"Tara, I'm taking Donny to remedial class and Beth to the store with me. Minced chicken is half price today. Can you finish the laundry and iron your uncle's blue shirt by the time I get back? He has an interview at the plant tomorrow."
Tara stared at the small pile of clothes scattered all over Willow's bed. It was a rare occasion -- she had no idea what to wear. Over the last six years she had developed both taste in fashion and an acute sense of occasion. She was never stumped, not even when she was dating Willow. Did we even date?
"Baby?" Willow came into the room and perched on the corner of the bed that wasn't covered in outfits. She was dressed in a navy long sleeved t-shirt and khakis, looking neat and casual. Tara was still in her camisole.
Tara picked up a purple silk shirt and held it up for Willow's inspection. "What do you think? The purple, right? It's understated."
Willow smiled lightly and nodded her support.
Tara frowned. "No, it's too fancy. It's like I'm rubbing it in their noses." She picked up a light yellow cotton sweater. "This is more casual. I want to be casual, like this doesn't matter to me as much as it obvious is."
"You'll be fine, whatever you wear," Willow said.
Tara threw the yellow sweater onto the pile, and rummaged through the open closet. "If I had the blue one, it goes with your outfit. You sure we packed it?"
"I'm pretty sure we did."
"I should wear the purple shirt. Does purple mean anything bad?" Tara fretted.
Willow was looking through the pile for the blue shirt. "No, it's a nice shirt. You shouldn't be worrying yourself too much about what you're wearing, I'm sure they won't read too much into it."
"I know. But I don't want to waltz into the place acting like it's the return of the prodigal daughter. I don't want them to feel that I'm only there to flaunt my success," Tara picked up an olive green shirt and threw it back.
"On a basic level, that's exactly what you are doing. They weren't able to give you anything, and you made something for yourself without ... no, despite of them. No matter what you say, do or wear, that's how she will feel. It's unavoidable," Willow pointed out.
Tara looked uncertainly at the purple shirt before pulling it on slowly. With her arm still in the cast it was better to wear something that buttoned. "Yes, but can't we dress it up in something that sounds less callous?" Her hand was shaking and she was having a hard time with the small buttons.
Willow smiled lightly and pulled Tara close. "A rose by any other name, honey."
Tara watched as her love took care of her buttons. She had been in an antsy mood since she decided that she couldn't avoid returning to Aunt Marie's. She had no idea how her arrival would be greeted. She wasn't even sure if it was the right time to visit; she had no sense of her aunt's schedule, or if they even lived there now. Perhaps no one would be home and she could leave a note and be done.
But that wasn't closure.
Closure was walking into Aunt Marie's apartment, greeting the family cordially and letting them know that she had not thought about them for one second since she left. She would thank them for taking her in after her mother died. She would leave some cash, a few hundred dollars may be, to finally clear the debt that had been a niggling burden in her mind. And once she walked out the door, all ties and obligations would be severed and she could wipe them from her memory forever.
Tara had been looking and looking. But none of the places she saw felt right even though there were nothing wrong with those apartments. Real estate at that end of the market were flawless -- deciding between them was often a question of personal taste.
The area was slowly becoming gentrified. The run-down stores selling discounted goods, out-of-date toiletries and knick-knacks were replaced by nail bars and fashion boutiques. There were still pockets of resistance -- dilapidated houses sitting uneasily among the modern, prefabricated versions -- but they wouldn't last long.
Tara tried not to let her anticipation wash over her. Her hands felt clammy and the skin underneath her cast was especially itchy. As Willow turned their rental car into the street where she grew up, she had to stop herself from craning her neck to try to spot the apartment building. How many times had she walked down that street? From school, from Willow's house, from the store. Not for the first time, she felt like the images in her head were memories of someone else. Another Tara, another lifetime.
Willow was paying attention to the road, but she could feel Tara's distress. Every cell inside her screamed to turn around and take Tara away from this. There was nothing to be achieved -- were they planning to rub their good fortune in Aunt Marie's face? Or angrily bring up events that were water under the bridge? She kept these thoughts to herself as she drove on. Tara needed this, to face her past and realize that she had risen above it. That despite every obstacle that life had thrown in her path, her determination and drive took her away, and she made a better life. Glancing to her right, she spied that Tara was on the verge of tears; she squeezed Tara's hand in support.
There was construction ahead; they had to park and walk the rest of the way. As soon as they exited the car they were assuaged by the familiar, childhood smell of freshly baked bread. 3pm, without fail. Tears welled up in Tara's eyes at the memory.
Tara's eyes picked out the bakery, and then the narrow alleyway that her old room overlooked. But her eyes were fixed on the signage of a construction site and one lone street lamp in front of a wired fence. Willow didn't realize at first, then it hit her like a ton of bricks. Just as Tara's legs gave out and she staggered into Willow.
"It's gone. They're gone."
Tara stood there like a statue, staring at the last remnants of her past. Gone, by the swing of the wrecking ball. Gone.
"They could have moved out a long time ago," Willow tried to reason. "The bakery is still here, they'll know."
Tara clenched then opened her fists. To Willow's eyes, she seemed to be willing herself to stand taller as she came to terms with what was in front of her eyes. "No. They're gone now. I don't want to go back. I have my life, I have you, I have so much in front of me. It doesn't matter."
Gone now. They warm smell of fresh bread would stay with them when they return to another life, but there would be no more burdens. The past was past.
When they returned to the house Tara checked her voicemail. She had one, urgent and spoken in a hurried whisper.
"Tara, it's Lily. I can't talk long, he's in the next room. I got something. Check your email, I put it on my account on you-- fuck! Noooo ..."