Willow stared into thin air while the phones around her rang off the hook. Her mind was miles away.
"You gonna answer those?" Faith leaned over and poked Willow in the ribs.
"Ow! What?" Willow rubbed her ribs in annoyance and glared at Faith.
"Phones. Answer. Supergeek to the rescue."
"Oh, those. Let them ring," Willow shrugged.
"What's eating you, Red? You're all mopey with the big sighs. And you look different, what have you done to your hair? And there's something else. You're not wearing glasses?"
"I don't wear glasses Faith. And it's nothing."
"Nothing, or none of my business?"
Willow shot Faith a dirty look and tried to ignore her. But the brunette wouldn't give up; there was a secret and she was going to find out. She glanced at the clock, grabbed Willow by the arm and pulled her up abruptly.
"Faith! Leave me alone," Willow scowled.
"Lunchtime," Faith announced.
"I'm not hungry," Willow snapped.
Faith ignored her, physically dragged a struggling Willow to the cafeteria and deposited the sullen redhead at a corner table.
"So, Auntie Faithy is your best friend, let's catch up on the weekend," Faith made a bridge with her hands and watched Willow expectantly.
Willow looked at her co-worker as if she was nuts. "You're not my best friend, Faith."
"I'm letting you eat lunch with me, I'm your best friend for the next hour," Faith said.
"You dragged me down here in the first place," Willow grumbled.
"God, stop being such a whiner. You went on a date with that girl but got no nookies did you? Got the brush off?"
Willow stared at Faith in disbelief. "Can you get your mind out of the gutter? It was nothing like that!"
"Tell me you haven't thought about it. Nookies I mean," Faith sniggered.
"Look Faith, it may surprise you but not everyone thinks with their ... I don't even know the right term, but it's not your brain," Willow retorted.
Faith shot Willow a hard look. "I'm getting food. Do not move from this spot."
"I'm not hungry," Willow repeated.
"Don't complain when I don't get you anything," Faith said.
Faith was back soon with a tray laden with grease and carb. Willow hadn't moved, she thought of abandoning Faith but she started thinking about Tara and she lost track of time.
"Scrub," Faith said through a mouthful of burger.
"What now?" Willow sighed.
"You've had some sort of face scrub, or eyebrow pluck or some beauty treatment. You know, change your appearance all you want, you don't have the creds or guts to get this girl. She's out of your league," Faith said.
"You may be right," Willow thought back at the evening with Tara, and nice though it was, she couldn't see much in common.
"Things might be different if you had a hobby that isn't so childish. Something interesting," Faith threw the remains of her burger on her plate in disgust. "This is foul. Let's go."
"An interesting hobby?" Willow said to herself as she allowed herself to be dragged back to the office.
She tried to think back at something Tara said.
I really admire surfers, they are so free and there's a certain aura about them.
"I need a hobby!"
Willow gingerly pushed herself up from her prone position and brought her feet up beneath her while trying to keep her balance. She also remembered that she wasn't supposed to look down at where her feet were positioned, and tried to look straight ahead. With an unsteady motion she at last managed to stand up and affect a stance that looked like the ones she saw on TV.
It didn't last long as her legs couldn't keep the board from swaying and she tumbled clumsily into an ungraceful leap on the floor.
She tried to leverage herself up onto the surfboard she had precariously balanced on her bed at one end and a chair at the other, but the board wobbled and she slipped again, this time falling painfully on her bottom.
She sighed. The experiment with the surfing wasn't going well. She had picked up the second hand surfboard from a small sports shop and was even dressed 'appropriately' in a Big Smiley t-shirt, surfer shorts and snorkeling gear. But she had didn't have the coordination necessary for sports.
At that moment, her phone decided to ring. She scrambled up, flew across the room and snatched the phone from her desk.
"Willow, it's Tara."
"Hi Tara!" Willow said, far too cheerfully, trying not to sound flustered.
"I wanted to thank you for last night," Tara said politely.
"I had a lot of fun too." Willow managed to compose herself and was sitting on the floor underneath the surfboard.
"That's good," Tara started.
"I didn't know if you heard me on the train ..."
"Yes I heard you. I was wondering if you'd call."
"Sorry, I didn't know if I should."
"You're doing it again."
"Are you nervous?"
"A little bit. I don't know why. I've been thinking of calling you, but wasn't sure what to say that doesn't make me sound stupid."
"You don't sound stupid, Willow."
"I was thinking about what you said, that you like trying out new restaurants, but your friend doesn't have time."
"Yes, she has other commitments."
"I could be your restaurant friend! I mean, if you want."
"Um yes, I'd like that very much."
"I actually wanted you to ask me about it yesterday, I think I need to work on my hinting skills," Tara laughed.
"Oh no! I'm bad at reading signals, that's all," Willow joined in too.
"I was too obtuse."
"I have no nuance!"
"How about I look for the restaurant this time?"
"Great. Are you free this Sunday?"
"Free? Of course I am." Don't know if I can wait that long.
"That's settled. I'll let you know the address later?"
"Me neither. I'll talk to you soon?"
"Count on it. Night, Tara."
Tara, Anya and Cordy met up for drinks on Wednesday as arranged. Tara had an uneasy feeling about this appointment, she didn't know why.
The topic inevitably turned to relationships, though it was basically Cordy's monologue about her latest conquests.
Tara was nursing her drink while trying to listen, and not listen, to Cordy.
"He owns a fleet of Porsches. A whole fleet! It was incredible to walk into his garage," Cordy was recounting yet another date with yet another eligible bachelor.
Anya's eyes shot up at the sound of approaching footsteps and a smile slowly spread all over her face. "There you are," she said to the person who just walked up to their table.
Cordy and Tara both turned to greet the newcomer.
"Am I late?" said the young man with flaxen hair and dressed stylishly in all black.
Tara's face fell.
"He's cute," Cordy remarked.
"Here, sit down," Anya pulled out the chair next to her and indicated that the young man should sit with her. She immediately looped her arm around his in an obvious show of possession.
"Well, aren't you going to introduce us to your new boyfriend?" Cordy asked.
"He's your boyfriend?" Tara asked, incredulous.
"That a problem?" Anya challenged, noting Tara's strange and hostile expression.
"Is that why you've been hiding him, because you don't want me to know? Do you know who he is?" Tara asked.
"Of course I know who he is! The question is, why are you being so possessive?" Anya asked angrily.
"Oh my god, a love triangle!" Cordy squealed.
"It's not --" Tara started.
"He doesn't belong to you!" Anya spat.
"Excuse me," the young man tried to speak up.
"Don't pretend you don't know anything, you-- you cheater!" Cordy shouted.
He recoiled. "I think there's a misunderstanding," he said to Cordy.
"What about Beth?" Tara turned to the young man and asked him directly.
"We're just friends," he explained with a shrug.
"You're cheating on Tara with this Beth! And Anya too!" Cordy got ready for another verbal assault.
"What?!" "What?!" "What?!" Three voices raised in unison.
"You're suck a jerk and I don't even know you," Cordy's indignant rage was so great that she slapped him.
"No!" Anya rushed to protect her boyfriend.
"Cordy, no! He's my brother!" Tara exclaimed. "Donnie, are you okay?"
"I'm fine," he said, gingerly checking on a reddening patch on his cheek.
Introductions were made all around. Cordy couldn't help being jealous of Anya, and she tried to monopolize his conversation all night.
Anya wasn't bothered, she knew what Cordy was up to. Instead she left Donnie to fend for himself with a 'he's a big boy' thought, and turned to Tara.
"Did you talk to Willow?" she got straight to the point.
"Um yes," Tara replied.
"Are you gonna have a second date?" Anya asked in an exaggerated whisper.
"It's not a date. Anyway, I haven't decided where to go, it's my turn to think of a place," Tara said.
"Aha! So it is a date!" Anya grinned victoriously.
"I keep telling you, it's not a date," Tara huffed.
"If it's not a date, then you won't mind me coming along?" Anya's eyes almost shone mischievously as she said that.
Tara was caught out. While she was consistently adamant that she wasn't going on a date with Willow, she knew it was something that perhaps she wanted to work toward one day. Having Anya along as a third wheel brought out massive feelings of disappointment. On the other hand, she knew once Anya's mind was made up, there was no changing it.
"Why?" she finally asked.
"So I can approve of this Willow, before things get too far," Anya said righteously.
"You're not going to listen to anything I say about us not being involved that way, are you?" Tara said exasperatedly.
"Then prove it to me. Tell me I won't be a third wheel at your dinner," Anya challenged.
Tara knew she would never win this argument. "Alright, but let me clear it with her first," she finally acquiesced.
"See? Whipped already," Anya teased.
Tara decided not to answer that.
Later, she excused herself and went outside to call Willow.
"I need to ask a favor, Willow."
"Is it okay ... is it okay if I brought someone with me this Sunday? Someone I want to introduce you to."
Willow's face fell, but she couldn't let Tara know how disappointed she was.
"That's fine," she said slowly.
"Really?" Tara sounded surprised.
"Thank you, Willow. I'll make it up to you next time."
"Next time? Really?"
"You don't want?"
"No, no, no. I mean, I do want. Now I'm sounding incoherent, I'm sorry."
"Should I be worried that you're becoming incoherent?"
"Well, I could ask that particular persona to take a break. I have another seventeen I can pick from."
Tara laughed. They decided to talk again when Tara found a suitable restaurant.
Willow didn't want to go home.
She walked aimlessly amongst the throng of people hurrying home from work.
It could have been dark and raining or still bright and warm, but she didn't notice.
She thought of Tara.
She stopped by the railway bridge over the highway and watched as the rush hour express roared its way to the suburbs.
She had missed lunch and should be starving and thirsty, but she didn't notice.
She thought of Tara.
She found herself at the Espresso Pump and contemplated going in and watching the people pass through its doors. It was less crowded than when she visited with Xander. Was it only a week ago?
The Wishing Tree was gone, the donations no doubt gone to whichever charity it was earmarked for. She wasn't cynical enough to believe that charitable donations only lined the pockets of middle people.
She found the tree in the back alley, forlornly leaning against the dirty back entrance, waiting to meet its fate at the municipal dump.
Amazingly, out of the hundreds of slips of paper wishes, her eyes came to rest on one crumbled slip written in neat hand-writing. Xander wanted to know what she had written that day, but she was insistent that it was a secret.
"It invalidates the wish if I tell anyone else. It's like birthday wishes," she said.
"That's kids stuff," he argued. But one sharp look from her and he held back a retort.
She gently disentangled the fragile paper and read the wish. Perhaps it was a sign. She folded it up carefully and put it in a compartment of her wallet. It was an unusual wish for her, she would normally have wished for a better job, or a new laptop, or something like that. Instead she had torn something from deep within her heart.
I want to fall in love.