself in them, and was in complete wonderment at how lifelike they were, how Tara had captured her expressions, her energy, her very being. The signature at the bottom right had confirmed that these were done by one T. Maclay and dated 2002. These must be the unfinished sketches Tara made in Houston, and the gallery had been very kind to hold them for so long.
But the burning question in Willow's mind was, where was Tara? Why had she left the sketches and not touched them. Yes she said they were for Willow, but it felt like they had been literally left at the gallery and not touched.
Was Tara's letter really their last correspondence? Did Tara mean it when she said their joined path had ended? There was such a finality to her words that had ripped Willow's heart when she read them. Why did she make that stupid request? Why did she have to screw things up when everything was going so well? She was so racked in guilt and melancholy that she had not mustered up sufficient courage to write Tara and apologize. Then all of a sudden it was the 7th and it was the day Tara said she would speak to younger her and somehow she found herself at the gallery, still not having written to Tara. Part of her wanted to take back her words yet another part wanted to hear what happened at the talk, that was selfish and, so selfish, she could not forgive herself.
"Let's see what we have here. Forgive me if I seem unfamiliar, this came with the gallery when I bought it but I've not had the chance to review it thoroughly. Hmmm. The files say they were painted by Tara Maclay, do you know her?" he asked.
At her nod he continued, "They are to be stored at the gallery and not to be brought out for exhibition until 3 years from the date of this declaration, which means 2005. They are the property of a Willow Rosenberg of this address here, who will provide adequate proof of identity. The rest is legal jargon, if Ms Rosenberg doesn't claim the sketches within a certain number of years, etc. You are Ms Rosenberg, aren't you?"
She could only nod numbly.
He sat patiently as if waiting for her to take the next step. She was about to ask when it suddenly occurred to her, with a little "Oh" at her understanding, she took out her wallet and searched for her driver's license.
"Sorry. Yes, that's me. You want my driver's license?" she asked as she handed the document over.
He matched it against the name and address on his records and satisfied himself that the photo was indeed of Willow.
"There are a few more formalities to go through, documents to sign because there is no receipt and the lawyers will want to make sure all is in order and there will be no other claimants, do you understand?"
"Yes, it's kinda new to me, thanks for helping," Willow said, smiling nervously at her cluelessness.
"In the mean time, and perhaps afterward, how would you like to exhibit the series? Unless you have alternate arrangements, may I suggest that you consider leaving them here at the gallery for the time being?" he asked gently.
"Um, that'll be good, I haven't thought about what to do with them," Willow answered.
"They are excellent examples of Ms Maclay's early work, did you know her personally?" he enquired.
"A little," she said. A bit hard to explain that they had never met in person (well, they did meet, kinda, but thatís too complicated) but knew each other so very well in other ways.
"Such a shame, she would have been very good. A life cut short, so tragically, and so young too," he said sadly.
"WHAT DID YOU SAY?"