Willow looked around at her collection of action figures, toys, video games and comics. Perhaps it was time to leave her geekdom behind, to show Tara that she was mature and worthy. She was acutely aware of the differences in their lives and backgrounds. She was also aware that she had initially presented a persona to Tara that wasn't the real her. It was as if she was leading a double life, the geek whose favorite hang-out was the comic store had little in common with the polite and well-dressed 'normal' person who visited trendy restaurants. She should have realized that it was a matter of time before the two collided.
The last two weeks had been the most miserable in her life. She relived every moment of that fateful day, Tara's expression as she said she no longer wanted to see her was vivid in her mind's eye. She regretted lying to Tara. She knew it was wrong, and shouldn't have let her fear of rejection cloud her judgment. She should have told Tara about the importance of the convention. She should have told Xander and Andrew she could only join them for a few hours in the morning. She should definitely not have taken more care of the tickets.
If only life wasn't so full of if only's.
She changed into pajamas and lay down in her bed, staring at the ceiling for the longest time before she was able to sleep.
The Willow Rosenberg who stood up to a drunk old man on the train seemed to be another person from another universe. She had so much on her mind now, she needed to clear her head, find out what was important to her, and act on it. The nerdy Willow Rosenberg would have shirked away from the gravity of the situation. But she hadn't experienced how it felt like to be in love. To have someone so intensely occupy her mind and spirit that it ached to be away from her. Or to have suffered shame and heartbreak so enormous that it was no longer possible to breath under the stifling pressure.
She had changed. And it was all because of Tara. Her one moment of bravery brought Tara into her life; her stupidity cost her Tara. Now she had to pull something special out of her bag of tricks to get her back.
It had not been a happy two weeks for Tara either. Cordy commented on how drab she looked lately and Anya had to do some quick intervention to prevent Tara from blowing her top at their self-centered friend. Donnie tried to be sympathetic, but it was clear that he thought Tara was a fool for being so harsh on Willow. There was also something going on with him and Anya that she knew she should investigate, but she was too wrapped up in her own world that she didn't have the energy to look into it.
By tradition, she stayed up till midnight on days like Christmas, New Year's and her birthday. She knew she was being sentimental, wanting to usher in the first minute of these eventful days like an impatient child. It was her birthday. That evening she'd gone out with a group of people from work, who insisted on treating her for dinner. She was quiet throughout the meal, as she had been for two weeks.
She knew that the real reason for her melancholy was that she missed Willow. However every time she started to think of Willow she reminded herself of her zero tolerance policy on lies. Her heartstrings were well and truly being pulled in all directions.
She noted the time. Almost exactly midnight.
She wasn't expecting anyone to call this late, but her heart betrayed her by doing a leap at the caller display. She seriously considered letting it go to voicemail, but finally relented.
"Hi," she answered.
"Oh! Hi," Willow said in a strange voice. She didn't expect Tara to answer and had rehearsed a babbly speech for the voicemail.
"Happy Birthday, Tara," Willow said in a more steady voice.
"What's this about?" Tara asked.
"I want to give you something, for your birthday," Willow's said.
"We've been through this already, I don't think we should see each other anymore," Tara was fighting between delight at Willow calling and exasperation at Willow calling.
"I don't want to think about that!" Willow interrupted. "I'll be at the fountain at 7 o'clock tonight. I'll have your present with me."
Tara's lips pursed into a straight line. "I won't be there."
"I'll be waiting even if you don't come," Willow asserted. "Bye." And with that Willow rang off, without giving Tara the opportunity to say anything else.
"You're a sentimental fool, Willow," Faith self-consciously wiped a rare tear from her eye as she switched off her computer. Time to get dressed.
6.57pm. The fountain.
Willow carefully set the fragile box down next to her and sat at her usual spot. She tried hard not to look at her watch every 10 seconds.
7.08pm. The Greenhouse.
Tara made a silent wish and blew out the candles on the large birthday cake amidst a lively rendition of "happy birthday" by the assortment of guests at the restaurant. There was much cheering and clapping, everyone at the party seemed to want a photo with Tara, she felt like she had a permanent smile plastered to her face. She took a surreptitious glance at her watch.
7.35pm. The fountain.
Willow stood up and paced around to loosen her stiff joints. Eight paces right, turn around, Eight paces left. This ensured she stayed within a few feet of her spot. She had taken off her watch and placed it on top of the box.
7.50pm. The Greenhouse.
"It's a nice party, don't you think?" Anya brought two glasses of champagne and handed one to Tara.
Tara was looking at her watch. "Um yes. Nice." She drained the glass of champagne in one gulp.
7.51pm. The fountain.
Willow put her watch back on. It was no use pretending to ignore it. She watched as other people came and went.
It started to rain.
8.04pm. The Greenhouse.
"Should we go out for a walk?" Anya asked Donnie.
Donnie had been keeping a discreet eye on the door all night, and was pleased to see a figure approach.
"Actually, I can't tonight. Excuse me," he set his drink down on the nearest surface and hurried over to greet the newcomer.
"Fashionably late, I see," he smiled.
Faith grinned. "Uh huh. It's raining outside."
8.13pm. The fountain.
Willow desperately tried to protect the package from the rain, but it, like all of her, was completely drenched.
8.27pm. The Greenhouse.
"May I sit?" Faith asked.
Tara shrugged and watched as Faith sat down. Unlike all of the other guests, she didn't give the tight-fitting leather pants a second look.
"Happy birthday, Tara," Faith said politely.
"Thank you," Tara replied.
"She isn't here?" Faith looked craned her neck and looked around. Of course she had already scouted the room and noted who were present and who were absent.
"You know who. Willow," she paused. "Then I guess she's waiting somewhere else."
Tara looked at Faith with an unreadable expression.
Undeterred, Faith continued. "You know, I can't believe how anyone can be as geeky and clumsy as her."
"She's not clumsy," Tara immediately leapt to Willow's defense.
Faith hid a knowing smile. "I usually stay a mile away from people like her. But somehow she's grown on me and I can't ignore her when she needs help."
"She's the type who easily grows on you," Tara said wistfully.
Faith let that comment stew for a few moments. "Tara, do you think that time passes at a steady rate?"
"This is what Will told me. 'When you're waiting for someone you like, time seems drag on for eternity. But when you're with that someone, it's over like a flash.' Right now, she's in eternity, waiting for you." Faith made a show of looking at her watch. "Or should I say, was waiting. In this rain, she would've gone home by now."
Faith watched a host of emotions flashed through Tara. "I have to go," she finally said in a strangled voice. And almost knocked over her stool in her hurry to leave.
"Wait! It's raining cats and dogs. Where are you going?" Faith chased after her and managed to grab Tara just by the door.
"The fountain," Tara shouted, running so hard that Faith had to let go.
Willow was shivering. She could hardly keep her eyes open with the droplets that were dripping from her hair onto her face. Even her fingers were dripping water. Her scientific mind vaguely registered that her body was over 60% water, her brain 75% and her lungs 90%.
"I should just breathe the stuff in," she muttered to herself.
She could hardly see through the curtain of rain, so she jumped out of her skin when as if by magic, Tara appeared in front of her.
"What are you doing? How long have you been sitting out here?" Tara's voice was full of worry and anguish.
Willow wasn't sure if she was shivering from the cold, the rain or from joy at seeing Tara. "I wanted to go buy an umbrella, but I was so afraid I'd miss you if I left this spot," she tried to explain.
"What were you thinking?"
"Thinking? Your smile," Willow said stupidly.
Tara instinctively retreated at Willow's words. "Don't ..."
"I'm renouncing my geekiness. You won't see me ogling over cartoon characters or reading comics anymore. I want to be an equal to you, not some silly girl you can't even take to your company events."
"Will, that's not why I'm angry at you. Being a geek is part of you, and I'm attra... I recognize that part of you. I'm mad because you lied to me. It was a small lie, but I couldn't get over it. I can't trust that you won't lie to me again, and it scares me."
"Oh. Shit. I'm a jerk. Here, happy birthday anyway. I tried to shield it from the rain, but everything's so wet. When did it get so dark," Willow slurred. She was numb and couldn't follow any of the thoughts in her mind. She tried to hand the present to Tara, but her arms and legs felt like lead all of a sudden. She saw a bright flash of stars, and then everything went black as she collapsed. The sound of her hitting the ground reverberated with the sound of broken china from Tara's present as it too crashed to the ground.
"Willow!" Tara tried to catch Willow but she had slipped to the ground before she could reach her. She rushed to Willow's side and struggled to cradle the redhead with one hand while holding her umbrella with the other. She was frantic, Willow's eyes were closed and her breath shallow.