When Tara entered the room she found Willow right where she left her. Conley was already in bed writing in her journal and Colson was looking at her closet.
"Ready?" Willow's eyes lit up when she saw Tara enter the room.
"Yeah, let me just grab my stuff." Tara picked up her notepad and scriptures.
The girls went out to their usual area in the lounge and found two other sisters studying there already. They glanced at each other and took a moment as they considered their dilemma. Willow was first to suggest a solution, "Plan B?" Tara looked puzzled. "Vending machine or different floor, you can pick."
Tara considered the options for a moment, "We should probably stay on the same floor, so let's go to the vending area. But there will be no chocolate unless it further serves the work." She winked at Willow.
As they headed over to the vending machines, Willow considered carefully her next sentence. She wanted it to be just right. Just before they reached the vending machines, Willow began. "Tara?" Her voice was almost a whisper. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah. Why?" Tara furrowed her brow.
Willow took a breath and sat down in her spot with her back up against the machine. "Okay, here's the thing, I want to say this right and not offend you or anything." She fiddled with her hands and looked up at Tara as if memorizing her face. "If you need to talk or anything, you can trust me. I won't say anything.
"Oh I know that." Tara looked over at the Sister studying her face. She saw only sincerity there.
"It's just, you seemed kind of um troubled today and I was concerned I had upset you somehow and I hoped that wasn't the case, but if it is then we can talk about it and clear the air." Willow stared intensely into Tara's eyes searching for some clue to the girl's recent behavior. Finding none, she continued, "I know we've got a lot of stuff we probably need to discuss and I'd like to firmly suggest a non-plan of my own." That statement did earn a reaction from the blonde, just not what Willow had expected.
"You can't just bury things - they come back." Tara mumbled the words she had been thinking.
"What?" Willow hadn't heard what she said.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything." Tara tried to back-peddle from the topic she had inadvertently breached.
"No, it's okay. Whatever you need, but I think it would help if you talked about it - writing in your journal is one-sided. And no one really gets a chance to talk about their own stuff here I noticed, it's all about what we're supposed to think and feel and do, not how we're supposed to work through junk, you know?" Willow didn't want to push, but she felt a strong need to probe her own feelings for a moment.
"The work we do does do that." Tara responded but it seemed canned.
"Yeah, I know it is supposed to, but you know if you don't look at things once and a while, it's like you have a cake, but it's all torn up, it has holes and stuff. You put the icing in all the holes and then cover up the cake. It may be pretty to look at but there are still holes under there and the icing is supposed to define and protect the cake, not BE the cake, you know?"
"You have the most unusual way of looking at things, Sister Rosenberg." Willow noticed the use of her title.
"Sister Rosenberg is my icing right now, Willow is the cake part." Willow continued. "I'm only as good on the outside as I am stable and whole on the inside."
"Did you really not hear what I just said?" Tara looked at Willow as if she wanted to read something deep within Willow's soul.
"That I have an unusual way of looking at things?" Willow parroted Tara's earlier comment.
"No, not that." Tara trailed off, "What I said before that."
"No, I really didn't." Willow replied honestly.
Tara was silent for several minutes and Willow waited patiently for her to continue. Willow could tell she was struggling with something huge and she shouldn't rush her.
"You are something special aren't you?" It wasn't really a question. "What I said was 'You can't just bury things - they come back.' But what you just said was sort of the same thing - only with food and I presume you meant chocolate cake." Tara's attempted to lighten the mood.
"You can make all things better with chocolate - except bed-head I've discovered recently." Willow inserted. "Water is better for that."
"I was writing in my journal today and that's what came up." Tara started looking at her hands and looked as if she was carrying a heavy burden.
"You were thinking about zombies?" Willow grinned at Tara hoping she appreciated her attempt at humor.
"No actually, just skeletons." Tara replied without thinking.
After another long pause, Willow responded, "You mean like skeletons in the closet, skeletons, or the skeletons that want to come out of the closet, skeletons?
Tara looked up at Willow again her eyes beseeching her not to start the conversation with her. "If we talk about this, we can't go back." Tara whispered.
"But we can't move forward either." Willow's voice squeaked a little. She pulled her knees up to her chest and held them close to her. She took a cleansing breath. "We just have to have a little faith and strength to get through this. This is NOT a challenge we will fail. DO you hear me?" Willow's voice was clear and stronger with each word she spoke.
Tara was startled by the conviction and power she felt from her new friend. "I don't know if I'm that strong." Tara confided. She felt small the moment she said it.
"Then we'll work on that first." Willow paused for a moment. "You can't beat yourself up for being just a crumbly piece of cake. And you can't resent the icing for being icing. All you can do is accept both and try to ensure that you are the best cake inside and out that you can be."
Tara was stunned. It was as if this girl had looked right into her soul, seen her fears and was prepared to face them with her if she had to. She was brave and true and Tara felt guilty for not realizing earlier how strong she was. She knew Willow was right, she had done nothing to be ashamed of, but there were some holes in her cake.
"Okay." She looked up again for a moment.
"Okay what okay?" Willow knew something monumental had just happened but she wasn't sure what.
"Okay. Okay. We will stay focused and I will learn from you Rosenberg Shimai. I will learn your color code system. I will learn what you need to teach me. And by the way, I'm sorry."
Willow bent her head slightly to ask the question silently.
"I'm sorry for doubting your strength. I misjudged you and I was wrong." Willow could tell Tara's heart was truly open for the first time since she'd met her.
"Well, I'm not saying I'm perfect. You're right though. I think if we ignore this thing, it will tear us apart." Willow confirmed what Tara knew to be true. "But we have to help each other okay. If we work together, neither one of us is junior partner."
Tara considered that for a moment, that was exactly what she had been doing. "I'm sorry if I made you feel that way."
Willow wasn't certain how to respond. In many ways, she was like a junior partner, but in some ways, she was not. "It's okay. I think it's natural to assume there are inequalities, but we don't have to be satisfied with that worldview." She decided to change the subject rather than beleaguer the point. "Are we focused now?"
"Yes, I think we are." Tara felt much better than she had all day.
"Me too." Willow felt relieved.
Tara sat up straighter stretching out her back. "You want to check the couch status?"
"Would that mean I have to get up?" Willow grinned a half smile at Tara, the one she found so endearing when she observed it from the other girl.
"Well, I can't carry you back to your room if you fall asleep sitting here. Once classes start tomorrow, they might send out a search party. It could be weeks before they actually check the food in this machine so you could be partially mummified by then." Tara giggled once and continued. "Do I have to give you a treat to get you up?"
Willow considered all her options. Tara favors sounded wonderful. "Mm. What kind of treat?"
Tara slapped the top of Willow's thigh. "Come on, get up or I'll have to tickle you."
Willows eyes went wide, her eyebrows disappeared into her forehead, and she gasped. "You wouldn't!" She saw the look in Tara's eyes and knew she was at her mercy. She had brothers. This would not be fair at all. Evil Tara had arrived. "No, no, no!" she squealed and tried to squirm out of the way, but it was too late. "NO!" She screamed but no one heard? "Oh God!"
Willow tried to fight back, but she was at the disadvantage, Tara was larger, had caught her unprepared and she was quickly out maneuvered. Willow was pinned against the vending machine. Tara was practically sitting on Willow's legs. One of Willow's arms was trapped at her side held there firmly by Tara's right knee. Tara held the other arm down with her left hand. She started out torturously slow. Willow could do nothing as she watched Tara lift her right hand up and give Willow the once over as she contemplated where to begin her search.
Okay, remain calm, piece of cake; if you don't react, she'll stop. Don't react. Don't react.
"Oh, look at you trying to be brave." Tara used her sultry voice.
Yes, Evil Tara is in the building and sitting on top of me!
Tara tentatively reached out a finger, "Are you a slow tickle?" Tara carefully ran her fingers just below Willow's rib cage on her side. She watched Willow's breath hitch and made a mental note.
What part of don't react didn't you understand? Willow cursed herself for being so easy.
"Hmm, that was interesting. Would you giggle for me here?" Tara ran the back of her hand slowly along Willow's side up toward her armpit. Willow pursed her lips trying not to give away her giggle zones, but it was too late. She knew it.
"You know, it's no fun when you don't fight back." Tara loosened her grip on Willow's arm. Willow didn't take the bait. "Oh, possum, that's an interesting tactic." Tara now had both hands free and continued her investigation. "Hmm, some people are more sensitive on one side more than the other. Shall we test that theory?" She repeated her earlier activity and watched Willow. "You're getting better at this. Shall we implement phase two?" Tara raised her hand up so Willow could clearly see what she was doing. With dramatic flare, Tara stretched out her index finger.
Tara saw the panic and knew immediately that she'd found Willow's Achilles heal. "No poking huh? Thank you. I have now filed that information for future use." Tara got up without warning and allowed Willow her freedom.
"You know you're a little evil, right?" Willow asked the rhetorical question as she got up as well.
"Take's one to know one I supposed." Tara gave Willow her now famous half grin.
"You don't know that half of it." Willow stared deeply into Tara blue and watched as the half grin disappeared into what Willow could only guess was shock. Winner! Willow knew she had sent a wave of arousal through the other sister, and she could do it at will. Yep, she's a big holey piece of cake.
Tara regained her composure after a moment. "Soooo," she dragged out the word and cleared her throat. "Couches?"
"Sure." As the walked toward their lounge area, Willow asked, "So what kind of tickle girl are you: grabby tickle, poke, or slow touch girl?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?" Tara smirked. "Come on, Sweet Pea, we're on a mission here, and there are colors for me to learn and a story you owe me."
She called me Sweat Pea. Willow could have danced through the hallways, but she refrained.