"Hey Chief! Where've you been? We needed you," her young friends spotted her and skipped toward her in glee.
"Hi guys! Sorry, I've been busy," Willow greeted them with a warm smile.
"We got stuck at the train station! We need to get on the train but we don't know which one," one of the boys complained.
"Let's see, I'm good at trains and train stations," Willow took over the console and quickly pressed a few buttons.
The boys then noticed the figure just behind Willow. "Who are you?"
Tara laughed. Kids were so direct. "I'm Willow's friend," she smiled. She could sense Willow's contented smile back, even though she seemed to be purely focused on the game. Tara couldn't help it, she placed her hand at Willow's back and slowly drew her hand up Willow's spine. She was pleased to feel Willow's uncontrolled shiver at her touch.
"Do you know how to play this game too?" the boys asked.
"No, I'm very bad at games. But Willow will show you, right?" she replied.
"Yes, Chief is the best!"
Willow finally whooped in triumph. "Look, first you need to get a timetable, then a ticket, then drop one of the magic potions at the shop run by the lady with the giant squid on her head. Then I think you need to go to the stationmaster's office and recite the stations on the Green Line. There's more and it's kinda complicated, do you want me to go over it in more detail?"
"We'll figure it out from here. Thanks Chief! And you look better without skateboards," they waved goodbye and ran to catch their school bus.
Willow watched them for half a second before turning to Tara. "Tara Maclay, what were you doing in the middle of the street?" she accused.
Tara smiled seductively. "I can't help it. And I'm going to do that all day today, see how long you can last," she said mischievously.
She was rewarded by a look of abject horror laced with unbridled yearning on Willow's face. "Wha--" she stammered.
Tara grabbed Willow's hands and skipped to the station. "Come on, genius, get me my computer," she felt sparkly. She didn't know how exactly 'sparkly' should feel, but it was the right word for the occasion.
The computer shopping turned into more fun than Tara expected. Her prior experience of computer purchase, at a local electronics store, was utterly confusing as the store clerk kept throwing unknown terms at her as if in an attempt to show her how ignorant she was. This was completely different. In fact it was more an experience than a shopping event. She was stunned at the sheer number of machines on display, set up not by type of computer, but by how someone would use it. The home users section had modest setups that included laptops, printers and iPods. Willow showed Tara the cinema display, music mixer and impressive looking computer that a designer or composer would use. She was very impressed.
Willow let Tara try everything for herself, Tara knew that she was itching to play or to launch into a detailed description of everything, and her admiration for Willow's consideration grew.
"It's so different from my old PC. I always thought computers are hard to master, but I feel like I'm half an expert already," she said.
"That's the idea. Have you ever read or watched on TV how developers used to write programs by typing lines and lines of code? They still do that, but even now there are more graphical tools to help make their lives easier," Willow agreed.
"I feel like I want to buy everything here, I can't decide what to get. You're deciding for me," Tara told Willow.
"Me? You sure?" Willow's wide grin was a sure sign that she was teasing.
"Yep. So I can blame you if something goes wrong," Tara smirked. "There might be punishment too."
"Well, if you put it that way. Let me spend your money then," Willow grinned back. "But seriously, do you want a laptop or a desktop. You have to make that decision first."
"I'll have what you have," Tara said softly.
"You can't decide like that! How will you use it?" Willow was secretly pleased that Tara wanted to follow her, but the computer geek in her refused to believe that was a valid reason to choose a computer.
"Will, you're likely to be using it more often than me, so you may as well choose," Tara pointed out.
Willow thought for a second, and couldn't find any flaw in that logic. "Okay then. I know exactly what we should get," she said determinedly.
"You're so adorable when you're assertive like this." Tara looked around the store and, sure that no one was paying them undue attention, planted a kiss on Willow's cheek.
Xander and Andrew were dancing. Their eyes were fixed on the screen in front of them which flashed a series of increasingly complex colored arrows that corresponded to the way their bodies and feet were moving over a 3x3 grid on a raised platform. They had acquired a posse of onlookers, who were riveted at the duo's perfectly synchronized movements against loud beating music. What awkwardness they usually projected was forgotten as they demonstrated their supremacy over complex steps and routines that Dance Dance Revolution SuperExtreme challenged them to.
"Okay, you promise me you won't laugh," Willow said solemnly as she led Tara into the video arcade.
Tara was a little overwhelmed at the lights and noise of the crowded place, and gripped Willow's hand tighter. "I won't laugh, why?"
Willow nodded at her two friends, still dancing in synch.
"What are they doing?" Tara asked.
"Dancing. It's a dance game. The arrows on the screen indicate where your feet should land on these pads. It gets more and more difficult. Those two are probably the best I've ever seen."
"They look like they're having fun," Tara observed. "Do you know them?"
"The blonde one who moves like he's a spastic robot is Andrew. The one in the white t-shirt is Xander."
"Oh, I get to meet your friends at last."
"Come on, let's try to get a ring-side view. They'll be there for a while."
It took Tara a while to follow what was going on, it seemed far too difficult for her. After a couple of songs Xander spotted Willow and waved at her. He nudged Andrew and they stopped after the next song, giving up their spots to two equally geeky boys who eagerly jumped on the machine to continue at the level that Xander and Andrew had achieved.
"Hey Will," Xander said slowly, as he saw who Willow was with. He was trying very hard not to stare at Tara.
"Hiya! Guys, meet Tara," Willow introduced.
"Pleased to meet you," Tara said politely.
Introductions were quickly made, although both Xander and Andrew both seemed far more shy than Willow had described them.
There was suddenly silence after the last "hello" between them. Andrew shuffled his feet on the floor and Xander's hands dug even deeper into his pockets.
Then Willow broke the ice. "Oooh, new machine. Do you like soft toys?" And with that she rushed to a toy crane machine that she had missed when she entered the arcade. Since Tara's hand was firmly ensconced in Willow's, she felt herself dragged along too.
Willow inserted a few coins into the slot and deftly manipulated the joystick that connected to the claw inside the glass cabinet. It dropped perfectly onto a large stuffed pig and picked it up. As the claw retracted and made its way back toward the chute opening, the pig wobbled a few times, it was in danger of being dropped by the loose claw.
"Come on, come on," Willow gritted her teeth and watched intently.
"Success on first try, that's even unusual for you, Willster," Xander said. He too was watching the progress of the claw intensely.
"Yes!" Willow whooped as the toy was finally released out of the cabinet and into her triumphant hands. She turned immediately to Tara and presented her with the prize. "For you," she said, turning shy all of a sudden.
Tara blushed as she accepted the gift.
"Wow, Will. You're ... wow," Andrew marveled. "Can you hang out with us more often, Tara?"
Xander poked him in the ribs. "She doesn't want to hang out with us," he whispered.
"Oh no! This is a lot of fun," Tara interjected. She wanted to kiss Willow, to thank her for the stuffed animal, but she knew that it would embarrass Willow too much. She settled for a bright smile and stepped closer so that she and Willow almost touched. "Thanks for the pig. Is there a special message, that you chose a pig over the other stuffed animals in there?"
"Nope. It was just the animal that was nearest and most likely to be grabbed," Willow replied with a straight face. She wanted to lean over to capture Tara's lips, and Tara swallowed at how open Willow's desire was.
"Hey, you two! This is the land of the geeks. PDAs are not allowed. It'll cost you fifteen thousand experience points if you kiss," Andrew interrupted.
"Experience points?" Tara asked, shaking herself out of her Willow-induced haze.
"Uh oh. Does not compute," Andrew muttered.
"That's it, Wells. See if I'll let you touch my first editions again," Willow huffed.
They found themselves under a large oak tree at the park, watching the sunset.
"It's so beautiful. I keep reminding myself I need to keep my camera in my bag all the time," Tara sighed contentedly in appreciation of everything around her -- the tranquility, the smell of fresh grass, Willow's head in her lap. She stroked the fine red hair distractedly.
"I used to do that, but for a different reason. I figured if I saw a crime being committed I can whip my camera out and take a picture of the thieves to give to the police. It was the same sort of reason I used to pack a survival kit in my backpack, in case I got stranded at a desert island." Willow's eyes were closed as she enjoyed Tara's touch on her, she was almost sleepy with the attention.
"Willow, how much more dorky can you get?" Tara smiled affectionately.
"Well, who is the dorkiest person you know, apart from me?" Willow asked.
Tara paused stroking at Willow's hair as she thought.
"Hey, no need to stop that when you're thinking," Willow protested.
Tara laughed. But she did resume. "Dorkiest person. Olaf, Anya's ex. But he's more of a large fluffy teddy bear. He was obsessed with power tools and helmets though."
"Think about how dorky Olaf is, multiply it by the largest number you can think of, and that's me," Willow said. "And I'm proud of it."
"I can see why."
They lapsed into comfortable silence, watching as the sun made one final effort to bathe them in its bright orange light, before taking leave and allowing night to dominate for another few hours.
"I love you."