Tara stared into the loom, lost in her thoughts. The rumble of the machinery reminded her that she was not dreaming, yet she still felt that it could not have been real. It was too wonderful to have been real. They had kissed. She had kissed Willow, and Willow had kissed her back.
The scream of the afternoon bell sounded through her ears, and she rose from her station. The other workers floated past her as she made her way to the dark exit. When she stepped into the street, she noticed the setting sun reflected off the windows of the nearest building, turning the panes bright red. 'Like Willow's hair,' she thought before the noise of a pushcart reminded her that she was in public, and she was due home.
Thoughts of her father led to thoughts of her pending marriage to Richard, and thoughts of Richard led to reality. Who was she kidding? She and Willow could never be together, they only just met and it would never work for any length of time. Willow was young, and she herself only a bit older, and that was ignoring the obvious obstacle. There was no way two women could love and live together without cutting themselves off from their friends and family, unless they loved each other so deeply that it would be impossible to live any other way.
A thought began to plague Tara, 'what if she doesn't care for me, as I care for her? What if she thinks it was all some horrible mistake and she never wants to see me again?' Her stomach began to tie into knots at the idea that Willow would never return to her dressing room, and she resigned herself to conquer her feelings for Willow and move on with her life.
'But...' she thought, 'but Willow is so fair, so charming, and that kiss was so perfect.' Tara wrestled with her emotions as she made her way south. She could not deny that she had feelings for Willow, strong feelings that she ever had for any of the men that entered her life. She had never wanted to kiss a man and knew she preferred the company of women, and she could not shake the desire to see Willow again and press their lips together.
Tara looked up and realized she was in front of her tenement building, but she could not bring herself to climb the steps. She decided to go for a brisk walk down to the East River and watch the boats come in before she returned home. The smell of the fish market lingered from the early morning trade, and businessmen filed onto the ferry. As she perched on a bench, Tara noticed a boat that had probably come from China. She had never actually seen people from Asia before, only pictures in books. She realized that though this group was new to the city, 'each of us was new at some time.'
Willow walked into class and felt disoriented. Things seemed brighter, somehow, since she and Tara kissed. She paused to remember the sensation of Tara's lips against her own, and how soft the other girl felt. She knew she had to devise a way to see the blonde beauty again, or else the memory of their kiss would drive her mad. Her legs began to tremble and the redhead started forward to her seat.
Miss Calendar had begun writing the lesson on the chalkboard. Willow noticed Cordelia leaning across the aisle, in deep conversation with William, before she spied Buffy sitting in the corner. She needed to ask Buffy about making plans for the weekend, and the next time she would be able to see Tara. She slipped into her seat, took her books out of her satchel, and turned her attention to Buffy. The other girl seemed distracted, and Willow inquired, "What's on your mind, Buff?"
She shook her head nervously, "Nothing, except Cordelia Chase's big mouth. Why is she talking to William?"
The redhead shrugged, "Couldn't say. And anyway, I thought you were over that big jerk? What about Liam?"
Buffy frowned, "I am, completely, I... I am. I just cannot believe that I am considered below that harpy Cordelia Chase. She has got all the money she will ever need, and what can she see in him? Everyone knows his mother will always be the most important woman in his life."
"I can't answer that, Buffy, I'm sorry." She shuffled her feet and realized how she could change the subject, "Hey, Buffy, how about we have some fun this weekend? We can go to the Haymarket on Friday and have a night out on the town and you can get that jerk off your mind. What do you say?"
Buffy cast her eyes at William and Cordelia and muttered, "I suppose."
The redhead, with her mission almost accomplished, was compelled to improve her friend's spirits, "C'mon Buff, it will be fun, and you can't let William upset you like this. You can still have fun, and there are plenty of opportunities for you to nab a man."
Miss Calendar's voice pierced the air, "Class, please quiet down! I will not waste my time reviewing this when it comes times for your exam, so I suggest you pay close attention."
As students made their way to their seats, Buffy's mood suddenly improved and she whispered, "You know what? You're right! Let's do it. Let's go wild! Why don't we go out to Coney Island on Sunday? We can take Daniel, and maybe he can invite Liam. It'll be fun!"
Willow paused. She thought about her plans for Sunday, and realized that there was no reason she could not go on an excursion with her friends. Plus, the only time she had seen the ocean was during her voyage into New York Harbor, and it was so magnificent. Catching her friend's eye, she nodded her approval of the plan, and the class settled for the afternoon lesson as Willow returned to her thoughts of Tara.
Was this wrong? What would Buffy or her parents think? Her rabbi would certainly tell that it was wrong, yet she could barely bring herself to feel guilty when she thought of Tara's smile.
Anya dipped the rag into the polish and leaned forward to shine her shoes. She paid varying attention to her shoe and her friend, having detected something amiss in the Irish woman's mood. Only when she could see her face in the toe did she sit up and address Tara, "So what is going on, Tara? You're acting weird and that last song came out a bit strange, even for you."
Tara did not turn around, but continued to fasten her hair behind her head at the dressing table. She sighed, cognizant of the obstinate dancer's question, and decided to reply, "Nothing is wrong, Anya. Go back to your shoes."
"Like hell, Tara. Is it your father? Or Richard? I have told you that if you need to stay with me, you are welcome. Xander may not like it, but as long as I give him orgasms he'll do what I say."
"It's nothing, Anya. Would you please leave me alone, or at least help me get into this dress?"
Anya stood and responded, "I still think that something is going on with you. Turn around, and we'll get you into this pretty dress. It must have cost a lot. You own this? Wait, of course not. Your father takes your wages."
Anya continued to speak. Yet as the Russian dancer's fingers grazed her back, Tara shuddered at the memory of Willow's touch. The girl's hand was so soft, and she could not bear the idea that she would never see the redhead again. She closed her eyes and felt her knees buckle before she crashed to the ground.
Anya knelt down and swiped the mussed blonde hair, now in disarray, from Tara's face. She could barely make out the Irish woman's words, "What if she never comes back? How... what..."
"Who are you talking about, Tara? What is wrong? You need to spit it out before I force it out. And trust me, I make the Cossacks look like cuddly kittens. What is going on?"
Tara wrapped her arms around herself and looked at her friend. She suddenly realized that Anya really was her friend, and she might be able to talk about Willow. The Russian had seen a lot, and never seemed to judge the girls that did take up with other females. She breathed, "I met someone, and I don't know what is going on."
"Met someone? Who? Who did you meet that is reducing you to a puddle on the floor? More to the point, which guy am I going to have to beat that is making you cry like this?"
The blonde let a laugh out, but held back the truth, "It's silly really, we had seen each other a few times, and w-we kissed. And now I don't know what to think."
"Well, he's clearly an idiot. You are beautiful and talented and there are so many men, scumbags though they are, that would give an arm and a leg to marry you, Tara. This is preposterous that some jerk is upsetting you when you could easily strike out on a career of your own and leave them all in a ditch, including your father. I've heard enough. Who am I, or specifically, who is Xander beating?"
Tara had heard enough and interjected, "It... it is not a man, Anya, and I appreciate your compassion." She took a breath and whispered, "I met a... I met a girl. She's young, and she doesn't know what she wants, except that she certainly wanted to kiss me last week. And what if I scared her, and she never comes back?"
Anya took in her friend's words and felt guilty. She knew there were women that wanted to be together, but she never suspected that Tara was one of them and felt bad for never noticing this about her friend. Regardless, she didn't care, and returned to comforting her friend, "Tara... it will be alright. Where did you meet this girl?"
"We m-met in the park, and she came to see me sing a couple of times after that. The last time she came to the dressing room after my song, and I just could not stop myself. She is so beautiful, Anya. She is cute and sweet, and she did not push me away, but I let myself care about her and now I need to know if she cares about me."
"Wait, that girl we met in the park a few weeks ago? In Central Park?"
Tara nodded, "The same."
"Well that's just silly Tara, any fool could tell she was totally in love with you. I practically had to pry you two apart. You kissed?"
The blonde found comfort in her friend's mirth and affirmed, "Yeah, and I do like her quite a bit. And she seemed to like me, too. It almost feels too good to be true."
"Talk to her. Figure out what she is feeling. If that doesn't work, kiss her again and see how it goes, okay?"
Tara grinned and resumed her place at the dressing table.
Willow walked into the Haymarket with Buffy and Daniel, more scared than she had ever been in her entire life. Everything was the same. The men in the crowd, the waitresses balancing trays of beer, and the musty air were becoming familiar to the redhead, yet she felt like she was floating in uncharted waters. Strangely, she could almost sense that Tara was in the same building. She decided to take her chances, and excused herself from Buffy and Daniel before Tara took the stage, claiming that she needed to find the washroom. She was petrified when Buffy said she would accompany her, but felt a huge relief when her friend spied Liam in the balcony and decided to follow Daniel.
The redhead found it difficult to put one foot in front of the other. She was suddenly overcome with the notion that Tara may have regretted their kiss, or that she had changed her mind about caring for a foolish schoolgirl. Tara was a woman, and such a beautiful woman, and Willow was an awkward girl that knew so little about the world. 'No,' she declared to herself, 'I will go to her dressing room, and find out for myself, damn it!'
She suddenly found herself in front of a closed door, and hesitated before her knuckles rapped on the door. She heard movement behind the door and was met with a cold stare and a startled, "What do you want?"
Willow smiled weakly at the Russian dancer and choked, "Uh, um... is Tara here tonight?"
Anya squinted her eyes and blurted, "Oh! I thought I recognized you, Willow. Tara, your schoolgirl is here! I'm off to do my number, I trust you'll keep each other company. Or I will personally kick you."
As Anya moved down the hall to wait backstage, Willow's eyes explored the dressing room until they found the gorgeous blonde sitting at the dressing table. Tara's reflection did her beauty no justice as she finished applying make-up in the vanity mirror, and it was only until she spun around to face Willow that the redhead was floored by the other girl's radiance. Her jaw sunk slowly, incapable of forming words as the singer rose from her bench and approached the redhead.
Tara broke the silence, and it was the most magnificent sound the young girl had ever heard, "Willow, I am so glad you came."
Willow let her eyes scan the room, trying to look at anything except the luscious singer that stood in front of her. She stammered, "I, uh, wasn't sure you'd be glad to see me. You know, after..."
Tara nodded, understanding the girl's full meaning. She could feel Willow's anxiety coming off her in waves, and she sought to comfort her immediately, "It was lovely, and I admit I also had the same doubts, Willow. I, uh, half thought I would never see you a-again, that you would never come b-back."
For the first time since their meeting, Willow said nothing. She let her eyes fall on Tara and she smiled, having seen the warmth and concern coming from the woman's blue eyes. She stepped forward and replied, "I wasn't so sure myself. I mean, a week ago I didn't even know I could feel like this, and now I am a nervous wreck. I... I think about you all the time."
The blonde grinned, "Me too. I thought you might not like me, or that you'd be too a-ashamed to see me again, and it drove me insane." She cupped the redhead's face with her hands and looked the girl square in the eyes, "But Willow, you have to believe that I do not regret a thing. I would not have done anything different."
"Me neither, although I can only imagine what my friends and parents will say if they ever find out that I kissed a woman. Tara, how can we do this? I care about you, but isn't this wrong?"
Tara's crinkled brow was the only response, so the redhead moved her hands to Tara's hips and continued, "This feels right. I don't mean that I think it's wrong, but I am so confused. How can two women even be together?"
Tara chewed her lower lip, knowing full well the technical details of how two women could be together. She removed her hands, and stroked Willow's hair, "There are ways. It is not easy, but I do know that women can live together, support themselves, and be happy."
Willow's head was spinning, 'Tara likes me, she does not regret out kiss, and she is not turning me away!' She suddenly felt the overwhelming urge to be closer to Tara, and rekindle their previous intimacy. She moved one hand to grasp Tara's hair and she claimed the woman's lips with all her power.
The blonde was drowning in the sensation of Willow's lips. She had wanted to be closer to the redhead, and suddenly the girl was everywhere at once. She wrapped her arms around the girl's lithe figure and deepened the kiss. She could barely contain her smile long enough to open her mouth and let her tongue begin to play.
After several moments, they pulled apart and Tara gasped, "Oh god, Willow. I have thought of nothing else."
"Neither have I, Tara, neither have I. Now... please kiss me again." Their lips crashed together and Willow slowly became aware that her body wanted more contact. She wanted to wrap her legs around Tara and engulf her. She wanted to swallow her whole and be inside her, all at once. Her brain kicked in, and remembered that they would not be alone for long. She regretted her fearful instincts, 'Stupid brain, what have you done for me lately? You better have done well on Miss Calendar's exam!'
As Willow withdrew from Tara, she could only concentrate on the feeling of the blonde's heavy breath on her cheek. She ventured, "Anya will be back soon, and I have to ask you something, okay?"
Seeing Tara's urgent nod and wandering eyes, she continued, "I have a question for you. On Sunday, I will be going to Coney Island with my friends Buffy and Daniel. I think Buffy is inviting some guy named Liam, and I know Daniel will be bringing some of his friends from his, uh, gang, or whatever they call themselves. It's risky, but would you want to meet me there? We could just talk, and be together. You could bring anybody you want, I just want to see you away from all this. I... I want to see you in the sunlight."
Tara dragged her attention away from Willow's curves and considered her plans for Sunday. Ruefully recalling her routine, she muttered, "I have to accompany my father to services in the morning."
The redhead's face fell and she tried once more, "Well how about the afternoon? You don't have anything going on in the afternoon, do you?"
Tara's smile lit up the room, and she supplied, "We're through about 10:00 in the morning, I could catch a ferry and get out there by the time you set down for lunch?"
Willow grinned and said, "Meet me on the beach by the roller coaster, okay? And I'll try to make sure my friends are on their best behavior, though I can't speak for that dancer, Anya. Did I do something?"
"Oh, um... I, uh, told Anya about our kiss. She doesn't care that you're female, but she's a bit protective. I thought I'd never see you again, and it was making me crazy. And now... I would very much like to kiss you again, okay?"
Willow's lips fell on the blonde before the words were out of her mouth. They pulled away just as the bustle of the dancers in the hall signaled Anya's imminent return.
The following Sunday, Buffy, Willow, Daniel, his friend Devon, and Liam met at the Tammany fašade to begin the journey to Coney Island. The dark Irishman's coach set forth from 14th Street and they slowly wound downtown to City Hall and across the Brooklyn Bridge. Willow was dumbstruck by the sight of New York growing small, and the sudden commotion of Brooklyn. She knew millions of people lived in the city across the river, and her father told her that it was one of the most populous municipalities in the whole nation, but she had never been off the island of Manhattan since her arrival in America.
The sight of brownstones and storefronts were soon replaced by the pastoral grace of the villages that thrived off the land and the pioneers seeking a new life. The coach followed the long road to Flatbush and headed south, the smell of seawater drawing the travelers closer to the beach.
The discussion was lively but Willow could pay little attention. The quaint houses and rolling hills captured her eye and she could not tear away from the scenery. She could scarcely believe that such a life was possible so close to New York, and their arrival at Coney Island did not dissuade her that the city of Brooklyn held much to discover.
Xander, Anya, and Tara set out from the dock at eleven in the morning. One ferry and two coaches later, the group found themselves looking out at the Atlantic Ocean from the boardwalk of Coney Island.
Tara stated, "Well this is pretty, isn't it?"
Anya exclaimed, "My goodness, I've never seen this ocean!"
Xander was puzzled, "Didn't you arrive by boat?"
With a toss of her head Anya replied, "Foolish Xander. I got here by train. Spend some time away from South Street, in the future? Listen, I traveled by boat to California and by rail across the continent. All very pretty, actually. Lots of mountains and plains, though not nearly as grand as the mountains in Russia. All just as pretty as this ocean, or whatever you call it. I could have easily settled down in one of many towns. Still, I had to come to New York City, since this is where all the people go."
Tara could not suppress her laugh at the blunt truth coming from her friend, but was also mindful of her purpose. Aware of the time, she gently suggested, "Shall we find a place to lunch, then?"
Anya smirked, "Oh please, why don't you just tell Xander and I to go away and you can go find your schoolgirl. Or do you need us, so it doesn't seem that you came alone?"
The blonde shrugged meekly, "If it was the latter, would you hold it against me?"
Xander chimed, "Not as long as you get some food in my stomach. Now where are these kids?"
Tara spied the roller coaster in the distance. She motioned to her friends, and they walked forward.
The redhead gazed at the ocean, a blanket the only thing between her plain green dress and the rough sand. The brisk autumn breeze tempered the heat of the sun, and the only thing that she heard was the chatter of Buffy and Liam, and Daniel's austere silence as his mate spoke of the passersby. She glanced behind her to the boardwalk, hoping to spot Tara. Her rumbling belly instructed her to eat a sandwich, and her arm idly reached for the platter of food. Her midsection was a mess. Her heart was thumping wildly while her stomach ached, and as the meal wore on she began to wonder if the blonde would ever come.
Willow could have sworn she glimpsed Tara walking in the distance. Her hips swayed just enough to balance her steps in the deep sand. Her hair, though pulled behind her head under a hat, shone in the sun and her sky blue dress hugged her body in such a way as to leave the girl mesmerized by the vision on the horizon. Before long, she rose to face bright blue eyes and hug the blonde.
She whispered into Tara's ear, "You came! Thanks goodness, I was beginning to worry that you might not have been able to make it after services."
Tara assured the girl, "I wouldn't be anywhere else, Willow." Stepping back, she gestured, "Do you remember my friends Anya and Xander?"
Recalling her encounter with Anya, Willow sought discretion, "Of course, from the park! Nice to see you again, funny coincidence and all. Come and join us! We've plenty of sandwiches and lemonade to go around," Willow said before she smacked her forehead. "Ugh, where are my manners! Tara, Anya and Xander, this is Buffy, Daniel, Liam, and Devon. Can they join us? Can't very well turn away friends on a pleasant day like this!"
The group quickly approved and made room for the newcomers. As they each took their seats, neither girl regretted the risk they had taken to rendezvous in such a fashion, as the glow of the afternoon made them feel as though they were seeing each other for the very first time. Willow's eyes sparkled as she took in Tara's shining face.
After the last of the food had been consumed, many had expressed a desire to ride the roller coaster. The roar of the speeding car and the exhilarated passengers could be heard at every point along the boardwalk, and Liam had agreed to pay for each fare.
Tara was petrified. She desperately wanted to speak to Willow alone, and she had no inclination to cheat death on the wooden roller coaster. Spying the photographer's booth, she tugged Willow's sleeve and pointed to their escape plan. Willow nodded.
"Tara and are going to go see the sights, maybe take a photograph. We'll meet you back here within the hour. Have fun without us," Willow announced to the party. The blonde caught Anya's grin as she took Willow's hand and led the redhead away.
The girls walked along the boardwalk, arms linked at the elbow and hips brushing close. They passed vendors selling candied apples, toys and flowers. A boy stood on a box advertising a woman that breathed fire and another spoke of a man that swallowed swords, but neither girl wished to step behind the curtains. They walked to the railing to look out at the water.
Tara closed her eyes and took in the sounds. The clatter of the feet pounding on the boardwalk, the laughter of children playing in the sand, the screech of the seagulls, and the crash of the waves against the beach resonated in her ears. She opened her eyes, expecting the sight of the surf and the wide horizon, and instead found two round eyes eagerly looking back at her.
Willow wanted to kiss Tara. She leaned her head forward but the sight of the passersby stopped her motion. She whispered, "I really want to kiss you, but I'm afraid."
Tara felt the same, and regretted it immediately, thinking, 'Why should we be afraid if our feelings don't hurt anybody? We care for each other, it is something that is just between us.'
Willow continued, "I'm afraid and I hate it. There are so many people here, and it could cause more trouble than it's worth. But, the more I look at your lips, the more I think they are worth more than I will ever have. I wish there was a place for people like us... I wish there was a word for people like us."
Tara hesitated and supplied, "There are many words for people like us, but I don't care for most of them."
"Then, can I just call you 'my Tara,' or just 'Tara?'"
Tara smiled and felt bold, "You can call me 'yours.'"
Willow's smile outshone the bright sun that hung overhead and requested, "Well my Tara, can I ask a favor? May I have a photograph of you? I never want to forget this day."
"You may, but I know that I will never be able to forget the day I saw you... during the day, away from the dark of the theater."
"I do miss the privacy of your dressing room," Willow chuckled.
"But that's not real, Willow. The world is not my dressing room, and we have to live in it. Wherever we go, we will not be able to truly be together. There will always be someone there to judge us, and it could ruin our lives. Your education and my singing... it would be impossible unless we gave it all up."
Willow found herself making a statement she never thought she would make: "I don't care. I will find a way to see you whenever possible. I have never felt more alive, Tara. I know I am young, and a month ago the biggest thing on my mind was a history composition, but I don't feel like a schoolgirl when I am with you. I feel like a woman, and even if you push me away you cannot take back what you have done to me."
Tara felt tears come to her eyes. Here stood a human that she could love, and from whom she could receive love in return. She never thought it was possible to feel so strongly for another girl, and now she had words of love on the tip of her tongue.
Unable to kiss the redhead, she tilted her head and stated, "I will never push you away, Willow. I want this. Now let's go get that picture."
A brief time later, Willow and Tara were reunited with the group and they decided to return home. Liam, recognizing Tara from the Haymarket, offered the singer a lift back to Manhattan. As she began to decline, Anya announced that she and Xander wished to remain in Brooklyn overnight and examine the fishing docks of Sheepshead Bay. Left with the prospect of traveling alone, she reluctantly accepted Liam's offer.
Before she boarded the coach she gave Anya a tight hug and said, "Thank you for today. I don't deserve a friend like you."
"Oh please, you deserve ten friends like me. Or at least five. I am a very, very good friend and at least as valuable as two friends. Besides, I want to get Xander away from the fish market. There are good docks out here and it could be a chance for us to make a life. Now go before the seat next to Willow is taken by that oafish friend of Daniel's!"
Tara blushed at the thought of a long coach ride seated next to Willow. As imprudent as it would be, she certainly did not want another person to have the pleasure of being near her redheaded beauty. With a spring in her step, she climbed into the coach to find that Willow had saved the space next to her. They exchanged a knowing smile as the coach jerked into motion.
Buffy sat with her arms crossed tightly across her chest. Willow noticed her friend's odd mood and inquired, "Something wrong, Buffy?"
The petite girl leaned close to her friend and quietly fumed, "Oh Willow, you missed it! That Cordelia Chase was walking on William's arm, rubbing it in my face. Thank goodness Liam was there, he was a perfect gentleman. And I would bet Liam doesn't need his mother's approval before he takes a lady out! Oh, I could just scream, but I had better not discuss this any further or I'll appear indelicate in front of Liam."
Liam was paying attention to a different blonde, and finding her friends diverted, broached the topic he had been itching to discuss with Tara. "So, do you like working at the Haymarket?"
The conversation was a welcome distraction for Tara. The blonde had quickly become enthralled by Willow's proximity, and the warmth of the girl's body sent tingles up and down her spine and she did not think she would be able to keep her hand from caressing the other girl. With Willow deep in conversation with Buffy, she answered, "I love to sing, and the Haymarket is better than most places."
She could not think of another thing to say to the man, having only just met him, so she declared, "Thank you so much for taking me in your coach. It is very kind of you."
He ignored her gratitude and pressed further, "I also noticed that you go by the name 'Irish Rose.' Is it safe to assume that you hail from mother Ireland?"
Tara nodded, "I do. Came over a few years ago. Don't I still have an accent?"
"Nary a lilt, lass. My own accent is fairly weak, but I have to rouse the spirits of the boys fresh off the boat, so I do my best to keep a trace of the native tongue. Now tell me, how would you feel about a change of management at the Haymarket? Would you care to stay on?"
Uncertain of the direction their conversation had taken, Tara ventured, "I should like to stay anywhere that will allow me to sing for a decent wage, s-sir. And I would hate to see something happen to Mike or Anya or all the other performers, they are so wonderful."
"That could be arranged, Tara. Look, I will be frank. You are looking at the new owner of the Haymarket, and I'd like to get you some exclusive numbers from Harrigan and Hart. We're going to take New York by storm, and there's no one I would rather have on board than a fellow Irishman like yourself. Can you come to my offices on 14th Street next week to discuss a contract?"
The blonde smiled wide and replied, "Certainly, sir! Thank you so much, Mr. O'Shaughnessy!"
"Please, call me Liam. Or boss, whichever feels natural."
Tara considered the possibility that the coach was a cloud, and she was floating in heaven. She had Willow, and for the first time in her life, she had hope.