"Only ten shopping days till Christmas!!!" the banner screamed as Tara neatly sidestepped a shopping bag mountain supported by a pair of Chloť Silverado leather buckle knee boots. She was at Bloomingdale's, drifting and passing time, at least that was what she tried valiantly to convince herself. If she saw something, she'd get it for Willow as a holiday present, but only if something caught her eye. She wasn't there, braving one of the most crowded stores in New York during the busiest shopping season of the year, specifically to buy a present. Specifically for Willow. Oh no, that would imply they were at some sort of 'present buying' stage of a, oh heck, budding relationship.
Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.
Another shopper jostled her and she decided she was kidding herself that she was just browsing. No one voluntarily went to a place to get suffocated and pushed around and trampled; she was better off focusing and actually trying to find a present, then going home to wait for Willow's call.
She missed Willow. Admitting it no longer brought anxiety and heartache in equal doses, as it did the first few times it hit her. The smallest thoughts, a smell, the way her skin hummed, would send snapshots of Willow to her mind. They hadn't succumbed to their bodies' desires that night; with superhuman effort they pulled away after kissing for an eternity, acknowledging that they weren't ready. There was a fine balance between talking too much about the past and forgetting about it and moving on, but jumping into bed wasn't it. They laughed at how mature they were. Fortunately they hadn't been completely sober with intimacy, enjoying soft gentle touches on Willow's couch or in front of Tara's fireplace whenever they found time. They talked a little, sometimes a lot, then there were times when they let their developing closeness do the talking. There was a certain genteel, gay pleasantness knowing that there was no obligation for sex.
As Thanksgiving gave way to December, Willow left for a roadshow that took her to Washington DC and down the east coast to Miami. Tara couldn't believe how mopey she got, just like the lovesick teenager that she never was. It had always been Willow of course, even throughout the years after she abandoned her Sunnydale life. She hadn't allowed herself to think about Willow during the last six years because she didn't deserve anything, or so she thought. She'd already had her second chance when Mr Wilkins brought her to New York, that was more than a penniless girl could ever dream of. Getting a second chance, and in love too, was inconceivable. It was easy to close off the part of her heart and wallow in the sort of emotionless contentment that she had settled into.
She knew that she had been sending mixed signals to Willow and needed to come to terms with her own feelings once and for all. She didn't need to have a degree in psychology to know that she had self-esteem issues, particularly when it came to Willow. She knew it was illogical but from the first time she met Willow, she had always felt that she was the inferior party. It wasn't Willow's problem, the class difference that was such a constant presence in her mind was not something within Willow's frame of comprehension.
She made her way from concession to concession but nothing screamed "buy me! buy me!" at her. Shopping would have to wait another day. She flagged down a taxi and made her way home. She wolfed down a dinner of something microwaved and channel surfed with a tub of rocky road ice cream for company. But she was still restless. All afternoon and evening she kept watching the clock and placing Willow -- at 3pm her car would be coming to the hotel to pick her up, her flight was due to take off at 5pm and she landed at just after 8pm. Willow promised to call the minute she got home, which meant sometime between nine and ten.
A little late but when the phone dutifully rang a little after ten Tara was ready and picked it up first ring.
"Hi sweetie, missed me?"
Willow tapped her foot impatiently with her cellphone glued to one ear, frowning at the unreachable signal. She was on the escalator behind a family with a twin buggy that blocked the entire width of the stair. Once at the bottom she strode purposefully through the throngs of people around the baggage carousels, thankful once again that she only had her cabin bag. An intern had been tasked with taking the roadshow materials back to the office and sitting in the first row meant she was off the plane before coach class had finished hauling their roller cases out of the overhead compartments.
She was still late. The last meeting over-ran and she missed her flight home. It wasn't a problem to get the next flight but since it was three hours later, it was past midnight when she emerged from the terminal. It seemed like every parent and their 2.4 children had decided to descend upon La Guardia even at that hour and the taxi line was excruciatingly slow. Her patience was wearing very thin when she finally sank into the stiff and worn seat of a yellow cab. She was kicking herself for not arranging a limo.
"So where did you fly in from?" Oh great, she would get the most inquisitive driver in all of New York.
She sighed and contemplated pretending to be deaf, or not speak English, but he would know she was pretending. Taxi drivers always wanted to know why someone was in their city like it was some territorial instinct thing, or perhaps they were so lonely for company that they launched into all their passengers.
"Miami," she said, and looked out of the window, hoping he would take the hint.
She should have known, he didn't get it. "What a city, Miami. My brother has a garden hose business there. Were you on business or pleasure?"
"Business," she answered shortly and picked up her cellphone to dial Tara again. It was late, but she had promised to call, and she had a feeling that Tara would want her to call at whatever hour. The line was engaged, which made her first annoyed, then jealous before settling on worried. There was still so much she didnít know about Tara's life. Someone she had known since she was fourteen but she couldn't tell which was Tara's favorite drink, which brand of face cream she used, or what was her view on stem cell research. They had grown so far apart.
But they were slowly bridging that chasm. Willow led a hectic and stressful life by her own choosing; lately, thinking about Tara gave her a buzz that was more satisfying than seeing her name at the top of the producers board, or winning a new mandate. It was a good feeling, thinking about Tara. They were taking things slow, but Willow didn't feel hurried. Compared with how things had been, recently they had been moving at supersonic speed.
They had some way to go before they could confidently move forward together in their relationship. She knew she hadn't completely forgotten the past, nor (if she was honest to herself) forgiven Tara for the years apart. Every time they said good-bye, she had a moment of panic that it would be the last. Every time she pressed the doorbell of Tara's apartment she was brought back to the day six years ago when she found out that Tara had left. The chilling feeling of disbelief and of devastation in the weeks that followed was a period of her life she never wanted to repeat.
Her apartment was as empty as she left it. Colder, even though the building heating was on full blast. She flipped on the living room light, then looked around and flicked on all the table lamps as well as the dining room light. She turned on her home laptop and allowed herself a small sigh of relief when the music came on through the surround speakers.
Almost 2am. She checked her blackberry and typed out a weekend message to Simon, then threw the device on her couch where it bounced several times before settling face down on one of the cushions. She picked up her cellphone and punched in Tara's number, but stopped short of the last digit. It was probably too late. The cellphone joined the blackberry on the couch.
She needed a bath.
She was half undressed when the doorbell rang. And again. Then more insistently when she didn't answer.
When it became obvious that whoever was so rudely disturbing her already piss-poor of a day wasn't going to leave, she trudged to her door and opened it with a diatribe ready to shoot at the unwelcome visitor.
"Look ahh-" She got as far as the first word before snapping her jaw shut so tightly that her teeth ached.
"You need to be holding me. Right now."
She pulled Tara inside and caught the blonde as her legs started to give way. "My flight got delayed, I've been trying to call you," she started to explain.
Tara shook her head just as tears erupted from her already swollen eyes. "That's not it. It's bad. Something bad happened," she sobbed.