"Oh, are you having a girl talk?"
The three women pause in conversation and turn to face the doorway. Sheila Rosenberg closes the door to the patio and leans against it. She tucks a piece of hair behind her ear, a nervous gesture that Tara notices, and folds her arms.
Willow stands immediately, smiling. "Hi Mom, why don't you join us?" She nudges the empty chair and looks expectantly at her mother.
Sheila doesn't move. "No, I don't want to interrupt you."
Willow thinks that if that were the case her mother would head back into the house without hesitation. But she stays in place, almost stubbornly.
There is an ongoing matter of contention in the Rosenberg family. It's not a secret that Sheila is jealous of the relationship Willow has with Samantha.
During puberty, Willow transformed from a curious child into a teenager rarely seen without her head in a book. Not content with teen magazines, radio programs or TV shows, she sought for knowledge elsewhere.
Her mother proved to be a lost cause. Willow doesn't think she'll ever forget the summer when she had her first period. She knew the technicalities of why she was bleeding. She'd studied diagrams of eggs sliding down fallopian tubes. She'd marvelled at scientific explanations of menstruation that she read in books and journals. But when the blood was in her panties instead of in diagrams or words, Willow didn't know what to do.
With crimson cheeks she had tiptoed down the hallway to find her mother. To her despair, Sheila and her friends were in the middle of their book group meeting. "Mom," she'd hissed, giving her mother what she hoped was a significant look, "I need you for a minute."
Sheila, with the sigh of a martyr, had excused herself. "What is it, Willow?"
Now that she had her mother's attention, Willow had had no idea of what to say. "I'm bleeding, er, down there." She pointed downwards and flushed with embarrassment.
Her mother rolled her eyes without realizing that Willow noticed. She reached into her handbag and felt around until she found a sanitary pad, which she pushed into her daughter's shaking hands. "Here. Just peel off the back and stick it to your panties," she explained. Confident that she had completed her maternal duty, she turned and walked back to her friends.
Willow wasn't the type of person to hold resentments. Time passed and eventually she stopped expecting her mother to surprise her by showing some interest. So it was a big surprise when her mother's aunt, or her late grandmother's sister, came to stay with the family. She had just suffered through a nasty divorce and decided to live with the Rosenbergs until she sorted her life out. From that day on, Willow found an ally and close friend in Aunt Sam.
Tara, aware that her wife is deep in thought, turns her attention to her mother-in-law. "Of course you're not interrupting." She smiles at the older redhead.
Sam feels warm inside as she watches Tara. Although she hasn't spent much time with the blonde, especially now that she lives interstate, she adores her. She can still remember when Willow used to talk to her when she came home from various dates, trying to explain that there was something missing. At the time she wondered what, or who, it would take to make Willow happy. Now she knows, and couldn't have imagined a better partner.
Sheila settles into the chair, an uneasy expression on her face. "What were you talking about?" She doesn't want to ask but can't resist.
Tara's not sure what to say. She's a terrible liar and knows that her face will go red as soon as she tries to change the subject. "Uh, we were..." she begins, and stops. They'd decided not to tell her about the baby yet.
Sam intervenes smoothly. "I just wanted to hear about what was new in the girls' lives," she explains. "It's been so long since I've seen Tara." Sam thinks of the girls' news and feels giddy; she can't wait to see how Willow handles parenthood.
Sheila nods, feeling like they're hiding something. She eyes her daughter carefully, hoping for a clue, but Willow seems to be elsewhere.
The faint sounds of the party inside the house crescendo without warning. They hear laughter echo in the hallway, and suddenly a face appears at the door.
"Aunt Sheila," a young nephew calls, "it's time to eat your birthday cake!" He waves at Willow through the glass.
Willow eases out of the chair, quite relieved. The awkwardness between the women is palpable and she hates fake pleasantries. "C'mon, let's go get fat," she exclaims.
Tara grins at her wife and subtly glances down at her stomach. "Too late," she whispers, and Willow smacks her playfully as she passes by.
A few of the family members look up as the women enter the living room. Samantha heaves herself into a seat and Sheila stands by the cake, waiting to blow out the candles.
Willow waits until Tara takes a seat, and then seats herself on Tara's lap. She is careful not to push the boundary of Public Displays of Affection - particularly after her mother's friend made a pointed comment about how she'd had to explain homosexuality to her children after they saw Tara kiss Willow - but she figures sitting on her wife's lap is acceptable. Even as she does so, she notices one of the men nudging his wife and looking in their direction. 'Darn you,' she thinks.
Later, as they eat cake, Tara converses with another journalist. The blonde is past caring about how some of the family treat her, and chooses to speak only to those who like her.
Willow hears her name being called and looks up. She sees the relative she'd been arguing with earlier. "Hey," she says hesitantly, "having a good time?"
He nods. "Sure. Look, I wanted to apologize. If I offended you earlier, I didn't mean to."
She shakes her head dismissively. "Forget it. Believe me, I have that conversation with at least two jerks per week."
The words are out before she can stop them. She curses herself and remembers why she used to babble in her head: to control herself from saying things like that aloud.
His lips form a smile but his eyes are cold. "I think the current administration got it right. Gays should be allowed to be together, but they definitely shouldn't marry or have children. It would screw up this country."
"Yeah, 'cause it isn't screwed up already," Willow counters, a note of anger entering her voice. "People are divorcing faster than they say 'I do'. At least if a gay couple goes to the trouble - and believe me, it's trouble - to get married, there's a good chance that it will last." She takes a bite of cake. "And, as for having children. I'd be just as good a parent as any other. If anything, our kid would have an advantage. He or she would be very open-minded, compassionate and tolerant, which is definitely the character trait we need more of nowadays." She looks at him pointedly.
He opens his mouth to retaliate but Sheila interrupts. "Quit arguing. If you can't agree, change the subject."
Willow bites back her comments. Tara puts her hand on her wife's back and lightly rubs it.
When they leave the party in the evening, Willow gives Sam an extra hug and kiss. The woman touches her cheek tenderly. "Willow," she whispers, "you ignore him, okay? He's just jealous because his wife doesn't touch him anymore. Don't tell anyone that, by the way. He's seeing a sex counselor." Her cheeks redden with the excitement of sharing a secret with Willow.
Willow tries not to laugh. "Thanks, Sam," she replies. "I appreciate it. That explains a lot."
Once they are in the car, Willow and Tara let out simultaneous sounds of relief.
Tara grabs her wife's arm. "It's over for another year!"
Willow smiles and bats her eyelashes. "And the night has just begun."