Return to The Game of Love Chapter Eighty-One

The Game of Love

Author: Shai
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Unfortunately neither Tara nor Willow are mine. Neither's anyone else in this fic for that matter!

Tara slowly walked up to the Rosenberg's front door, glancing at the note in her hand as she drew closer to it. She'd found the piece of paper on returning to her empty apartment late the previous night, and it was really the only evidence of the fact that Willow and the kids had been over to hers earlier that day. Blue eye's quickly skimmed over the words written in a hurried hand, and even now they brought a slow smile to her face; 'Apparently Mom's heard a lot about you from Daddy-O, and is wanting to meet this "Tara character" (quote en quote!) If you're free, she'd love to have you over to lunch tomorrow. 12:30 p.m sound ok? Text/call to confirm? p.s We missed you today.'

Less than 10 paces from the door now, Tara carefully folded the note and placed it into the pocket of her semi-formal beige-coloured pants. Climbing the two steps to the front door, she consciously straightened the collar of her white shirt before reaching up and ringing the bell. Moments later, the door was answered by a very flustered looking woman wearing a red apron that said 'Her', with hair as bright as Willow's but much longer. The lady took one look at Tara, and frowned "Ah, I can see why my husband is so taken by you..."

Her green eyes bore into Tara, who didn't really know how to respond to that statement. The blonde squirmed uncomfortably for a few seconds, before the redhead's expression finally changed from stone and she let out a hearty chuckle, "Oh, that was fun!"

Tara's eyes widened as the woman continued to laugh, and a moment later the blonde couldn't help but look amused herself. Not one to be caught out for too long, she waited for the women's laughter to die down to a smile, and retorted, "So, all the Rosenberg's are evil then?"

That caused the redhead's face to break into a full-blown beam again, "And proud of it! Oh, where are my manners...c'mon in!" She ushered Tara through the door, even as she reached out her right hand towards the younger woman, "I'm Sheila."

Tara smiled and shook the proffered hand, "Tara...but I think you already know that!"

Sheila's smile stayed in place as she carefully closed the door behind them, "Oh yes...I know quite a bit about you." she turned to walk towards the kitchen as she talked, "Apparently you're amongst the world's top tennis players, you harbour Mother Teresa's soul, you captain your university at some sport called handball, which," she turned to look at Tara apologetically, "I must admit I have never heard of before, you work with a radio station, and..." her brow scrunched into a thoughtful frown just as the duo neared the entrance to the kitchen, "you have some wonderful theories on doping in sport."

Tara by this point was blushing profusely, when Sheila stopped and asked, "So, my first question to you is, is there anything unimpressive about you?"

Tara was sure she was going to stutter out her answer, but was saved by a voice from the kitchen, "For God's sake Sheila! She ISN'T the actual meal...she's just come for one!"

Sheila huffed but did wink at her flustered guest before walking through the threshold of the kitchen. Tara took a deep calming breath before following her in, but forgot her worries the minute she spotted Ira standing in an apron that matched his wife's, except that his said 'His'. "Hey Ira" she grinned, and quickly walked up to him to give him a peck on the cheek. "Love the apron!"

"Hey gorgeous", he beamed right back. "I do look good in anything, eh?" The two laughed and exchanged pleasantries, while Ira tossed a salad. Sheila took the opportunity to pick up the cordless phone that was lying on the table and dialed a number as she walked out. A few minutes later, she was back, "The food is on its way, and Willow should be down shortly too." She looked at Tara, "Both Ira and I are just not up to cooking today, so we've called for Indian. Is that ok?"

"Oh, absolutely", Tara nodded.

Ira spoke up, "You can still compliment the salad though."

Sheila turned to open a drawer, "Yeah, he worked really hard chopping up those tomatoes, cucumbers and mushrooms". Tara giggled at the dry-sarcasm in Sheila's voice, even as she noticed how similar Willow's voice was to her mother's. When the older Rosenberg woman turned around with a corkscrew in her hands, Tara saw she had a satisfied smirk on her lips. "Red, or white?" she asked her guest, pointing out the two options on the counter.

"Red, please? I'm not too big on white."

"Then red it is" Sheila said, and proceeded to open the bottle. Tara turned to Ira, "Is there anything I can help with?"

"Oh, no, no..." Ira answered, and picked up the salad bowl. Taking the five short paces to the dining table, he set it down and pulled out a chair for Tara, "Just take a seat and get comfortable."

Tara murmured a thank you as she sat down, and watched as Ira did the same for his wife before handing the ladies their wine, and sitting down himself. Sheila spoke to her husband, "Willow can pour herself a glass if she wants when she comes down." She turned her attention to Tara and explained, "She had a night out with Buffy and Xander and some others... they were "Bronzing it"", she used her hands to make inverted commas for added emphasis, "and apparently she only got back at around 4 this morning".

Tara nodded, "Yeah, she sent me a text asking me if I wanted to go...but I was really tired after handball practice and work yesterday."

Sheila nodded, and reached for her glass. She raised it, waiting for the other two to do the same, "Well, here's to finally meeting you in person Tara." The blonde smiled shyly, but nodded her head to acknowledge the toast, and took a sip of her wine. All three allowed the wine to filter down their throats, and again, it was Sheila that spoke, "So really...what IS this handball?"

Over twenty minutes later, the three were still involved in easy conversation when the doorbell rang. "That must be the food" Sheila said, and both Rosenberg's stood up. Ira made his way out of the kitchen, while his wife walked to one of the closet's to bring out crockery to serve the foot in. She talked to Tara while bustling around, "So, when is the next international tournament?"

The blonde answered from her seat, "In six months. The exact dates haven't been announced yet, but that's what Coach Giles was saying."

"Well, that gives your ankle a while to recuperate, right?"

"Mmm hmm" Tara agreed, and turned towards the door as her sense of smell picked up Ira's approach to the kitchen. He walked in carrying two paper bags, and Tara commented, "Mmm, that smell's good!"

Ira placed the bags on the counter, "The Taj Palace...they have the best Indian food in all of Sunnydale."

"I'll give you their number if you want" Willow said, and Tara was smiling even before she turned to see the freshly showered redhead. She watched as the latest entrant to the kitchen walked towards her, and leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. When Willow pulled back, Tara realized that the smiling green-eyes still looked very sleepy. The big yawn that erupted from Willow's mouth confirmed Tara's theory that Willow was still tired, but she didn't say anything till Willow had kissed her parents and made her way to a chair opposite the blonde.

When Willow had finally settled down, she asked "Wine?"

The redhead slowly shook her head, "No thanks...but juice would be good" she said, and it took all of Tara's willpower to not just sit there and stare at the soft pout that now graced her lips. The blonde nodded and was about to stand up to check the fridge for juice when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up to see Ira, "I'll get it" he smiled.

Tara turned her attention back to Willow, "Rough night?" She sat back to allow Sheila to place some dishes on the table.

Willow nodded miserably, but quickly smiled up at her father, who'd placed a tall glass of orange juice before her, "Xander was driving, so I had to wait till everyone wanted to leave. And just so you can learn from my experience, it's not smart to drink tequila shots just because you have nothing else to do...."

Sheila placed two more dishes on the table before sitting down, "I could have told you that before last night. Wait, I'm sure I have...haven't I Ira?"

Ira laughed, setting down a basket of roti's on the table before sitting down beside his daughter, "Yes honey...but do you remember how YOU came to that wise conclusion?"

"Touché" Sheila said good-naturedly, while Willow high-fived her father. "So, Tara," she turned to the blonde, "we have dal tadka, palak paneer, butter chicken, bhindi fry, roti...and of course, steamed rice". Sheila had pointed to each dish as she said its name, but Tara asked "What's palak paneer?"

"Cottage cheese with spinach" Willow said, and held out her hand for Tara's plate. "It's delicious, and the only real time Mom let's me eat as much spinach as I want."

Tara handed her plate to the redhead, but asked Sheila "Why can't Willow eat spinach?"

"Because she had a migraine problem, and the doctor's told her that spinach triggers migraines" the older redhead answered while she placed a bowl of dal tadka in front of Tara.

The blonde turned her attention back to Willow, who was now putting some butter chicken onto Tara's plate, "Are your migraines that bad?"

Willow nodded without looking at Tara, "Oh, you have no idea. Earlier I'd throw-up till there was nothing that minutely resembled food left in my system, and then I'd sleep for hours and hours. But they've gotten better since the doctor prescribed some pills that I should take the minute I get the beginnings of an aura. You know," she looked at Tara, "uh, migraine symptoms?" The blonde nodded, so Willow smiled at her, and then added some bhindi fry to her plate, which had filled up in a matter of minutes.

"Any other no-no's?" Tara asked, watching Willow.

The redhead passed Tara's plate back to her, looking thoughtful, "Mmm, yeah. Chocolate." She held her hand out for her mother's plate, before beginning to fill that one up too. Tara made sure to safely tuck this new piece of information about Willow into her mind's 'Willow file', as Ira looked asked her, "Roti?"

"Yes please" she smiled, and reached out to take two roti's from the basket Willow's father was holding out to her. She waited for everyone's plates to be full, before all four of them began to eat together. "Mmm, this is so good" Tara complimented, "I see why you like it so much."

Willow bobbed her head up and down while she chewed, and Tara could tell she was enjoying the taste herself. "I really should look up the recipe for this one, and try making it at home" Tara muttered, taking another bite of the palak paneer."

"I will never leave your house if you do" Willow exclaimed after she'd swallowed the morsel in her mouth.

"Oh, that's for sure" Ira spoke up, "because you'd have a constant migraine, and wouldn't be able to."

Willow rolled her eyes at her father, and Tara smiled around at the Rosenberg's. She could see that Willow had a good family life, and it made her happy for the redhead. She'd secretly also decided that she HAD to try her hand at whipping up some palak paneer, if Willow liked it so much. 'Really, having Willow never leave my apartment wouldn't be that bad...'

Tara was brought out of her private thoughts by the younger redhead's voice, which was addressing her mother, "But yeah, Tara's a pretty good cook too...she cooked a mean spaghetti for me once."

Sheila's interested green-eyes turned to the blonde, "Tell me the're a superhero by night too, aren't you?" Her guest blushed before her eyes, but couldn't hide the soft smile that graced her face while the sound of Willow and Ira's laughter filled her ears.

Tara sat alone on the couch, waiting for Willow, who'd gone to put their dessert bowls in the dishwasher. The blonde heard a little thud, and on straining her ears, could make out the sounds of Willow sliding the machine closed and turning it on. She looked up at the door, and sure enough, the redhead appeared there moments later.

All through Willow's short time in the kitchen, Tara had wondered where she'd sit when she joined her in the living room. Her thoughts had wandered to the previous Thursday, when she'd found the courage to snuggle up to the redhead while watching the snake documentary. She'd shuddered as she remembered some of the visuals from the documentary, but quickly returned to wondering where Willow would position herself on the couch. 'Maybe she won't sit on the couch at all' she'd thought, looking at the single armchairs in the room. Closing her eyes, Tara had thought about Anya and Cordelia's reactions to her description of her most recent afternoon with the redhead. The two women had seemed like proud parents when she'd told them about the closeness she'd shared with Willow, and they'd reassured her that the redhead would have never extended the invitation to lunch to her if she was freaked.

Now, as she looked at Willow's approaching form, all her self-doubt had resurfaced. After all, she was the one who had snuggled up to Willow, and not the other way around. Trying to blink away her fears, she smiled slowly "I can't believe I'd never heard of gulab jamun's before today", and tried to ignore the fact that her body was on high alert. Willow finally made it to the couch, and to Tara it felt like time itself had slowed down as she crossed the blonde, and promptly sat down right beside her.

Tara let out a breath that she hadn't even realized she was holding, when Willow scooted even closer to her, so that the right side of the redhead's body was connected to the left side of Tara's. Willow yawned again, and rested her head on Tara's shoulder. "Yup, you were definitely missing out" she commented.

By now Tara had completely forgotten what she'd said to Willow just seconds ago, and frantically searched her memory for a few moments. "Oh! Gulab jamun's! Yeah! Missing out!" she finally agreed wholeheartedly.

Willow raised her head, and Tara nervously looked down at amused green eye's that seemed to dance at her, before they turned away and blue eyes were once again staring at red hair. "Introducing you to them is just part of my father's evil plan to stuff you up before you guys head out to play tennis" she laughed, drawing a giggle from Tara. Both women sat that way a few seconds, before Willow began to move her head this way and that, trying to get comfortable on Tara's shoulder.

The blonde wanted to tell Willow how cute she sounded making soft disgruntled sounds in her quest to get comfy, but opted to do something else completely. "Here" she said, lightly pushing Willow's head off her shoulder with her right hand, and again resisting the urge to comment on the adorable frown that had appeared on Willow's forehead. Tara raised her left hand and rested its length along the back of the couch, before looking at the redhead and patting the spot right beneath her shoulder in a silent invitation. Willow titled her head slightly, as if trying to read Tara, before her features softened and she rested her head in the newly offered space.

'Ok, so maybe I didn't think this all the way through...' Tara thought, stifling a moan as she felt Willow's relaxed form gently press against the side of her left breast, and her head rested on a spot that was someplace between Tara's shoulder and chest. The happy sigh that emanated from Willow chased away any trace of regret though, and she asked "Better?"

The happy "Mmm hmm" she received was answer enough. It also gave Tara the courage she needed to curl her left arm around Willow in a more protective embrace. She did it slowly, watching and feeling for any signs of discomfort from the woman resting against her side. When she felt none, Tara willed her own body to relax, and enjoy whatever it was that they were sharing.

For minutes the silence in the room was only broken by sounds of both women breathing, and Tara didn't know how Willow felt, but she was definitely content and nervous in equal measures. The blonde was doing her best to keep her heartbeat as even as possible since the redhead's ear was lightly resting against her ribcage, but that was easier thought than done. She was quite convinced that Willow had picked up on the erratic pace of her heart, when the redhead broke the silence, "The Bronze was really busy last night."

The normalcy of that question was just what Tara needed, and she felt the tension leave her body. Glancing down at the red tresses once again, she shifted her own face, so her chin was gently propped on the top of Willow's head. "How so?" she asked, breathing in and allowing the lavender scent of Willow's shampoo to hit her.

"Well," Willow started, but was stopped mid-sentence by another yawn. "Sorry" she muttered when she'd moved her hand away from her mouth, "umm, well, it was like half of Sunnydale had decided to show up..."

"Mmm hmm" Tara muttered distractedly. She was staring at the hairs atop Willow's head, marveling at how soft they looked. 'I wonder if they're as soft to the touch too...'

Willow continued talking, "What's weird is that most of the kids there didn't even look like they were old enough to be out of high school, so I'm thinking the bouncers weren't doing their jobs. Come to think of it...they didn't even check my i.d!"

Tara was still focused on Willow's hair, and slowly nodded her head even as the fingers of the arm curled around the redhead started to inch their way towards red locks. The blonde wasn't consciously aware of what she was doing till her fingers had found their way to bright tresses, and her thumb and index finger had teamed up determine their softness. That's when Tara realized that Willow had stopped talking too, so she asked in as usual a tone as possible, "Lot's of underage drunks then?"

"Uh huh" Willow answered, as Tara allowed her fingers to slowly travel to the bottom of the shoulder length red hair. The flow of her hand was stopped at the very end by a small knot of hair which Tara gently untangled with her fingers, before moving her hand back to the top, and repeating the motion. She heard Willow take a slow breath, and when the redhead spoke again, her pitch was a definite few octaves lower, "Drunken kids giving us an avoidable free show of lots of PDA's."

"Mmm, that can get disgusting huh?" Tara asked, enjoying the delicious shiver that went down her spine at Willow's tone, and moving her hand in a rhythmic motion now.

"Mmm hmm" Willow answered, tilting her head to the right so it was now half lying on Tara's body, "very. I've never been a big fan of over-the-top PDA's. I mean, a peck on the lips is ok, but if you want to play tonsil tennis, do it somewhere I can't see you...I actually need to explain that to Xander, if you know what I mean" she laughed nervously.

Tara was so intent on the feeling of Willow's silky soft hair beneath her fingers that she almost jumped out of her skin when she felt the first tentative touch of the redhead's fingers on her lap. Blue eyes darted to the pale left hand that had sat itself down next to her own right hand, and she watched as Willow's digits inched their way to her own, "Yeah...Anya's always been like that too, so I can only imagine the show you got last night". The movement of Willow's hand stopped when the tips of her fingers made contact with Tara's. Tara was still staring at the motionless fingers that sat atop her own when Willow cleared her throat and asked, "What's your take on PDA's?"

Tara tried to keep her voice as steady as possible as she slowly turned her right hand around, so her fingerprints were now pressed against Willow's, "Umm, I can't really say I enjoy watching two people make-out... no."

Apparently that little move was all the encouragement Willow needed, because she slowly slid her palm so it was now flat over Tara's. She didn't stop there, and slipped her lithe fingers between the blonde's before half-bending them, "What about you?" she asked, placing quiet emphasis on the last word.

Tara lifted her hand as inconspicuously as possible, and Willow immediately bent her fingers the rest of the way, so that her fingertips were pressed against the blonde's knuckles. Tara mimicked her gesture, and there they sat, hands entwined. "Me?" she spoke, reveling in the feel of Willow's fiery locks beneath the touch of one of her hands, and the contact of the redhead's soft palm against her slightly more weathered one. "Well, I've never been into any displays of affection...romantically I mean". She stopped and took a deep breath, "I've, umm, never...never kissed someone."

The blonde felt Willow's body freeze then, and didn't interrupt the ensuing silence because she knew the redhead's mind was at work. Almost half a minute into the silence, she felt Willow's thumb start a slow pendulum-like movement against the outside of Tara's right index finger, and still the woman pressed against her said nothing. Tara closed her eyes, and enjoyed all the feelings she was experiencing, both emotionally and physically, wash over her. She knew that whatever she and Willow were sharing right then was very significant for the both of them, but despite her obviously deep feelings for the redhead, Tara didn't feel like there was a need to rush anything. Right now, all that Tara knew was that Willow like-liked her, and she hoped she was doing enough to show the redhead that the sentiment was reciprocated.

Willow finally broke the bubble of silence, "What about all those guys you dated?"

Tara surprised herself with the calmness of her own answer, "They were really nice guys, and we had fun dates, but...I've always wanted my first kiss to be special, and really mean something...and none of the guys meant enough to me to share that experience with them...By the end of it, our dates ended up being more like 2 friends hanging least for me."

"Oh," Willow said, and Tara felt her fingers squeeze around her own just a little bit tighter, "when...when will you know that it's the right time?"

"When I feel like I'm going to explode if I don't feel the person's lips against mine right then," Tara spoke softly.

Willow inhaled deeply, "So what you're saying is that you want to really feel something for the person you share your first kiss with..."

Tara nodded, her chin moving atop Willow's head, "I want to be in love with...the person" she acknowledged.

"Sounds like a plan" Willow murmured, and Tara felt the redhead's cheek lift into a smile against her body.

"Mmm hmm" she agreed, her fingers continuing to stroke their way through Willow's tresses.

Hours later, Willow opened her eyes, and immediately felt a sense of loss. Looking around, she realized that she had fallen asleep on her couch, and Tara was no where to be seen. Instead, her head had been propped onto one of the square cushions from the armchairs. She had obviously been out for a long time, since the sun had set outside.

The last thing Willow remembered was thinking how good it felt to have Tara's finger's running through her hair, and that teamed with the blonde's vanilla scent and rhythmic sound of her heart beat that just about reached Willow's ears must have lulled her to sleep. The redhead slowly sat up, and as her senses began to function properly again, she heard faint sounds coming from the right. She turned towards the source of the sound, and realized someone was in the kitchen, since the light was also on in there.

Standing up, Willow slowly stretched before walking towards the kitchen. She was greeted by her mother, who was sitting at the table reading the day's newspaper, "Ah, I thought I heard you" Sheila smiled. "The coffee's ready" she said, gesturing towards the freshly brewed pot on the counter.

Willow smiled sleepily, and poured herself a cup before joining her mother at the table. Sheila folded the newspaper, "Tara didn't want to wake you, so she asked me to ask you to get to her place at 11 tomorrow morning. Everyone's meeting up there, before leaving for the beach."

Her daughter nodded, and took a sip of the coffee. "Mmm" she sighed happily. Sheila smiled fondly at her daughter, "You two looked very cozy on the couch, and Ira even suggested that they cancel their game of tennis. Tara was very careful not to disturb you when she got up to leave..."

Willow took another sip of the brew, and regarded her mother with more alert eyes, "Annnnd...?"

"And she seems wonderful" Sheila admitted, her own smile widening at the delighted expression on her daughter's face.

Continue to The Game of Love Chapter Eighty-Three

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