"Hey Chief! Where are you going--"
She buzzed past her eight year old friends before they could finish one sentence.
"Was that Chief on a skateboard?"
"Yeah, but she looked like she was gonna fall off."
"Adults are strange."
They shrugged to each other and returned to their game.
Her thighs ached, her spine felt like it was broken in three hundred places, she knew she looked like a dolt.
"What the fuck, Red?" Faith's loud snigger didn't help. "Trolls took your chair?"
From one side of the table where people could only see her from the waist up, Willow looked a figure of normalcy, if a little wobbly.
From the back, it was anything but normal. She was delicately balanced on her skateboard, while trying to hold onto her desk and work as normal. Occasionally she would glance around her and, if no one was watching closely, bounce up and down as if on a pogo stick.
Bless her group, they came up with suggestions on how to become a surfer in the shortest time.
Keep your weight low. Master your ups and downs.
"Ups," Willow muttered as she straightened her knees.
"Downs." And relax.
She almost fell off several times and had to grab onto her desk for support.
"This is hard," she breathed as she almost tipped over.
Don't look at your feet. You should be facing the direction of where you want to go.
She kept her eyes straight ahead.
At lunch, she took her skateboard to the seclusion of the roof.
When you paddle, keep your back arched.
She was stomach down on the board, paddling with her arms and kicking the "water" with her feet.
The pigeons on the roof had flown away in fear as soon as she started.
She "took off" by pushing herself off the board and trying to stand up. The first time she tried, she ended up perfectly balanced and standing solidly ... on the ground, having missed the board completely.
Use your hands to balance yourself.
The pigeons looked on from the next rooftop, no doubt puzzled at why the human was flailing her arms desperately while trying to keep still on a piece of plank on wheels.
Every day for the next few days she practiced and practiced. She did imaginary surfing at work, at home and on the train. She watched Point Break and Blue Crush relentlessly. She tried to incorporate surfer dude terms into her everyday vocabulary, but stopped when Faith pointedly told her to cut it out with the "swells" and "wipe-outs."
Saturday was the day that she was going to take everything that she learnt during her week of imaginary training and hit the waves for real. She packed her board, loud shorts, comic books, water, cereal bars and last will & testament into her large backpack.
"Thanks for coming," Donnie handed champagne glasses to his sister and his girlfriend.
"I won't miss it for anything. You've done wonders to the décor, it's sure to be a success," Tara congratulated her brother. Donnie was a successful restaurateur; he wasn't a chef, but he knew good food and what drew customers.
"Yes, isn't he wonderful?" Anya hooked her arms around Donnie's and beamed.
"Do you have any more brothers?" Cordy asked the Maclay siblings, to general laughter.
Later, after he was done mingling with guests, Donnie sought Tara out. They escaped outside to avoid the throng of well-wishers, the crisp night air a welcome change to the stale warm atmosphere inside.
"Are you really staying this time?" Tara asked him.
"For the time being. There are only so many new restaurants I can open in L.A., New York and Chicago," he mused. "So tell me, Sis. Who is she?"
"Who?" Tara was caught out all of a sudden.
"You have this faraway look that you always have when you're thinking very hard about someone. Like when you first met ... am I allowed to say her name?" he said sheepishly.
Tara walked a little away from the restaurant, not answering Donnie immediately, as memories of a failed relationship flooded over her.
"You can say her name," she whispered.
"Still painful?" he asked gently.
She answered with a barely perceptible nod.
"We were together for two years. Started talking about our future; I was gathering information on how to move to Massachusetts. And then it turned out that she was married to some guy named Riley from Iowa. I felt so stupid." Tears were flowing freely, as she remembered how she felt when she discovered that Sam had lied to her.
They strolled along the almost empty street, he didn't want to disturb her; she was deep in thought.
"Look! An old fashioned phone booth. Remember?" He ran up to the old phone and picked up the handset. "Remember how we dealt with mean people? We phoned them up and told them exactly what we thought of them."
Tara allowed herself a small smile. "Yes we did."
"Want to try? It'll make you feel better. It always made you feel better to shout at Dad," Donnie handed the handset to Tara expectantly.
Tara hesitated for a minute before accepting it. She placed it against her ear, ignoring the dial tone, and took a deep breath. "I don't have feelings for you anymore. I'm over you, so take your Iowa farmboy and languish in South America all you like!"
She was shaking like a leaf, but Donnie's arms wrapped around her in a comforting hug.
"Nah, that won't do," he said as he took over the handset. His tirade was much more passionate. "You are a rotten bastard, do you think Tara will ever like you? You have a lot of nerve making my beautiful sister cry. One of these days I'm going to track you down in Peru or Chile or wherever you are and beat you on the head with a shovel! You and your stupid husband!"
Tara was breaking out in giggles at Donnie's outburst. When he handed the phone over to her, she was still shaking, but with relief and laughter. "I never want to see you again, you big liar!" she shouted. "I'll have someone to make me incredibly happy, I don't need you anymore."
Brother and sister hugged warmly after the steam letting-out session. Tara was so thankful for Donnie for coming to her rescue.
Seemed she was always in need of being rescued.
Another week passed.
Saturday was the day.
Willow had redoubled her training efforts. Took a couple of personal days and spent every daylight minute at the beach. At night, she played surfing games while practicing more on her board.
She found herself nodding off constantly, she was tired to the bone, but conversations with Tara sustained her.
They met at the station and took the train to the beach. Willow thought Tara never looked more beautiful in a straw hat, sundress and thin cotton sweater. Tara even brought a picnic basket.
"I made lunch," she explained shyly.
An hour later they were at the beach. Willow had changed into her wetsuit and was regarding the ocean with trepidation. It was becoming overcast and the waves seemed larger and angrier than she had encountered the past two weeks.
Here goes nothing, she thought to herself. I hope she finds my will in my backpack.
"Good luck!" Tara was standing behind Willow, and for the first time, noticed the patchwork of band-aids on her feet and arms. She frowned, her brows crinkling as a thought occurred to her. "Don't overdo it, okay?" she reminded Willow.
"Yeah," Willow replied listlessly.
She must know what she's doing, Tara was trying to figure out why Willow displayed so little enthusiasm. She had been surfing for years, hadn't she? May be the band-aids were from an accident. She made a mental note to ask Willow later.
It started to rain.
The wind grew strong and black clouds gathered quickly over their heads. The rain grew from scattered to heavy in just a few seconds.
Willow was still standing out on the sand, facing the ocean, which had gone very black.
"Willow, I don't think you should go out there. It's too dangerous," Tara warned.
Willow sank to her feet, tears and rain mixed together on her face.
"I can't do it," she sobbed.
"You can't surf in this weather," Tara agreed.
Willow looked away for a moment. "No, it's not only that I can't surf in this weather. Tara, I can't surf at all. That time in the restaurant, I told you I did surfing, it meant surfing on the internet, not this. I can hardly swim," she broke down and was shivering, not from the rain but from the knowledge that she did something wrong.
Tara didn't move for several seconds as she watched a kaleidoscope of emotions cross Willow's features -- regret, shame, despair. Willow kept her head bowed, she wouldn't look at Tara.
"And because of that, you bought a surfboard and wetsuit? Those cuts ...?" she knelt down beside Willow and reached out to touch the cuts.
"I-i-i, I've been learning and practicing," Willow admitted.
"You wanted to impress me?" Tara smiled.
Willow finally looked up and caught Tara's eyes. There was no hate, no pity. "I did," she nodded. "But it's too hard to learn in two weeks."
"On sweetie, you didn't lie, it was my fault for not hearing what you said properly. But to go to all this length, Willow ... what would you have done if it hadn't rained?" Tara said sincerely.
"I don't know. Drowned?" Willow laughed bitterly.
"Don't say that. I don't know what I'd do if you did. Promise me you'll tell me the truth on something as important as this. I don't want misunderstandings between us," Tara said.
"You're not mad?" Willow asked.
"No, but I want a picture of you in this wetsuit and surfboard," Tara laughed.
"I'll have to think about it. You just want it to keep reminding me," Willow laughed too, and the laughter that they shared was genuine.
"Come on, let's get out of the rain," Tara held out her hand.
Willow didn't hesitate in taking the proffered hand and allowed herself to be pulled back onto her feet.
It felt good, to be holding hands, as they walked side by side back up the beach. It didn't matter that the rain was pelting down. Neither let go, even after they reached shelter.