She threw the envelope on the desk with so much force that the contents spilled out and some flew off onto the floor.
"What the fuck?"
"No, that's my line. What the fuck do you think you are doing?"
"These pictures. I know you took them. I know you've been stalking Tara. You're a pervert. A sick, disgusting, dirty pervert!"
"Stalking? Chill, Red, I'm not stalking her, though she’s quite a looker, I won't be surprised if someone does."
"Do you know how scared she was? She hasn't been sleeping and is constantly looking over her shoulders because she thinks someone is going to attack her!"
Faith had the decency to look chagrined. "Look, Willow. You’re blowing things out of proportion. I mean, You were going dotty over this chick, I had to see for myself. And now I know why you're on hormonal overdrive. My question is, what does she see in you?"
"How, what, you followed us?" Willow spluttered.
Faith bent down to retrieve the fallen photos, laying them out on her desk. "Don't flatter yourself. If you insist on sending each other little love notes, don't leave the email open on your screen for people to read," Faith mocked.
"Nuh-uh. I never leave my personal email open. You are the one who forced your way to my screen, don't try to make me feel guilty. In fact you're making me very angry right now," Willow seethed. Even Faith seemed to be taken aback at how pissed off the normally meek Willow was.
"No, Faith, you look. Can you imagine how terrifying it is to know that someone is watching every move you make? How helpless? The horrors of opening up your mailbox and seeing pictures of yourself inside?" Willow's anger was about to boil over any second.
"I didn't mean it that way! I thought I'd just watch her when she comes out of her office, but I couldn't help myself, she's very attractive. Then I took these pictures and I didn't know what to do with them, so I put them in her mailbox to give them back. That's all," Faith tried to explain.
Willow blew out a huge sigh. "You didn't mean harm, but think about it from her point of view. What if you were one of those stalkers who are so obsessed with their victim that they think they're in love? What if she opens her door one day and finds that her home has been violated? Or all of these scenarios that we read about? How long will it take for her to get over this fear? And just because you prefer to get your entertainment at someone else's expense."
Faith expression grew more and more ashamed following Willow's outburst. "God, I'm so stupid. I had no idea," she muttered.
"You were thinking only of yourself. Like you ever do anything different," Willow snorted.
"I want to explain to her, to apologize. Will she let me, do you think?" Faith asked, almost timidly.
"I don't know, I'll ask her," Willow retorted.
She didn't want to speak with Faith anymore and left the conversation abruptly. It was the first time that she wasn't afraid or exasperated by Faith, but she had no time to revel in the feeling.
"This is the second time you've saved me. What do they say about you owning my life from now on?" Tara said.
"Tara, don't joke. I can't possibly afford you," Willow teased back.
"Of course you can. Seriously, thank you for everything you've done," Tara emphasized.
"I was worried. I'm so glad it's over."
"I should send you something as thank you."
"There's no need, Tara. The cups are enough."
"Cups? Oh, the ones I sent before?"
"Yes, they're so lovely and special; I have them displayed in the most prominent place on my shelf."
"You shouldn't be putting them out on display. I bought them for you to use."
"But they're so fragile, I don't want to accidentally drop one. I'll be distraught."
"They're pretty sturdy actually."
"I won't have much chance to use them myself."
Tara hesitated for a moment. "Then we should have tea."
"Um, why don't you come over tomorrow afternoon? Bring the cups, I'll make tea the English way."
"Come over?" Willow could only repeat everything Tara said.
"Is that alright? I'll even make a cake," to Willow's ears, Tara's voice had suddenly gone very soft and her bedroom suddenly became so hot that her cellphone was slipping from her grip.
Willow tried desperately not to say "cake" but could think of nothing better. "What sort of cake?" she winced at how lame she sounded.
"Something simple, what do you like?"
"Me? Anything. I can't cook to save my life, homemade food turns me into a dreamy puddle."
I can't believe a month ago I didn't know what 'eating' meant and now I'm talking about dreamy, melty puddles.
"Isn't it a bit too early in our relationship to be talking about puddles?"
Tara blushed, and knew that Willow would see her blush even over the phone. "I'm joking. After the adventures with Faith, I don't want to be too serious right now."
I hope you're not just joking.
"I get that. You're allowed to flirt as much as you like."
Only with you.
"Make yourself at home, I'm going to get the tea ready," Tara led Willow into the living room of her small apartment and made sure Willow was well settled.
"Something smells good. I can't resist the smell of freshly baked goods," Willow said appreciatively.
"Especially bread, it's irresistible," Tara nodded and hurried into the kitchen.
Willow was almost dizzy at being in Tara's home. She knew the outside very well from the past week, but it was still the drab face of an apartment building. Inside was full of warmth and elegance, just like the Tara of her mind.
Tara brought out a large tray containing a fine bone china teapot, strainer, milk and sugar in dainty little jugs, and Willow's cups. On a large white plate was a small round cake, simply decorated with small rosettes of whipped cream.
"This looks so beautiful, the cups are wasted on me, I don't have such elegant teaware as you," Willow was stunned at what Tara was carefully arranging on the coffee table.
"Do you know what the English say when they serve tea?" Tara asked as she cut a slice of cake for Willow.
"Cuppa tea, cuppa tea?" Willow laughed.
Tara laughed. "That too. What I was thinking is that they say 'shall I be mother?' when they are pouring. I find that phrase very amusing. Is this okay?" Tara said as she handed the plate to Willow.
"Is that similar to where 'mother-hen' comes from? Taking care of others?" Willow placed the plate on her lap and waited for Tara to serve herself. "This looks really good, what type of cake is it?"
"Just an ordinary sponge cake, nothing special," Tara blushed.
"If you made it, then it's special," Willow smiled softly.
Tara blushed and busied herself with pouring the tea as a distraction. "The English put their milk in the cup before adding the tea, do you take milk?"
"Mmm, yes. Fresh," Willow replied automatically.
They lapsed into silence as they tried to think of topics that didn't automatically take their minds to fantasyland.
Willow was mesmerized at how Tara drank her tea. It was as if watching in slow-motion, how Tara brought the cup to her lips and how those lips closed on the edge of the pristine white surface. She knew she was staring but she couldn't tear her eyes away. Tara even drank tea sexily.
"Do you, um, like the cake?" Tara finally broke the silence.
Willow's mouth was still full when she answered. "More than like."
"I haven't baked for a while. I love making muffins, cookies, pound cakes. Wanted to try my hand at bread-making, but I never got around to it," Tara was surprised at how awkward and babbly she suddenly sounded.
Willow's mind automatically went to an image of Tara's hands kneading and shaping the bread dough. She blinked to clear her mind and to think of a chaste response. "May be next time? I'll try to help, though I'll end up more in your way I think," she finally said. "I mean, if there is a next time."
Their eyes locked and Willow was afraid that Tara could read her intent as clear as day.
"I'm sure next time I'll find tasks for you, we'll turn you into a pastry chef in no time," Tara said, making sure to indicate that yes, she'd love to have a next time with Willow.
"I'm not so sure, I have no cooking green fingers," Willow shrugged. "I can find any information on the web, but I even burn canned soup. You have your work cut out for you."
"We'll start slow. Oh, talking about the web, when are you taking me to the computer store?" Tara remembered their aborted beach'n'computer date when Willow tried to surf but was rescued by the rain. Mostly she remembered holding Willow's hand for the longest time after Willow's confession.
"Do you want a new computer, or should I take a look at what's wrong with your old one? What do you normally use it for? And most importantly, what's your budget," Willow was all business once the talk turned to technology.
"I'm not sure. I've had it for 4 years, I think it's time to, what do you call it? Upgrade," Tara smiled.
"Four years in computer terms is a lifetime. But let me see if I can make it functional again, if only till we get you a new one," Willow suggested.
Tara pointed at a beige PC on a computer desk at the corner of the living room. Willow's eye blinked at the sheer antiquity of it, the CPU was bulky and occupied more than half the desktop space. The monitor occupied the other half, leaving barely enough space for the keyboard.
"Could you? I'll clean up and make some more tea," Tara gathered up the used cups and plates and stood up. "Should I show you how to switch it on?"
"I'll be okay. Do you want help with those?" Willow asked, nodding at the used crockery.
"I'm fine. Go ahead. Um, I'm not normally this rude to my guests, but I want to make a phone call while you're on the computer, is that okay?" Tara asked.
"It'll take me a while to sort out figure out what's wrong, you don't have to feel obligated to hang out with me constantly. Of course it's okay," Willow stood up and stepped aside to let Tara pass, her breath hitched as Tara's body moved within a few centimeters of hers. How easy it would be, to reach out ...
"Am I interrupting?" When Tara stepped back into the living room, Willow quickly closed the 'offending' window on the computer.
"Tara! No, I was just, er, fixing your computer. Yep. I updated your drivers and installed a few system maintenance apps; I'll also need to defragment the hard disk for you at some point. There's nothing much more I can do. You could buy some more memory, replace your hard disk, get a wireless card and do a massive upgrade, but my recommendation is that you get a new computer. It's more trouble than it's worth, to fix it piecemeal. Besides, I think you should switch to a mac," Willow explained.
"Aren't they expensive?" Tara asked, as she pulled a chair up and sat next to Willow, making a mental note of Willow's barely audible whimper at her proximity.
"Not any more, and considering the stability and functionality, it's good value for money. I'll take you to the Apple store, you should take a look first, try them out for yourself," Willow, a certified macgeek, nevertheless wanted to tone down her usual over-the-top enthusiasm. She didn't want to force Tara into making a decision she'd regret.
"Is that what you use?" Tara asked.
"At home, yes. Work is still PC, most companies are," Willow replied.
"Can I still use the stuff on my computer?" Tara continued.
"Looking at what you have on here, you're a typical light home user. Email, browsing the internet, word processing, right?" Willow asked and was pleased at Tara's nod. "You're not a designer or gamer who needs souped-up machines. We'll get you a new machine where you can do all that; plus organize your photos, watch videos and even make your own movie. Besides, you have me to set everything up for you and troubleshoot. Heh, that's my day job. Here, I've set the anti-virus software to run daily; if it isn't on, it'll run next time you switch it on."
"I think relying on you to help me is becoming a habit," Tara grinned shyly as she watched Willow bring up an anti-spyware program started the scan with two quick clicks.
"So I'm your personal helpdesk?" Willow quipped.
"Just make sure it's personal," Tara winked.
"Sweet-talker," Willow couldn't believe it, were they flirting? She turned to the woman sitting within touching distance from her and for the second time in one afternoon their eyes locked and the air seemed to grew heavier.
It was Tara who broke eye contact; she swallowed and the moment was broken as quickly as it hit them. "So, does this run automatically too?" she indicated the anti-spyware program that was currently running on the machine.
"Oh, I can change the setting. You want it scheduled?" Willow was jolted back to reality; she realized she was about to engage in inappropriate daydreaming. Tara's gaze was firmly at the screen, so Willow went ahead and made the appropriate preference settings.
A few minutes later, she shut down the computer. They hadn't said a word between them during that time, Willow was racking her brain trying to think of an ice-breaker, but she was never any good at conversations and words completely failed her. How could she articulate how much she wanted to put her arms around Tara and pull her close?
She couldn't think of a reason to stay either. "So, I should head home, I've intruded on your entire afternoon already," she started, reluctance obvious in her voice.
Tara bit her lips and sniffed discreetly. "Willow, d-d-do you, um, like musicals?" she whispered.
Willow wasn't sure if she heard correctly, so softly had Tara spoken. "I saw Rent but it was the film version. I don't know a lot about musicals," she said sheepishly.
"I may be able to get tickets for Wicked next Saturday. Come with me?" Tara said.
Willow sat very still. Is she? "Of course I will," she seemed to have lost her voice too.
Tara seemed to finally relax, Willow hadn't noticed when she had become tense. "Keep Saturday free?"
"All yours," Willow promised.