Author: Phoenix
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: I own nothing but these words.
Notes: This is for Diane. Thanks for everything.

It didn't seem right that the day should be so blue. Tara angrily stood on the edge of the leaden lake, with her heavy black coat drawn tightly around her; the December air was chill. Before she could stop herself, she tossed it good and hard. High in the air it went, the wan sunlight glinting sharply from it, momentarily blinding her. It seemed to hang in the air for endless moments as she watched, as if recent angel fingers bent to catch it from the sky. With the tiniest of splashes she saw it strike the calm surface of the water and for a moment in the clearness she could see it falling before ripples obscured her vision. Ripples and tears, for her eyes had filled again and she angrily wiped them with the back of her hand.

Tara stood there a long time, alone at the edge of the lake, achingly aware of the void next to her. A void that used to be filled with her auburn-haired wife. She pretended she could watch the ring fall through the water. She imagined how it would look to gracefully fall, the diamond catching the light of the sun, refracting the water into millions of tiny rainbows that the fish would be dazzled by. And then it would rest against a couple of slimy stones and in a million years it would be dug up by scientists and marvelled over.

This is my heart, and I am winter.

She swore to herself that she would never love again.

The door had jingled, and a gust of winter wind blew her newest customer into her shop. Willow turned to face the counter, wiping her floury hands on her apron, stopping in startled shock. Throughout her life there were some things that she would never forget: storm clouds rolling over the mountains surrounding Denver, an early sunrise over prairie grasses in August, and the look of the woman's hair. She had never seen such amazing hair. It fell like dark golden waterfalls to the woman's waist, the longest hair Willow had ever seen.

She also distinctly saw the woman's arm linked with that of another woman. A young, beautiful brunette who seated her (date?) on a nearby chair and sashayed up to the counter. Willow would have killed for hips like hers. The brunette was unwrapping a scarf from her head, then she peered unabashedly at Willow's chest, before straightening and saying, "Willow?"

Dashed from her reverent watching of the blonde woman, who had also taken off her long black coat, showing her dressed in boot-cut jeans and a soft turtleneck sweater, Willow squeaked, "Huh?"

"Name tag," the brunette said, pointing at Willow's chest, where a little tag said, "Hi, I'm Willow. Ask me about our muffins!"

"Okay," the brunette said. "How about your muffins?"

Willow forced her attention away from the amber waves of hair to look at the grinning woman. "Um, healthy or not?" Willow replied, trying not to notice the blonde woman anymore.

"Choices!" The woman actually jumped a little and clapped her hands. "Tara, healthy or not?" she called out.

Tara, her name is Tara.

"What do you think, goof?" the woman called out, and Willow locked the memory of her silken voice in her head forever. She thought of other words that woman could say, other noises she could make that woman make...

"The situation calls for chocolate," the brunette added to Willow. She leaned in to Willow conspiratorially. "Excellent first date," she said cryptically, before pulling away again to look at the display case. Meanwhile, Willow had frozen. Date. She said date. Oh, crap, she said date!

First date. She said "first date". I can deal with a "first date".

The brunette looked meaningfully up at Willow again, then pointed at the display case. Willow found her voice again. "White chocolate macadamia nut, triple chocolate fudge, chocolate chip, and we also have cookies and a delicious chocolate croissant," she said, stealing glances over to Tara whenever the brunette wasn't looking.

"One of each of the muffins, and we'll share a croissant," the brunette said, straightening up. Willow noticed again how insanely tall the girl was, and her heart sank. Short and stumpy Willow. Why couldn't she ever be tall and willowy Willow? She obediently got the muffins and put them on the tray.

"What will you have to drink?" she asked.

The brunette was already picking at the triple chocolate muffin. "Jovial equals Java," she said absently, popping a piece into her mouth, followed quickly by a look of wonder. "So Tara will get an espresso. I'll get a Latte."

Willow turned to start making the coffees. "What does Latte equal?" she asked over her shoulder, surreptitiously stealing another glance at the blonde, who was gazing dream-like through the window at the rapidly snow-filled street.

"Lucky, I guess," the brunette replied, her mouth full of muffin. Willow's eyes widened as her heart fell. Yeah, I'd feel lucky, too, if I was with her. "Lucky I found this place, I mean," the girl continued. "This muffin is really excellent." She picked another hunk and squealed as she discovered the center of creamy chocolate-y goodness, and Willow couldn't help but laugh.

Willow began ringing up the order as the brunette continued to demolish the muffin. "That will be fifteen fifty two," she said, taking the credit card that was handed to her, glancing at the name written on it (Dawn Maclay). She swiped it through, then watched the final demise of the ill-fated muffin. Reaching into the display case again, she pulled out another triple chocolate fudge muffin and said, "On the house. Make sure she gets this one, okay?"

The brunette laughed and took the tray over to the table. Willow watched how companionable they seemed, watched their animated conversation, and only turned away when other customers intruded on her.

Tears still winding their silent way down her cheeks, Tara turned away from the lake and back toward the silent houses. It was mid-morning and cold, and very few people ventured from their lakeside cottages. She had arrived in the pre-dawn darkness and had watched the sun rise over the mountains, feeling the bitter bite of winter air but not caring in the slightest. What cared she for things of this world when her lover was gone?

Her face was haggard and her eyes were as steely blue as the depths of the winter-tossed lake and rimmed with redness. She had had enough forethought not to wear mascara the day before and so only the makeup on her cheeks had clear lines from tears running down. She really didn't think she could cry much more but the tears kept coming from somewhere. She felt as if she had been crying for weeks.

All she could think about was that ring lying desolate on the bottom of the lake and wishing she could somehow be lying there as well. How much easier it would be, to simply die rather than face the rest of eternity alone. Tara forced herself to think that she had other reasons to live and much to live for. Her life was not over, though her wife's was.

Once inside the comparative safety of her car she looked around to make sure she was not being watched, then she slowly took off her hat and wig. She looked good as a brunette, her mother had told her. But her mother had said that of every other colour she had tried in the shop, except the skater-punk spiked pink and purple. Mothers are supposed to say things like that. Tara ran her fingers over her smooth scalp. Her mother had also said that she looked good bald. That is also what mothers are supposed to say. She had seen the tears in her mother's eyes when she said it, trying to smooth out the bald-faced (hah!) lie. Tara had grown her hair for years and years. It was the most delicious colour of amber anyone had ever seen, and her friends would often sing, "How beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain," when they saw the hair that fell like waterfalls to her very waist.

Her mother had words back then. Too bad her mother had no words a week ago. Suddenly, no one had a single thing to say.

Only a week? It already felt like a lifetime. Tara didn't know that it was possible for a minute to be as long as a year. It was something you read in those cheesy romance novels sold for a buck at the grocery store. In those stories the dying ones always got a deathbed conversation, they would speak of their lives together, and their love that would last forever, and yet extract promises that they wouldn't always mourn, that they would find someone new to share a lifetime with. Never be alone. Liars, all of them. Back then she would read them, and laugh, and give them to the thrift store so someone else could enjoy them.

Her fingers trembled as she sought the ignition. The car was brand new and still unfamiliar. Her father gave it to her the day after. He had known. See, those cheesy romance novels never gave some men enough credit. Her father was sensitive. He had taken her old car, the one that was still filled with her lovers scent, he had sold it and came back with this new one the very same day. He didn't say a word. Just pressed the keys into her hand and kissed her on the cheek and left.

Why could she only think of those novels? Mediocre tales that seethed in misery, in sickness, in lost love, in finding new love and living happily ever after. What a farce! She was sure that those authors could never write a real story, even if they tried. Clichéd fantasies, all of them.

And her life had turned into one.

Willow wrapped the scarf more securely around her neck, the harsh Denver wind cutting into her made doubly awful since the bakery she just left was so warm. She was a little worked up herself, if she was going to be honest. Tara had come in today, by herself, and had sat in a little corner by the window for almost an hour, languidly reading a magazine and nursing a coffee. Every time Willow came by to refill her cup she felt like a doofus. Her apron was always covered in flour from baking, and she always wanted to say something charming and witty. Ever since Tara first blew into her shop two weeks ago, she practiced her conversations with Tara at night, you see, in front of the mirror, holding different smiles, trying different lines, anticipating different responses, but all of her careful dramatic rehearsals failed her when the curtain finally lifted up. Tara would look at her, and smile, and Willow would be struck dumb. Both kinds of dumb.

Willow's cheeks burned as she recalled what happened today, weaving her way along the sidewalks to the alternative bookstore that was her destination. Willow had happened to glance down at the magazine Tara was reading, and when she discovered its content her cheeks had flamed. No worries now whether or not Tara was gay. At least that question had been answered. Willow's mind whirled as she walked, hunching her shoulders against the cold. Why hadn't Tara tried to hide it? Did she want Willow to see it? Or did Tara come into Willow's shop twice, sometimes three times a week merely for her chocolate muffins?

A pleasant conundrum, and Willow considered it as she walked through the door, hearing the tinkling of the tiny bell, pulling her scarf from its stranglehold on her neck. She smiled; it had been a long while since she had come to this quaint and comfy bookshop, with its overstuffed chairs between book aisles to facilitate reading, a coffee bar nearby. Willow reminded herself to try to make a deal with the owner to sell her baked goods here.

Transported into a realm of delight, Willow ambled along the shelves, picking up books and reading the back covers, smelling them when she knew no one was looking (I love the smell of new books in the morning!). She was engrossed in a title called, "The Rosenberg Files" when she heard a voice behind her.

"The sequel is even better."

Willow whirled around and Tara was there, sitting on one of the chairs away in a little nook.

Now for your masterful conversation rehearsal, Willow.

"Ga-huh?" Willow choked.

Bloody brilliant.

Tara unfolded herself from the chair and sashayed (oh, those hips!) up to Willow, picking up the book titled, "The Rosenberg Paradox". "Have you read either of them before?" Tara asked.

"Uh, no," Willow finally spurt out.

"If anyone has ever had hot lady cop fantasies, they better read these," Tara said, placing the book back on the shelf. She smiled at Willow, who stood frozen like a deer caught in the headlights. She was obviously waiting for Willow to say something, but Willow couldn't get over the way Tara's lips had formed the words 'hot lady cop fantasies'. Besides, Willow was enchanted by Tara's hair. She wanted to touch it, she wanted to smell it, she wanted to bury her hands in it.

Tara's face fell as the silence lengthened, and Willow could see her cheeks redden in embarrassment. Say something fast, Willow!


"Come again?"

Will you make me? Mind out of the gutter, Rosenberg. And slower this time. "Would you like to have dinner with me?" she asked again, her heart pounding fiercely, horrified that she had asked so nakedly. No foreplay at all. Think unsexy thoughts, think unsexy thoughts...

Tara looked delighted. "I'd love to, Willow," she said.

Tara somehow drove home. Thank goodness there was no one on the roads with her. She pulled into her driveway and dispassionately noticed that the For Sale sign still swung in the breeze. Her house showed too many signs of wear and tear, scaring potential buyers away. She had had no time in the past year to fix things up herself. It was amazing how a little neglect went a long way. Her garden was overrun with weeds, her shrubs all needed pruning, and the grass was long. Inside was no better. She never really noticed before how bare the rug was in the entranceway. She never really noticed the rust stains beneath the faucets in the bathroom before. And even though her mother and sisters had blitzed through the house, cleaning up a storm, they could not repair the neglect.

Long ingrained instinct had her taking off her shoes in the entryway of the small house. She smiled as she remembered the first time she explained to her American girlfriend (soon to be wife) that all Canadians took their shoes off when they entered a house, especially when visiting someone else. It took a while for her girl to get the hang of it. She walked in her stocking feet toward the kitchen. There she stood for long minutes, not really thinking at all about anything, just standing there and feeling the emptiness. It was like a force that sapped her of strength and willpower. It swirled all around her, holding her in its icy, unrelenting claws. The loneliness and the emptiness of a lifetime.

Minutes passed and she slowly moved from the kitchen to the living room. She ran her hands along the portraits, remembering the blissful arguments about the kind of frame to use. She touched the clock, remembering how it was a third anniversary gift from her wife's parents and ugly as heck. They had no taste whatsoever. She looked at the books in the case, her partner's compulsion to buy them offset by her own compulsion to give them away.

She eventually wandered into their bedroom. There was a rocking chair in the corner with a half-knitted blanket lying on the seat. She had not touched it since her love had put it down two weeks ago. Now she did, running her fingers over the immaculate stitches, remembering how she used to laugh to watch her sit there and knit, as peaceful as a dove. Tara lifted it to her face and imagined she could still smell her on it. But she could not.

To the wardrobe next, where her auburn-haired lover's perfume sat without the lid. Yes. That was her. She drunk in the scent as if she were dying of thirst. Her throat began to choke with sobs. She put down the bottle and hurried outside.

Still in her stockinged feet she stood at the edge of the balcony that led into her backyard. To the left were the stairs that led down to the wood patio. Her girl had tried to build the stairs herself, get herself out of the kitchen, but was finally unable to. Tara ended calling up the local carpenter, John Stash, who had laughed and rectified her mistakes and the two of them banged merrily away.

The sky was still too blue, the air cold, freezing her. She did not care. She stood there, feeling the tears travel from her throat up to her eyes, brimming there. She would not blink. If she blinked, she would open the floodgates and not be able to control them. So there she stood, the wafting smell of her love's perfume still around her and waited to freeze.

Willow pulled the chair out for Tara, and watched as Tara carefully flicked her impossibly long hair away so she wasn't sitting on it. Willow sat down across from her, a single globby candle flickering on their red-checkered table. It was a proto-typical Italian restaurant, small, cheap, delicious, and perpetually packed with people. Willow called in a favour to have them save her a small table for that evening, and she triumphantly led Tara past the oodles of people waiting in line.

Tara was grinning at her again. Willow loved her smile. She couldn't quite place Tara's age; she knew that Tara must be a little older than she, but she knew far better than to ask. It was a standard get-to-know-you dinner date, and Willow's earlier blockage of vowel sounds was quite overcome by the ravishing company she was with. She discovered that Tara was Canadian, from the city of Calgary, which Willow knew of only by the annual Stampede.

Which led into a fascinating discussion of what brought Tara to Denver. Apparently she was a herbaceous plant researcher with the Calgary Zoo, and had come to conduct hardiness trials at the Denver Zoo. Willow was crestfallen to find out that Tara would only be in Denver for another week; winter had hit the city early this year, and Tara had no work for the winter months.

"You'll be back in the spring, right?" Willow asked in what she hoped was the right mix of concern and nonchalantness.

"Yes, I'll be returning in April and will stay again until next November."

Willow stuck out her tongue a bit at the good news, smiling like a doofus. Now for the next big question, Willow thought, remembering the tall dark-haired girl who had been seen with Tara a number of times. The easiness to which Tara said yes for their date made Willow believe that she was available, but she had been burned far too many times in the past.

"So," she asked, trying to be fashionably sensitive yet cool at the same time, "who is that girl who often joins you at the coffee shop?"

Tara's blue eyes twinkled. "That would be my sister, Dawn."

Woo-hoo! I mean...

"That's nice," Willow said, sipping her glass of wine. "She's here in Denver as well?"

"She likes to keep tabs on me," Tara replied. "So she'll visit for a week or two at a time and eat me out of my house and home. You wouldn't believe how much teenagers can consume. I mean, I thought elephants were bad..."

"Do you get to spend any time with the animals?"

"Not so much. I like to eat my lunch by the monkey enclosure. When it's spring, you should come and visit me at the zoo. The gardens are tremendous. I don't know why everyone goes to see the animals, the plants are clearly so much more interesting."

Willow's heart soared. Did Tara just say what she thought she said? "I'd love to see the gardens, Tara," she replied earnestly.

The rest of the night passed in a blur of heart-pounding fascination, and as her tongue limbered up, helped immeasurably by the wine, Willow began to speak in her trademark Willow fashion, babbling about this thing or that. She meant to ask Tara more questions, but Tara had been asking more and more about Willow herself, asking how Willow got in the bakery business, what schooling she had. Before she knew it, Willow was telling Tara about her mother's latest dissertation in the Middle East, her friend Buffy's recent wedding to Riley, and the heartache of her dog dying.

There were no awkward silences. Just flowing, easy conversation and Willow became convinced that she had known this remarkable woman forever. As coffee after dessert lingered, Willow wanted to kiss Tara. She wanted it more than she had ever wanted anything. So Willow offered to drive Tara home. Tara gave her a strange look, tilting her head to the side, her eyebrow raised.

"No, thank you, Willow. I'll take a cab."

"Can I call you?" Willow felt like she was in high school again, daring to ask the most beautiful girl in school for her phone number. She then remembered how that had turned out, with the girl laughing in her face and her butch girlfriend (hey, I was new at this) threatening to stuff her into a locker. Willow turned red with the memory, turned her face away from Tara and whispered, "Forget it."

"No, Willow," Tara replied quickly, grabbing her hand. "I had a good time tonight. I hope you call me sometime." Tara wrote down her cell phone number on a napkin, and handed it to Willow.

Bemused, tingling with the touch of Tara's hand, Willow retained enough presence of mind to help Tara into her jacket. As she pulled out her vast expanses of hair, Willow wanted to kiss her again.

And then they were outside, standing in the falsely bright light of the entrance. Above them was the green and white sign of the restaurant, one of the lights flickering and dying creating a noisome buzzing sound. The haze of the busy city streets reflected off the close clouds above them, and Willow could smell fresh snow in the air. She was just about to tell Tara how much she enjoyed snow (an important point to make when successfully dating a Canadian) when her cab pulled up.

Willow heard her voice say, "Good night, Willow," before Tara's cool lips were on her cheek, her hand squeezing Willow's hand once more before demurely slipping into the waiting cab.

"I'll see you again soon, Tara, at the shop maybe?" Willow said as she shut the door behind her. She could see Tara nod in approval as the cab slipped away from her. Willow clenched her hand around the napkin in her fist, the one with Tara's number on it, and wondered what it would be like to have Tara kiss her on the lips instead of on the cheek.

She stood too long in the frigid air, her cheeks burning with Tara's kiss, her extremities frozen.

It was cold. In the storybooks when someone was dying of sick heartache, it was always raining. Why couldn't it rain for her? Why couldn't it even snow for her? Why did it have to be this bubbly beautiful blue sky? It was freaking cold, after all, why couldn't there be snow? Tara surmised that she didn't need to be swallowed by the lake after all. Maybe this was enough. She could catch pneumonia and die and join her beloved wife sooner than later.

No. Because some people are just too stubborn to die.

So it was there, just there in the watery sunshine of a frigid December day, that Tara decided she needed to live. She needed to watch her garden grow. She needed to learn to knit like her girl had. She needed to bake chocolate muffins and read books and give them away. She would make mistakes, but a life with no mistakes is no life at all. Even the books agree on that.

Maybe she didn't need to sell the house. Maybe she could stay here in the shadow of the mountain and begin her life as if it was new. Maybe she could learn to smile at the memories and not grow bitter from them. She no longer needed to be superwoman, nursing her wife through her illness, shaving her long golden hair so she could be like her, still trying to work for the money they needed for her expensive treatments. Maybe she didn't have to be a desperate heroine, trying every day to overcome the sadness of her life, trying to reconcile herself to God, a Being who tore from her the very reason for her existence. Maybe, just maybe, she was allowed this. She was permitted to be sad, to be depressed. She was permitted to miss her love so much that she thought her heart would break. She was permitted to cry when thinking of so many years ahead of her, years where her girl would not be.

Tara could hear her wife's voice in her mind. Lovers lectures, she would call them. The age-old platitudes with a new twist. "It's always darkest in the belly of a cannibal," she would laugh, and then, "Every refrigerator has a silver lining." Her wife would invariably make her laugh, which would sometimes make her even more angry because she just couldn't stay mad at her longer than a minute. Except when discussing those blasted frames. Tara won that argument by saying she inherited her parents flair for interior design. Her love was so mock-offended that she backed off and told her to do whatever she wanted.

She could stay, and let herself remember. And as time went by, she could allow herself to forget. Her hair would grow back, and maybe, just maybe she would be like the books after all and meet someone else and not be alone anymore.

But not now. So she stood there until she was so cold she was trembling from head to foot and only then did she walk inside to stand by the door, shivering all over the floor her mother had washed a couple days ago.

The phone rang, jarring her, snapping her from her reverie. She listened to it ring several times, then decided to answer it.

"Tara, honey, how are you?"

"I'm ok, Dawn. Everything is going to be ok."

The quality of Willow's baked goods increased, and her customers made sure she knew it. It was a definite perk of her almost-relationship with Tara. She never knew when Tara would be coming, so she wanted to make each and every batch perfect, just in case. She was often so chipper that her employees grumbled at her. Every day Willow waited for Tara to return to her shop, and after a few days passed without her long-haired angel appearing, Willow decided to take matters into her own hands.

That evening in the comfort of her flannel pajamas and a cup of hot cocoa, Willow took out the napkin that she had placed so very carefully on her fridge. Fingers trembling with anticipation, Willow dialed the number and listened to it ring, her heart pounding so hard she could barely hear the tinny ringing of the phone.

And waited. And waited. And on the sixth ring she was about to hang up when she heard Tara's decidedly female voice say, "Hello?"

Surprised, Willow dropped the phone. As she fished desperately for it, she heard Tara ask, "Anyone there?"

Willow finally had the phone again in her hot little hands. "Hi, Tara?" she asked.

"Yes. Who is this?"

"Um, you may not remember me, this is Willow -"

She was immediately cut off by Tara's, "Of course I remember you, Willow. How are you?"

Grin. Play it cool, Rosenberg, play it smooth. "I'm doing good, would you like to have dinner with me again?"

Sheesh. At least it came out right this time.


"That would be difficult, Willow, as I've already returned home to Calgary."


"You're gone already?" Willow asked, her mind quickly adding up the days.

"Yes, there was no more work for me, so I came home. I left a note at your shop, did you not get it?"

"Um, no." She left a note? She left a note!

"I miss your muffins already."

Ah, she misses my muffins! "I'll come up."

"What?" Tara's voice sounded shocked and delighted. "What did you say?"

"I'll come up to see you."

"You're joking."

"No, I'm not."

"You're going to fly up to Calgary?"

"Unless you'd prefer me to walk," Willow joked. "Though that might take a while."

"Ah, it wouldn't take too long," Tara teased. "Though you'd have to eat tree bark and squirrel meat."

"Well, see, I know this horticulturist who can tell me about all the nummy things to eat. I'm sure there are a million ways to stew poison oak..."

Tara laughed. "You'll have to find your own accomodations, though," Tara said near-regretfully.

Willow squashed a momentary despair. Too soon to be staying at her place, Willow, that's all. She still wants to see you, doesn't she? "That's okay. I'll be an expert at creating lean-to's out of spruce branches and deer hides by then."

"So you will. When would you like to come?"

"How about this weekend?"


Great way to make with the smoothness. Where's a pit to fall into when you need one?

"Oh, Willow, I've missed you," Tara choked. "I'd love to see you this weekend."

Tara flipped her cell phone shut and cradled it in her hand for a moment, leaning against the kitchen counter. She was astonished to find that she was trembling. From the table, Dawn called, "You okay, Tare?"

"Yeah, I'm okay, Dawn. Do you remember the girl from the bakery?"

"Ask me about my muffins girl when we were celebrating my first date with Dan? The one who took you on a dinner date? The one you haven't stopped talking about since you got home? I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Smart aleck. Stop eating my food," Tara said, swiping at Dawn with the kitchen towel. Dawn's hand retreated from the bag of chips. "She's going to come visit this weekend."

"I gathered that," Dawn said drily. Her face softened as she looked around the house. "Is she going to replace your wife?" she asked softly.

"You know that no one can replace her," Tara replied wistfully, looking at those damned frames, the books in their shelves. The knitted blanket had long since been put away, the perfume had gone to Goodwill, Tara's hair had regrown to it's earlier glorious state.

"But I like her, Dawn, so very much," Tara whispered. "And it's been so very long."

Dawn came up to her and pulled her into a tight hug. "Tara," she said, drawing back. "You've been frozen for so long. Now you've finally found someone who's willing to come to Calgary in the middle of the winter, just to see you? You can't let a person like that get away." She stroked Tara's hair, and continued, "You are such a wonderful person. You deserve happiness. She would understand that." Dawn retreated back to the table.

"I wanted to kiss Willow," Tara admitted slowly.

Dawn simply smiled once more and dug her hand back into the bag of chips. "You'll be able to this weekend, won't you?"

"Cheeky," Tara smirked. Foregoing another slap on Dawn's wrist, surrendering her bag of potato chips to the teenager's gluttony, Tara slipped on her coat and boots and stepped on to the back porch.

Tara stood at the railing and thought of that day, five years before, when she had thrown her ring into the lake. It was a hard five years. The 'For Sale' sign had been taken down, at her behest. Her wife's clothes and the knitted blanket had been packed away. She had gone back to school. For a long time she merely skirted the abyss left by her love's passing, but then the abyss began to fill again. With work, with friends, and now, finally, with new love. Her memories of her wife never left completely, they merely faded, until they were blurred and softened like the cheesy romance novels she still read.

But after all pain, all sadness, there comes an end. Never a complete end, but more like a line that starts out so wide and black and terrible and thins and thins until it is just a whisper of a line but still there, and will be there for all eternity. She understood that. She knew her wife did, too.

Life did not need to be precious again. It already was.

Precious this time because of Willow. Tara recalled the redhead's eyes, voice, the softness of her hands. She remembered the hot way Willow had looked at her as their dinner ended a few nights ago; she had been nearly convinced that Willow was going to kiss her. And she was going to like it. Tara was dismayed not to find Willow at the bakery yesterday; she hated to leave a note for the girl who had so completely captivated her from the moment she first ate that muffin, but there was no other alternative. As she left the warmth of Willow's shop, she wondered if Willow would ever call, or if she would have to wait until April to stroll back into the warmth of Willow's shop, and Willow's life.

So Tara stood at the balcony and imagined, merely imagined what it would be like to have Willow as her girlfriend. Willow's hands on her breasts, tangled in her hair, Willow's lips pressing against hers with an aching, animal hunger. Lost in these pleasant ruminations, Tara suddenly realized something.

She was frozen no longer.


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