Tara sat by the bed. She didn't know what to do.
"Hi there, how are you doing?" the nurse asked her, as she efficiently checked Willow's vitals and recorded them on the chart at the bottom of the bed. Willow was looking less like a drowned chicken now that she'd been dried off. The cut at the side of her head from her fall had also been taken care of by neat sutures.
"I'm fine. I'm more worried about Willow. Do you know what's wrong with her?" she asked.
"I'll leave that for the doctor to tell you, but she's not in any danger. The doctor probably wants her to stay overnight just to make sure she's fine, especially since she hit her head," the nurse reassured her. "He'll want someone to sign consent. Is there someone you can call for her?"
"I'm not sure. Her parents are abroad, may be I can reach her friend Xander, but I don't know his number," Tara said helplessly.
"Do you want to try to look through her cellphone for the number of her friend? Some people have ICE entries in their phones, in fact, we strongly encourage all our patients to do the same."
"In case of emergency. In emergency situations all the paramedics need to do is to call up the entry under 'i' -- it saves us having to guess who to call if the patient is unconscious. Sometimes 'Dad' or 'Sis' may not be the right person," the nurse explained.
"Ah, okay," Tara said.
When she tried to switch Willow's cellphone on, it remained stubbornly blank, even after shaking and poking. She borrowed a charger from one of the staff at the nurses' station but couldn't get the phone to work. The battery had either died or the device was damaged by the rain.
In the same pile of Willow's personal items was a box. Her birthday present, as Willow said before she fainted. Tara gently took it in her lap, and was dismayed as she heard the distinct rattling of broken china or glass. She was upset that she couldn't stop it from falling to the ground. Couldn't catch Willow before she hit her head with that sickening crunch.
She sat by Willow's bed until the end of visiting hours, watching over Willow.
"Tara?" Willow's eyes felt sticky and her throat was dry as a parchment. Her head felt like and there was a steady beeping coming from somewhere above her head.
With difficulty she opened one eye and tried to look around. She was in bed with stiff white sheets, there was a tube attached to her arm and the room smelled of antiseptic.
She closed her eye and opened it again. Then it all came back.
Waiting for Tara.
She was in the hospital.
She tried to prop herself up on her elbows, but had to stop when a sharp pain stabbed through her head.
"You want to sit up?"
She turned toward the source of that voice and nodded at the nurse. "Thanks," she croaked.
"I'll let the doc know you're up. How are you feeling?" the nurse asked, quickly taking Willow's pulse, temperature and blood pressure.
The nurse handed her a glass of water and watched as she drank it all in a few seconds. She placed the jug near Willow. "I'll be right back. I think your friend will be back soon."
"Blonde girl, you know her?"
"She brought you in, stayed with you all night. Is there someone you need to contact? What about your parents?"
"They're in Shanghai until Thanksgiving. When I can leave?"
"The doctor will see you first," the nurse said sternly as she finished writing down Willow's stats and left her alone.
Willow was pouring herself a second glass of water when Tara backed in through the door, one arm holding a brown paper package of food and the other a glass vase with flowers. She saw that Willow was awake and sitting up. The relief on her face was so evident.
"You're up," Tara said, and blushed at her obvious statement. She set the vase down next to the bed, stepping back to check that the arrangement looked fine. With a satisfied nod she sat down at the edge of Willow's bed. "How are you feeling?"
"Aside from my head wanting to fall off?" They shared a little laugh. Willow shifted so she could look at the flowers directly. "These are beautiful, did you ...?"
Tara nodded. "Hope you like them. Has the doctor been yet? The nurse said he's doing rounds soon."
"Not yet. But after that I want to go home. Do you, um, do you want to come with me?"
"Willow, this doesn't change anything between us," Tara moved from her perch at the side of the bed, her arms wrapped around herself in a gesture, to Willow, of shutting her out.
The doctor chose this moment to arrive and proceeded to examine Willow. Tara excused herself and went outside to the corridor, but not before noticing the forlorn look on Willow's face. She found a seat on the bench and put her head in her hands. She was torn between a concern for Willow that she was sure went beyond an ordinary friend's, and the wariness that she felt toward Willow since the day of the ill-fated convention. One thing she was sure, she wasn't ready to pick up with Willow where they left off. Not yet. Not ever.
"Miss? The doctor is finished, you can go back inside now," the nurse helpfully prompted her.
She found Willow in the same position she left her in, but distracted and thoughtful. She looked up at Tara's entrance but didn't say anything, instead green eyes followed Tara across the room and to the uncomfortable hard chair at the foot of the hospital bed. Tara hadn't said anything since entering, once slumped on the chair she kept her head lowered and studied the linoleum floor intently.
Willow regarded Tara evenly and knew she had to give Tara space. The old Willow would have either burst out in tears or skunked away in defeat. But after standing in the rain for two hours and hitting her head hard, she somehow gained a different perspective.
"Look Tara. I heard what you said. I was wrong, but I want to know ... was I that wrong that you completely shut me off and won't even hear my explanation?" It was making her headache worse, but she had to get it out.
"I can't tolerate lies. All my life, it's been one lie after another. How can I trust you?" Tara finally looked up and her voice was as filled with emotion as Willow's.
"It's not the lie, it's about trust isn't it?" Willow ventured.
"If you want to put it that way," Tara shrugged.
"Aside from this one little indiscretion, have I given you reason to think that you can't trust me?"
Tara thought for a moment. "I don't know. Seeing you there, that day, it was like I didn't know you. That there's a big part of your life that I wasn't aware of, that you weren't sharing with me. I understand we're not at a stage when we're trading secrets, but I felt like you were ashamed of me, or something," she said carefully.
Willow looked away, finally realizing that she could no longer afford to separate the different parts of her life. But she needed to think. And it looked like Tara needed some thinking space too.
"Tara, I miss you, I don't want you out of my life completely. At least consider that? But I won't push you, okay?"
Tara was surprised and gratified to hear the compromise offered by Willow. For the first time since the frantic 911 call for the ambulance last night, she allowed herself a thin smile. "I'll think about it, Will. That's all I'll promise," she said.
"I'll call Xander to pick me up, you don't need to worry about me," Willow said.
"No, no. I can take you home. I didn't mean it that way," Tara clarified.
"I don't want to impose. I really think it's better to ask Xander, it's more convenient," Willow insisted. "Please?"
Tara had to concede, really. "Alright, call me tonight? Make sure you're okay?"
Ironically Willow had to borrow Tara's phone to call Xander, her own was definitely a write-off. He promised to pick her up as soon as her discharge paperwork came through.
Tara had no further reason to stay. It was probably for the better if she left Willow alone, so she hugged Willow goodbye and returned home.
They had talked a little about their feelings, hugged each other and promised to talk on the phone tonight. If anything she felt closer to Willow than at any point during the last two weeks. It didn't feel like they had broken up, and it scared her.
"So you took her to the hospital, took care of her, bought her flowers, and talked on the phone. Which part of 'we broke up' is that?" Anya always had a knack of summarizing her questions and concerns as succinctly as possible. Anya also was extremely direct and didn't mince words, for which Tara was glad usually. But not now when she felt like Anya was giving her the special third degree treatment.
"There are things we need to sort out," Tara accepted.
"Tara, I only met the girl once, I didn't think she's the right one for you. But lately she's all you think about, one way or the other; she obviously feels the same way. If you're going to play with her feelings, leave her alone. It's not fair on her," Anya said.
"I can't excuse the lie," Tara realized that she must have said that a dozen times, to herself, to Willow, to Anya.
"You're too hung up on people lying," Anya pointed out.
"Every time someone lies to me, I end up getting hurt by them," Tara could still remember each and every lie and hurt that had been inflicted on her. It was something so heavy in her heart.
"Everybody lies, but not every lie is a betrayal. There can be reasons. You can't just group them all under one category. Shit, I have to run, catch up at lunch?" Anya squeezed Tara's shoulder in reassurance and left for her meeting.
Willow was in the shower. Her headwound had cleared since she came home from hospital two days ago, but she still had to be careful not to aggravate the cut. The needles of hot water worked wonders in alleviating the pain in her neck and she mentally made a note to run a hot bath soon.
She vaguely heard the doorbell, only registering it after a few persistent chimes.
She hurriedly put on a robe and padded downstairs, leaving a trail of wet footprints on the stairs.
"Who is ..." she was so stunned that she could only stand and stare stupidly at her visitor.
"I should have called first."