When Willow woke up in a strange but comfortable bed, it took her a moment to orientate herself. Tara's door was still closed. She briefly considered not going into work, but quickly dismissed it. The markets waited for no one. She raided Tara's closet, interestingly decked out in all sorts of clothing, including some that fit her, and was at her desk by the time the bell rang on the NYSE.
She arrived at the restaurant first and was shown to a secluded corner. Green tea was served as soon as she took her seat; a small, delicate menu discretely placed within easy reach.
Willow was no stranger to fine dining and living. Her income including bonus, stock options and perquisites, had surpassed the 7-figure mark for a couple of years now. Reaching that milestone was an event her contemporaries celebrated in extremis, though she never cared for it herself. She knew enough to know Dozo was a notoriously difficult restaurant to get a reservation for, let alone with practically no notice. She wondered how Tara managed to do that, and her spine grew cold at the thought.
"Sorry I'm late," Tara said as she gracefully sat down, smiling at the waitress who took her coat.
This was the first time Willow had seen her former best friend in the daylight for six years. Tara radiated aloof self-confidence but if she looked carefully there was pain, and loneliness, and a harder edge than she remembered. Here in front of her eyes, no longer the shy, mousy girl she first befriended in high school.
Tara was wearing something understated that was obviously haute couture, no jewelry except for a thin, expensive watch. Her hair was silky, colored perfectly, and flowed down to her waist.
"You kept your hair long," Willow said stupidly.
"You too," Tara replied.
"I thought about cutting it, but I'm not so sure how I'd look like with pixie short hair," Willow smiled.
"I think it'll suit you. Different, but may be ... a fresh look," Tara said.
Memories of hours brushing each other's hair before bedtime, giggling at the static electricity, making braids and shopping for clips passed between the two former friends.
"Do you still do zig-zag partings, just for fun?" Willow reminisced.
"Sometimes, but I don't have much time to do things 'just for fun' anymore."
They paused, uncomfortable at the direction the conversation was heading. They didn't make the lunch appointment to talk about hairstyles. They hid their discomfort behind the small menus.
"I was almost afraid you'd be no show," Willow whispered.
Tara looked up sharply from the menu, the hint of irritation obvious. "Do you have anything better to say than the non-stop hints and innuendos you have been dropping since last night?"
"I, I-," Willow had the decency to look chagrined, but that was soon replaced by a hard look. "Yes, that's all I've been thinking about, how you just left my life without even the decency of saying goodbye," she spat.
"You've been obsessed with -, it's ancient history, Willow," Tara sighed as she looked away.
"Well, you can conveniently forget; but sorry, I can't," Willow retorted.
"Why would I want to remember any of it? A life that I had no control over? No home, no money, no future. No one to call family," Tara's voice dropped.
"I promised you I'd be your family, but you wouldn't let me." Willow wanted to reach out, but didn't know how.
"I didn't want to be a burden," Tara said softly.
"Why do you think you'd be a burden? Was, was keeping all your unhappiness bottled up inside yourself wise? Just go to any bookstore, the shelves are full of books that tell you no, and none that say yes," Willow said.
"I don't run my life based on advice from three-dollar psychologists," Tara snorted.
"At least those three-dollar psychologists don't tell you to sell yourself," Willow retorted. At Tara's look she continued. "I'm not stupid, Tara, I know what that club is, they get enough business from people at my firm. And, your apartment, the last minute restaurant reservation -"
"So that's why you came, to tell me how disappointed you are in me," Tara accused. "Well, I'm sorry, Willow, I'm sorry I didn't live up to your picture of how my life should be, I had to work for everything myself. When I left Sunnydale I had nothing to my name, not that I had nothing to start with," she said in disgust.
"Tara, I -" Willow started but was rudely interrupted.
"Tiesha," an oily, fake voice belonging to an oily, fake Asian man stopped Willow in her tracks. He placed a hand over Tara's shoulders, it was not a friendly gesture; it was possessive, even forceful. "Fancy seeing you here! You don't return my calls, you always plead busy. If you weren't so beautiful I'd be tempted to say you're avoiding me." He glanced at Willow. "At least you're not having lunch with a man, otherwise ..."
Tara didn't even flinch at his touch. Instead she reached up with one hand and patted the one on her shoulder. "Gavin, how have you been?" she smiled, a toothy smile that never reached her eyes.
"Never better, now I found you. You don't know how much I've missed you, I think about you every day," he said.
"You're such a darling."
"So, when are you having dinner with me, Miss Tiesha?"
"I'm always busy, Gavin. As you are yourself. Call me at the club," she smiled at him again but it was clear that she was dismissing him.
"What about tomorrow?" he persisted.
"I'm going to Boston tomorrow, why don't you join me there?" she countered.
"Why didn't you tell me earlier? I have business in Boston," he said excitedly.
"Where don't you have business?" It was more of a comment than question.
"You're staying at the Four Seasons?" he asked, but only got a mysterious smile from Tara. He kissed her hand and returned to his table of Japanese and Korean high rollers.
Tara turned to Willow, who by now, was trying to fight an outraged expression.
"Who's that?" she asked.
"Someone," Tara shrugged.
"You seem awfully friendly with him."
"Is he one of the people you 'service'?"
"I'm not answering that."
"Are you going to Boston tomorrow?"
"No," Tara laughed.
"So if he turns up at the Four Seasons ..." Willow frowned.
"He won't," Tara said. "None of that meant anything."
Willow regarded her former friend with barely concealed astonishment. "This is all a game, isn't it? Lies and half-truths." She felt like she didn't know her Tara anymore. I lost her so long ago.
"The world that people like Gavin Park lives in has no truth, Willow," Tara said slowly. "They'll take everything you know, everything you own, in the blink of an eye."
"I saw the way he looked at you. He wanted to own you. Tara, tell me you're okay," Willow pleaded.
Tara looked at Willow for a moment, then she sighed weakly. "What's okay? Financially? I'm more than okay. Physically? I've been worse. Mentally? You want to know what's in my mind? It's not a pretty sight," her voice raised an octave at the small outburst.
Willow wanted to reach out and assure Tara she would have her support, but she wasn't sure if that was true. Even if she was willing to give the support, Tara would not accept it. And what type of support? Tara didn't seem to be the type to need advice on structuring financial instruments.
"If you need a friend -" she decided to say.
"I don't have room for friends. I'm not sure if I'll have time to spend with you, if that's what you expected," Tara cut Willow short.
"I didn't expect anything."
"Everyone wants something, Willow. Even you."
"I just wanted to know if you're okay. I haven't seen you in six years, you disappeared out of my life, I was worried."
"Well now you've seen me, I'm still alive. I'm not your little Tara-girl anymore. Your life, my life, they don't mix. You're better off without me," Tara said.
"That's not up to you to decide. You can't make assumptions like that," Willow protested.
Tara's voice was like steel. "It's my choice."
"I'm not buying this. What's wrong with being friends?"
That's because we both want more, and it scares me. "Not now, please. Don't push me." With that, Tara pushed her chair back and left the restaurant.
It took Willow a few moments to gather her wits. When she went to settle the check she was told that it was under account and it would be settled directly.