Slowly, like molasses, the hours went by and by eight she had almost managed to convince herself that Tara wasn't going to show. Eight thirty, the bell chimed. The blonde walked in, rubbing her tired eyes.
"Hi...Sorry if I'm late, but there was a lot more work than I thought"
"No biggie!" Willow tried to sound breezy and casual, like she hadn't been waiting anxiously for the last two and a half hours.
They left the diner to walk towards Finn's place, leaving Joyce in charge.
Tara had some straw tangled in her hair and a big mud stain on the back of her trouser leg that she was probably unaware of. She was still the most beautiful woman Willow had seen.
She wasn't sure why Tara made her feel slightly on edge all the time, but she just tried to not to talk too much. She knew that was a trademark of her nervousness. She tried light conversation.
"So, old Hank says that you are working for Mr Snyder up on Principal Farm. He seems like a bit of a grouch to me. Is he a good employer?"
"The grouch bit is true..."
Tara smiled. Willow felt like she lost her footing for a little while.
"Are you staying at the farm?"
"We sleep in the barn. His prize bull is away at the fair, so there was a free spot for us." Tara spoke levelly and shrugged her shoulders.
"Tara that's horrible! He really makes you sleep in the barn?"
"It's ok. At least we have a roof over our heads."
Willow felt how her anger turned her stomach acidy. Tara was wonderful and shouldn't have to live like this...
They walked in silence for a bit, Willow's brain busy processing the truth about how Tara was forced to live. She stopped again.
"But does he at least pay you decently?"
Tara shrugged again.
"Daddy and Donnie get a few cents an hour. I don't."
"What, he doesn't pay you at all?"
"I aint spending my hard earned money payin for a scrap of girl to do work that my coloured men could do with their little fingers; Heck, she doesn't even look strong enough to lift the basket!"
The imitation of Snyder was surprisingly well found. Willow couldn't help but smile. Tara smiled back and Willow decided to keep the mood light.
When they reached the paddock, the horse whinnied softly. Slowly, stiffly, it limped its way toward them. Willow waved at Riley Finn, who had spotted them from a distance.
"Good thing we managed to get some daylight." Tara said, looked at the limping horse with a troubled frown.
Riley came strolling up, chewing on a piece of straw.
"I'd like to t-take a look at your horse, sir, if you don't mind."
"Sure would appreciate it." Riley was not a man of many words.
Tara climbed in to the paddock and walked up to the horse. For a few minutes, she just stood there, murmuring softly to the horse, stroking its nose and gradually moving her hands further back, away from its head; with slow motions her hands worked their way down the horses neck and shoulder to its front legs. The horse rested its head on her shoulder.
"I bet that feels really good" Willow thought, stopping herself before crossing a mental line she was trying to avoid going beyond.
Tara began making her way down the horse's side, all the time still talking and moving her hands over it in broad strokes.
"I'm not sure what she's up to, but old Butler sure seems to be enjoying it."
Willow just nodded, mesmerized by the confident movements of Tara's hands and the obvious communication between woman and animal.
"I think there's something embedded in the muscle tissue in his shoulder here. Like a thorn or something. I'd like to try and get it out."
"That'd be great ma'am."
"Is there any chance of some hot water and alcohol to get it cleaned up? And maybe some strips of cotton fabric?"
"Well, I don't really keep alcohol in the house..."
"Riley..." Willow rolled her eyes.
"I'll just go and see if old Hank left some when he was here last week" the farmer mumbled and set off toward the farm house.
Tara climbed out of the paddock and walked over to a wide-eyed Willow.
"How did you do that?"
"That...thing? With the horse? How did you know what was wrong with him?"
"Well, my mama was this great horse woman. I guess she taught me what a horse was supposed to feel like, so I guess I can just tell when they seem... wrong somewhere. If you see what I mean?" Tara shrugged and looked down.
"Yes, I do. Magic. You can do some sort of horse magic."
"Not really. There's nothing much to it. Mama was amazing though. Never wrong. I'm not very good compared to her."
"Sorry, but I still say magic. You're really talented."
"N-not really." Tara repeated, dodging the subject by pointing to Riley coming back with supplies.
"You coming?" Tara turned to Willow.
"Me!? Oh, no, I don't do horsies, me. Nope, they don't like me one bit... Had my arm half half-eaten by this really vicious pony when I was five and horses are just to big and have to many teeth and feet, and oh, did I mention that one tried to eat me?"
"I'm sorry, but I kind of really need your help? I promise to make sure you're safe?"
"Ok. I trust you."
Willow followed her very gingerly, her heart pounding like a jackhammer. But she couldn't say no to Tara...
The blonde made Willow hold the horse's head while she talked soothingly to it and pulled out her pen knife. Old Butler was very good about it on the whole, Willow thought. He flinched a little when Tara cut what turned out to be a small shard of glass out of his shoulder, but he seemed to share Willow's trust in the other woman, since he still remained patiently standing still. When the wound was cleaned out and bandaged, Willow even patted him a little awkwardly. When Tara said goodbye to the horse, he affectionately rubbed his head against her side, making soft sounds in response to Tara's mumbling conversation with him.
Her relief when it was over was immense. She gave herself a mental thumbs up for bravery.
Tara was very uneasy when Riley gave her money, but accepted it, since he wouldn't take no for an answer.
"Would you like to come back and have some dinner with me?" Willow held her breath, waiting for the answer.
"I'd love to. Thank you"
The redhead walked back to the diner childishly elated, babbling about everything and nothing, aiming to make Tara smile as much as possible.
When they reached the diner, Willow held the diner door open and let Tara pass her. Closely. When she passed an inch from her nose, Willow's senses were flooded with the scent of horse, hay, peaches and something much more disturbing. She inhaled deeply and closed her eyes.
When she opened them, Tara smiled a crooked little smile that made Willow not quite sure what to do with her self.
"A little." Tara tried to sound casual.
"Idiot," Willow thought to herself. "She's been working all day, of course she's hungry..."
Willow sent a grateful thought to Gunn for being such an excellent cook while she piled up his famous spare ribs with Joyce's black-eyed bean stew and ear of corn from their kitchen garden. When she came out from behind the counter carrying their full plates, she noticed how Tara's eyes darted involuntarily and hungrily to the plate. Willow put the sizeable portion in front of her with a pleased smile.
They didn't talk so much during dinner. Tara was obviously famished and Willow found she enjoyed the companionable silence. It also gave her the opportunity to observe the blond girl more closely.
"Thank you" Tara said sincerely and pushed her clean plate away.
"You're welcome." Willow answered with equal sincerity. She got up to go and make them some coffee.
"Would you like a mocha?"
"P-pardon me?" Tara's looked at her with a politely confused frown.
"Coffee and chocolate. Kind of my specialty"
"You have chocolate? I haven't had that in a long time..." Tara looked at her with wonder.
Willow nodded proudly.
"Yup. This place sort of has a stash."
"Thank, you, I'd love some."
When Tara tasted the steaming goodness, covered with an off-white hillock of whipped cream from Riley Finn's cows, she closed her eyes and let a throaty sigh of pleasure escape her lips. Willow felt some sort of unfamiliar tightness form in her body looking at the enraptured face. She wasn't sure what was happening to her. She had been feeling so... physical lately.
"That sure is good coffee..."
Willow didn't think to answer. She felt almost mesmerized by a droplet of perspiration that was making its way down Tara's long neck and along the valley between her breasts. The blonde had opened the top two buttons of her shirt to combat the heat, which made her soft, rounded bosom partially exposed to whoever was sitting in such close proximity as Willow. The sight made her feel... disturbed. She had seen Buffy, Anya and even that horrid Faith Lehane half naked and it hadn't given her this distressing feeling of urgency, like she needed... Well, something. She wanted to act on an impulse she didn't quite recognize.
"Willow? Is something wrong?"
Tara shot a glance down to where Willow's eyes were resting with a puzzled expression on her face. Being caught staring made the red head snap her head up, embarrassment shooting through her like an arrow.
"We're out of pie!"
"Come again?" Tara looked even more confused.
"We're out of pie. Otherwise we could have had, you know, pie. For dessert. Pie's nice, don't you think. Joyce makes really nice pie. Yummy."
Willow heard her own nonsensical babbling and willed herself to stop.
"I like the way you talk." Tara smiled at her. Willow breathed out in relief that the blonde hadn't mentioned her staring.
"I sound like a babbling idiot, you mean." Willow returned Tara's smile with a self-deprecating one.
"N-no. Just interesting..."
"Thanks, I think..." Willow smile widened and their eyes met. Tara was the first to look away, dipping her head and hiding her face behind her hair in what Willow began to realize was trademark fashion.
"Oh, I've got something for you!"
Willow walked away and came back with an expensive hand lotion out that she had taken from her mother's dressing table. She held her breath, hoping that Tara wouldn't misunderstand her like this morning.
"For your hands."
She put it on the table and waited for a reaction.
Tara's tone of voice didn't reveal anything but politeness, so Willow let out a little sigh of relief.
Tara smiled apologetically as she tried not to get the unusually rich lotion on everything.
"Want some help with that?" Willow said hopefully.
Tara nodded, giving Willow a look that the redhead didn't know the meaning of.
Willow sat down next to her and cradled her lotion-covered hands in her own. Very slowly, she began to work the rich moisturizer into Tara's thirsty hands. Her own hands felt really funny, like Tara's touch was electric, energy flowing between the two them. She looked down on their joined hands. When she lifted her head, Tara looked deeply into her eyes. Her facial expression was inscrutable, but there was no mistaking the intensity behind the sapphire. Willow poured more lotion, wanting to prolong the moment. Needing to prolong it. When Tara's hands wouldn't assimilate any more, she slowly moved upward, under the pretense of having to use up the excess skin cream. The skin on Tara's wrists was still impossibly soft despite her laboring. Willow's hands roamed gently but firmly up Tara's arms, turning touch to caress. She avoided looking at Tara's face for a while. When she finally looked up, Tara had leant forward a little; their faces suddenly close. Willow's eyes stumbled on the blonde's full lips, slightly parted, letting a hint of sweet smelling breath flow over the red head's face.
Willow though hazily that she ought to stop staring and say something, when the blonde jumped to her feet and swore under her breath, staring at the wall clock with a full panic face on.
"Pa's gonna kill me! I should have been back hours ago. I've got to run!"
Willow was still trying to comprehend the sudden and unexpected loss of physical contact when Tara rushed out of the diner. The red head came to her senses a moment later and ran after her.
The blonde slowed down and stopped.
"Can I see you again?"
The blonde nodded her head vigorously.
"Tomorrow? By Witches lake? At eight?"
Willow nodded and waved goodbye as the blonde took off again. As she was walking back to the diner, smiling, she turned in surprise as she heard the sound of Tara's heavy work boots increase in volume again. The blonde put her hands on her shoulders and placed a feather light kiss on her cheek.
Then she was gone again.