Ira Rosenberg's voice echoed off the apartment walls, "Willow, have you completed your essay for Radcliffe?"
Willow moved her eyes to her door and answered, "Almost, Dad! Just give me a few more minutes!"
"Well, be sure to bring me the essay before you go to bed tonight. I'll be in my study," she heard through the door. The redhead turned her head back to the sheet before her, and tried to focus.
In truth, she had barely been able to concentrate on the assignment. She could not stop thinking about seeing Tara the previous weekend, and the chance that she would be seeing her again very soon. There was something so captivating about the blonde, she could not define or contain her feelings.
The blank lines of the page stared back at her, daring her to describe Tara. She thought of the way Tara's hand burned her leg at the club, the way her eyes danced in the light, and the way the her laugh was full of life. She was drawn to the girl, that much was true, and she could not fight the desire to return the touch from Tara's hand.
Willow rubbed her eyes and looked out the window to the stars above. She thought she could glimpse a moment alone with Tara, but her father's shuffling outside brought her back to the task at hand. She applied the tip of her pencil to the paper and began to write.
Tara pulled the dress over her head and smoothed the material down her side. She glanced at herself in the mirror one last time, though she did not know the reason. She did not really care how she appeared before Richard, and she only applied make-up to please her father. Resigned to the evening before her, she stepped out into the hall and made her way to the kitchen to prepare dinner.
"Tara? Richard will be here soon!" The sound of her father's voice caused her to speed up her pace. She scurried into the kitchen and began cutting potatoes. He stood up and stated evenly, "And remember, you are not to mention your recent employment at Harry Hill's. He's an important man, and you'll not be married until Donnie returns anyway, but we need a little bit of insurance. I trust that you will be on your best behavior this evening."
Tara nodded as he turned to leave the kitchen, "Y-yes, s-sir. I'll just get on with the dinner, then."
After putting the roast into the oven and bringing a pot of water and potatoes to a boil, Tara released a gentle sigh. Her eye caught a stain on the wall and she began to stare. Her mind wandered to the redheaded girl and her gentle nature and innocence. Tara knew girls that worked the streets and lived with other women. She knew they had no desire to associate with men outside their profession. She knew about Walhalla Hall and the Slide, and the things that happened there. She thought how wonderful it would be to take Willow out, how attractive she appeared in those slacks, and she remembered how soft she felt. Her shame at her treatment of Willow was eclipsed by her appreciation of the girl's attributes. 'An appreciation I hope to explore,' she thought before the ring of the doorbell sounded.
The blonde heard the creak of the door and her father's greeting, "Well hello, Richard. Glad you could make it! This is Frank, his wife Esther and their daughter, Lilah. Come into the parlor and have a drink. Whiskey okay?"
She ducked her head and listened as Richard returned the greeting, "Hello, John. Pleasure to meet you all. Thanks for the invitation, and whiskey would be just dandy. And where is your lovely daughter?"
Tara cringed as the answer came from Frank, "In the kitchen. Lilah, dear, why don't you join her and see if she needs any help."
"Sure thing, Daddy," Lilah responded through her teeth.
The night dragged for Tara. Her father's stern gaze, Richard's leering looks, and Lilah's satisfied smirk were each a punch in the stomach. For the first time ever, she wished she were working in the factory or even Harry Hill's. Her thoughts drifted to singing at the Haymarket, and the escape those nights provided.
Willow changed her dress for the third time. She felt strangely uncomfortable going to see Tara without a suit, but she was glad to have the company of Buffy and Daniel, and she knew that she would not have a reenactment of what happened at Harry Hill's, 'Although parts of that weren't so bad...'
As she walked toward Buffy's block on Daniel's arm, she barely noticed the clatter of the crowds that passed or the stench that rose from the street. She suddenly heard Buffy's voice and realized they were entering the theater, and the three teens made their way to the balcony of the Haymarket Dance Hall. Willow placed her handbag down and noticed Daniel wave to a tall, dark-haired gentleman across the way.
"Who is that?" Willow inquired as he started to walk towards them.
"Liam O'Shaughnessy," Daniel calmly replied.
Buffy interjected, "Wait, isn't he involved in Tam- er, politics?"
"We work together sometimes," the boy answered, keeping his composure.
Liam announced himself, "Hello Daniel, and who are these lovely ladies with you?"
"This is Willow and Buffy, boss." Daniel motioned to each girl, and he noticed a spark in Liam's eye as he took in Buffy's appearance.
"Very pleased to meet you. My name is Liam O'Shaughnessy. Would you care to join me at my table across the balcony? The waitress was about to bring over a bottle of wine," the dark Irishman offered.
Daniel nodded neutrally while Buffy eagerly hopped to her feet. Willow followed suit, and the three teens soon found themselves seated around a table over-looking the crowd. The redhead had forgotten the odor of the packed audience, spilled beer, and cigarette smoke. She looked to the stage and recognized the girl from the park, Anya, dancing in a line with nine other girls. She turned her attention back to her friends, and the conversation with Liam.
"I've been considering getting into the theatre business," the man said. "Young Daniel here mentioned his evenings out, though this isn't quite as nice as the Cairo or the Bohemia. Still, people seem to like it, and it does attract quite a crowd. What do you think, Buffy? Do you like it here?"
Buffy blushed and answered, "Yes, of course this is only my second visit. I would love to see more of it."
Liam smiled, "Well then, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't make an appointment with the manager after the show, and you can come by anytime you want. Maybe I'll put Danny in charge, and you can see any show you like, free of charge. What do you say, boy, want to get into show business?"
"Why not," Daniel responded blankly.
Buffy and Liam continued their conversation while Willow sharply turned to her friend, "Daniel, is this really what you want? You could still come back to school, you're smart enough to do whatever you want, and this isn't for you."
"Could be," he tersely replied.
Willow creased her brow and tried to explore the boy's face amid a sudden burst of applause. As the crowd ceased clapping, her thoughts were interrupted by the announcement, "Ladies and Gentlemen, here's the woman you've been dying to see. We've certainly missed her here at the Haymarket, so put your hands together for her return and make her feel welcome. Tara, the Irish Rose!"
Willow froze as the familiar figure strode onstage. Daniel, Buffy, and Liam all turned their eyes to the stage as the audience fell quiet. The redhead was silently grateful that her friends were captivated and she stared, comfortable in the knowledge that all eyes were on the beautiful blonde.
Tara's blue eyes searched the audience and she began "South Fifth Avenue." As they lifted to the balcony, she shuddered when she glimpsed the sweet smile that haunted her dreams. Willow was perched up high, eagerly drinking in every note that came from her throat and every gleam in her eye as she stared back at the redhead. She dared to hope that Willow would fulfill her promise and come backstage afterwards. 'Just keep it innocent,' she reminded herself, 'or you'll scare her away.' She forced herself to look away as a blush crept up her face.
Willow's disappointment at losing eye contact turned to anxiety. She trembled to think about being alone with Tara, and she only hoped that she would not embarrass herself. 'Oh god,' she thought, 'should I still go backstage? What if Tara was just being nice? Or what if I don't, and she thinks I hate her? I'll do it, I will. I just have to figure out how to get away from Buffy and Daniel.'
She tore her eyes from Tara and glanced at her companions. She caught Liam's eyes dance between the stage and Buffy's face, and she realized that Liam was the key. She had to make sure he entertained her friends while she excused herself, and she was confident that he would take care of Buffy, and Daniel would feel the need to be close at hand. Content with her plan, she happily returned her attention to the gorgeous girl that seemed to be nearing the end of her song. Willow could not decide if she preferred watching Tara like this, from a distance, or backstage, up close. Before she could decide, she made eye contact with Tara again, and her breath caught in her throat. 'Oh yes, I definitely must go backstage.'
The last of Tara's notes floated through Willow's ears and the redhead closed her eyes, savoring the moment. The crowd clapped and hollered, and the image of Tara's glorious pose remained. Willow opened her eyes and the girl was gone.
The redhead was sobered by the laughter of her friends. Liam had managed to move his chair closer to Buffy, and Daniel was occupied by one of Liam's sidekicks. 'Now is the time... and my eyes miss Tara,' Willow thought.
"Hey guys, I'll be back," she announced. Daniel nodded, and Buffy did not seem to hear her. She quickly stood and moved to the main level of the theater. The last act of the evening was announced as she wove through the crowd and moved down the stairs.
Willow paused and let her knuckles fall on the door. She heard a figure approach from behind the door, and stood up straight as the footsteps grew louder.
"Can I help you?" A matronly woman answered the door.
The redhead swallowed her anxiety and ventured, "Uh... is Tara here?"
A familiar flash of blonde hair comforted the redhead as Tara came into view and said, "Come in, please, Willow. Thank you, Maggie. You can go."
The large woman allowed Willow entrance to the dressing room. The redhead closed the door and took in her surroundings. Shoes and frocks were draped across the entire room, and it was clear that the room had seen many performers come and go through the night.
"I'm the last to leave. Someone will be around in a while to lock up, but we're alone," Tara said when she noticed the anxious demeanor on the redhead. She cleared a chair and offered, "Have a seat while I remove my make-up."
Willow nodded, smiled, and sat in the chair. She could not help but notice the graceful manner with which Tara cleaned her face. The blonde carefully, but quickly, wiped the color from her complexion while stealing glances at Willow in her mirror. She inquired, "Did you enjoy the performance, Willow?"
"Oh, absolutely! Your voice was beautiful, as always, and that dress is just... stunning on you. I think I could watch you every day of the week, but that might interfere with my schooling," Willow eagerly replied.
Tara demurely cast her eyes to her hair when the redhead caught her eyes reflection, and continued with the business of disrobing. She could not deny that Willow looked particularly pretty this evening. Her make-up removed and her hair down, Tara reached around to unclasp her dress. She struggled and sighed. She reached around once more and hesitated. The blonde knew what she had to do, and her feelings were a mix of anxiety and anticipation. She slowly stood and asked, "Willow, will you help me out of this dress?"
The redhead thought her head was in the clouds. She did not even realize she had walked closer to Tara. She registered that her hands had moved to the buttons at the back Tara's dress and heard a loud release of breath. Her fingers shook at first as her fingers brushed Tara's bare back, and she struggled to push the buttons through their loops. When she reached the bottom, the sight of Tara's skin was overwhelming. She took a step back, shook her head, and stammered, "Good enough?"
Tara spun around and inquired, "Is something wrong, Willow?"
"No, no... everything's right, and I don't understand it."
The blonde crinkled her brow, suppressed the panic in her gut, and reached out, "Willow, did I do something?" Her left hand reached the redhead's shoulder and her other hand cupped the girl's chin, "What's wrong?"
Willow tightened her lips before answering, "Nothing's wrong, and that's what's wrong."
"You lost me," Tara replied with a nervous smile.
"It's just, I like being here with you, and I don't really understand it, and things keep getting harder. And I'm supposed to go to college! Not that things aren't hard for you, but you're so beautiful and I had so looked forward to coming here and now I've ruined it by talking too much," the redhead finished with pursed lips.
"You haven't ruined a thing, Willow. A-and I looked forward to seeing you, too. It seems life is hard on both of us lately, as my father is pressuring me to marry soon."
Willow's eyes widened, "What? But... he can't! This is America, and you should be able to be with whomever you want to be with, and you're better than that, and does that mean that I couldn't watch you sing anymore? Because I love to see you, and I keep talking way too much." The girl blushed, realizing she had broached a topic that could ruin her burgeoning relationship with Tara.
"I appreciate the righteous indignation, Willow, but there's little I can do to stop it," Tara replied with a sigh. She caught the fierce look of compassion on Willow's face and tore her eyes away.
"But you should be happy. You deserve to be happy," Willow declared before moving closer to Tara. She extended her hand to the blonde's shoulder and trembled at the other girl's warmth. She moved her hand down Tara's arm and began to stroke her soft skin; she couldn't believe how wonderful it was to feel the girl. Tara closed her eyes and bit her bottom lip, and Willow thought the girl was the most beautiful vision in the entire world.
"Willow, I... I can't do this," Tara shivered and pulled away.
"Handle what, Tara? Ugh, I'm sorry, it's all my fault. I should never have come and upset you, and I shouldn't have touched you and I knew that this was going to happen. I'll go," Willow blurted and moved to the door.
"Willow, stop. I can't do this because-"
"Don't worry, I know the way out," Willow responded over her shoulder.
"Willow!" Tara grabbed the redhead's hand, spun her around, and stared into her eyes, "I can't handle this because it's confusing. I do want to be near you, to touch you, to... to k-kiss you. And maybe you should go, because it's wrong, but life feels so perfect when you're around, and I would not be able to stop myself if you kept touching me."
Willow's green eyes shone brightly. Her chest swelled as she took a deep breath. She gulped and closed the distance between them, "I've never kissed anyone, myself. I, uh, sure would like to know what it's like."
Tara grabbed the girl's face and quickly brought her mouth to Willow's lips. Willow wrapped her arms around the blonde and leaned into the kiss. The sensation of Tara's lips and feel of her hand along Tara's bare back made her head spin. She was dimly aware that Tara had opened her mouth and let her tongue slip out, and as she mirrored the blonde's motion, she smiled into the kiss.
Willow realized that Tara had removed her hands from her face, and she felt disappointed until they were placed squarely on her hips and she felt a gentle pressure pushing her towards the wall. When her back hit the wall and Tara deepened the kiss, Willow thought she was floating on a cloud. Tara seemed to lift her up, and she wrapped her arms around Tara's neck and held on as tight as she could.
Tara moaned when she felt Willow's grip. She could not stop her hand from clawing at the top of the girl's dress. She abruptly paused when she realized they were did not have complete privacy; there was a possibility that someone could walk in at any moment. The blonde gently pushed Willow away, and they gasped for air.
The darkness of Willow's green eyes were impossible to ignore, but Tara inserted, "We can't get carried away here, someone could walk in."
"But I thought you were the last one to use the room for the night?"
"I am, but the door's not locked and we can't stay here all night," Tara responded.
Willow grinned, "I wouldn't have much of a problem with that scenario."
"You have parents, and friends, I presume? You certainly aren't, um, dressed like you came alone," Tara sheepishly stated while her hand stroked the redhead's cheek.
The redhead rolled her eyes and knew the other girl was correct. She had been away for a long time, and Daniel and Buffy would certainly start to wonder what had happened to her. She stroked Tara's hair and replied, "No, I came with my friends, but I only wanted to see you. I didn't want to break my word."
"I'm glad you didn't. I w-was worried I'd never see you again, after l-last time. It was so awful."
"Certain parts weren't so bad. In fact, I'd love to revisit some moments," the redhead replied, leaning closer to the blonde.
Tara drew in a quick breath and closed her eyes, once again reveling in the feeling of Willow's lips on her own. She could not deny another embrace from the slim girl, and just as she moved a hand to the back of Willow's dress a knock sounded at the door.
"Tara! We need an encore! The house is still packed and half the performers have left for the night!"
Tara groaned as Willow pushed away, and she noted that the girl was torn between frustration and fear. She smoothed one hand down Willow's arm, put her arm across her chest and opened the door, "Do I have to, Mike? I've already removed my make-up."
The man reddened as he took in the flushed appearance of the blonde. He stuttered, "The crowd ain't goin' anywhere, and the manager is too busy talking to some suit to get them out. Can't you help?"
Tara grimaced and replied, "Give me five minutes."
She closed the door and turned to Willow, "I'm really so sorry. This occasionally happens, I just wish it weren't happening tonight. Can I see you again sometime... please?"
Willow was frustrated at first, since she was fairly certain about the identity of the "suit," yet soon felt more excited that Tara wanted to see her again. Her frown became a grin, and she wrapped her arms around the taller girl and spun her around, "Of course! I don't know when I'll be free again, but the first chance I get I'll," she paused, "um, how should I contact you?"
Tara smiled, turned to a table, and scribbled on a piece of paper, "This is my address. You can write to me, but don't visit. My f-father, he doesn't like strangers. And I'll be here again next Friday. Just tell me I'll see you again, please?"
The blonde was answered with a gentle kiss. She reached for one last embrace before the other girl smiled and left her alone to dress.
Willow skipped along and climbed the stairs, returning to the balcony just as Tara began her song. Though the audience was packed, she felt like the only person in the room.