Return to Latter Days/Lonely Nights Chapter Twenty-Four

Latter Days/Lonely Nights

Author: Willownut
Disclaimer: Blah, blah, blah. Many characters are Joss Whedon's. Yada, yada, yada. No harm intended with the use of these revered characters. Peas and carrots, peas and carrots.
Italics are thoughts. For those who could excommunicate me or send me unwanted literature, I wish you no ill will. My thanks to LVK for the use of her song lyrics, you have my deep respect, and I would have asked first if I knew where you were.

(Day 7 - Wednesday, November 14, 1984)

Willow sat in language class. The events of the morning kept replaying in her mind; and that persistent little tune, where had that come from. She kept looking back at her notebook to review the words. When Tara smiles. Just those three little words shot images through her mind. Tara's half grin, story telling Tara, that nervous smile full of compassion she had seen when they first met. Willow recalled her warmth, her mischievous little grin when she was telling her how to use her chopsticks, and conspiratorial Tara. She always seemed to know what she was thinking, even if it was counting the "huh" or "what's" when Conley talked too fast to the group. Tara's eyes shone bright with joy when she smiled.

Willow thought about their late night adventures. Tara's eyes reflected something that Willow never thought someone would direct at her. She never dreamed so much emotion could pass with just a look. Tara's eyes showed desire and passion and at times a tortured longing. That look, that magical look was for her.

Willow couldn't imagine what was going through Tara's mind. They seemed to be on a wild ride and she didn't have a clue who was driving. Willow wondered if the towel kiss, albeit relatively chaste, was going to cause a problem for Tara. She knew she was already struggling to reconcile her feelings with her commitments to The Church.

I really did try to stop her; Willow thought as she replayed the event. But her heart, the beating, it was so strong and fast. I have to stop thinking about this. New topic...Jones Sensei will be here any minute. I wonder why he's late; he's never late. And we were only one minute late today; that's like a record. I can't believe Smith Shimai....

Jones Sensei arrived just as Willow was starting her tirade about Smith Shimai's excessive tardiness. It was always a good distraction for her to think about Smith Shimai when she needed to get her mind off Tara. He set down his book bag and took something out.

"Ohaiyo gozaimasu," he began. He always started class with a grin and a pleasant tone. Today he must have been smiling, but his back was turned.

"Ohaiyo" the class answered in unison.

He faced the Choros on his left and appeared to be handing them each something small. When he arrived in front of Kitchen Shimai, Willow realized that these were the blue dots. Oh, this is the seventh day this is a milestone. It doesn't feel like a week. Wouldn't the week be at the end of the day or the next day since we arrived on a Thursday; shouldn't the milestone come on Thursday when we start the next week?

The Choros placed their dots on the corners of their nametags. Willow observed them. They seemed proud of those dots. Smith took hers and placed it on top and smoothed the edges down, Kitchen in one fluid thumbprint style affixed hers. Willow received her dot and considered it for a long moment. She stared at the little dot sitting on her index finger waiting for her next move. She glanced around the room; all of them were nearly done. She removed her badge, stuck her dot on the back and quickly replaced the badge to her sweater. She wasn't sure why she didn't feel the pride the others seemed to. She didn't feel ready to display any reminders of how ill prepared she felt.

"A new group comes in tomorrow," the teacher began. "And you may have noticed a group left bright and early this morning."

Willow thought back to the morning. She'd not noticed a thing out of the ordinary on her floor. She didn't recall anything unusual. She tried to recreate her morning routine in her mind. Got up, turned on the light, and went to the shower, wait, rewind...slow down. Try to look around. She closed her eyes to see with her inner eye. She had ignored all the extra crowd noise out this morning. Suitcases! How did I miss that? There was only one answer: Tara. This is so bad. Who left, oh my gosh, who wasn't here anymore? Think Willow think!

Willow's mind was blank. The only thing she could see in her mind was Tara's face

"You're not the new group anymore. You need to set the example, light the way, and show them the ropes." Jones continued. "Make sure you are speaking Japanese when you are around them, set the tone for their training here."

Oh great, just what I need, another follow the rules speech. Willow slumped in her chair a little.

"Some of you may be assigned a buddy."

Is he still talking? I didn't get a buddy. Why didn't I have a buddy? What kind of a buddy? The only buddy I want .... Don't finish that thought.

" let's get started, sa jyugyo wo hajimemasu." Jones stood very stiffly and bowed to the group. He eyed the group while he bowed. Willow thought something had changed. The rest of the session, he didn't use one word in English even the words they had not learned yet. The intensity level was elevated. Everyone was going to have to step up. Naturally, Willow panicked.

On the other side of the hall, Tara was feeling uncomfortable. She also rehashed the events of the morning in her mind. How did Willow do that? She actually didn't do anything. I was just walking by this morning and something made me stop, and look toward the stall. Normally I would never do that, I respect people's privacy. What was that? I didn't even know it was Willow in there, did I? Did I become a Willow stalker? If I'm not a Willow stalker, then why couldn't I drag myself away? That was so rude of me, but she didn't seem to mind. Tara let out an almost inaudible sigh. Conley looked over and furrowed her brow trying to read the girl. Something was clearly bothering her.

Conley Shimai leaned over and whispered to Tara, "If you need to talk about it..." She trailed off.

Tara folded her arms in front of her, and shook her head.

"If not to me, then someone," Conley was genuine, "I'm worried about you."

Tara didn't want to look up. She knew her fear might betray her if Conley saw her eyes. Luckily, the Choros were loud enough to cover Conley's statement, and Colson was thumbing through her textbook so she was distracted and not listening. No one else seemed aware of her internal conflict. She knew Conley was right. Tara was worried too.

As she was considering her options, their sensei arrived. She placed her tote on the table and pulled out a sheet with blue dots on it. She quietly turned to face the group. She bowed slightly and started passing out the small tokens of their achievement.

Tara had forgotten that today they got their weekly dot. Along with the others, Tara unpinned her badge and pulled it off her blouse. She turned it over and looked at the front of it. She had several feelings associated with that nameplate, but now she just felt devoid of anything. She felt as though she had not done her best to stay focused on the work and her study was lacking. She felt unworthy. She felt shame.

When the teacher came to her, Tara unfolded her arms, smiled meekly at the sister and took her blue dot. She thought about where to place it. She wanted to put it over her name or the title, but she couldn't do that. The other members of her group had selected a variety of locations on the tags for display. It was the right thing to do to display it on the front so she elected the lower right hand corner. It was only a few seconds before the tag was back in place over her heart. Oh well, out of sight out of mind I guess.

When their teacher began speaking, Tara suddenly thought that Conley had infected their instructor with her speed speak. All of the words, the sentences everything seemed foreign, and not just in the "I really don't understand this language" way, but as if she had never learned anything remotely related to what was being spoken.

Tara did a quick tiny headshake hoping that would clear her mind. She looked around. The teacher was the same person they'd always had, she was still in class with the same people, yet the woman's cadence had changed. It seemed more eloquent and formal, but definitely faster than it had the day before. Tara wondered how many speeds the teacher possessed in her language skills. Tara only had two speeds: slow and English.

Tara held back a startled gasp. Maybe it was just her. Maybe this was punishment for earlier. No, that couldn't be right. That wasn't how we respond to these kinds of dilemmas. Rewards come after work. God helps those who help themselves. It was a simple solution. She blamed herself. She alone was responsible for her inability to understand; she dropped her head in humility. She hoped that the only reason she failed to understand was simply a lack of focus. She could re-dedicate herself to her studies. She could catch up. She'd just have to work harder.

The morning language class flew by. Willow followed Kitchen and Smith to the bathrooms before heading over for lunch. She didn't say a word to either of them after the class. She was still in shock. She wasn't even hungry. She grabbed a yogurt and an apple for later, just in case she needed a snack.

What she really wanted was some hot cocoa or something with a little Kahlua in it, but that was off the plan now. She wasn't a big drinker before, but she had a nip or two when she was at a party once, and it tasted good. She'd learned that a dab of coffee had the same flavor and she'd started to enjoy that before she joined The Church. The whole caffeine issue was unclear so she'd opted to be safe just in case. She felt bad for even thinking about missing the taste and berated herself for her lack of resolve.

Tara and her companions headed toward the cafeteria by way of the mailboxes. There were a few items for them, so that was a welcome distraction. This should be a bright spot in their day, but not today. Tara looked down at the unopened letter in her hand and the letters in her companions' hands and suddenly felt tired. The letter from Donnie was most likely some encouraging words or filled with inspiring scriptures for her to review. Even thought it was light, it felt heavy in her hand. She just wasn't ready to look at it.

She made a decision and motioned toward the front desk with her thumb. Conley and Colson saw the nonverbal request and followed behind her. When they got to the front desk, she opened her notebook, pulled out a paper and wrote something down. She handed it to the clerk and quietly gave her instructions. The clerk nodded a few times as Tara spoke, obviously understanding her intentions. As quickly as they arrived, they were off again. They headed toward the cafeteria to grab some lunch.

Willow, Smith and Kitchen were almost finished when Tara, Conley and Colson arrived and started working their way through the line to get their food. Kitchen gave a little wave to the three of them. Willow was staring at her apple as if it had injured her somehow. Conley made a mental note of Willow's mood and her apparent disdain of her food selection.

After Tara and her companions had chosen a few items for lunch, they made their way over to the tables and sat down. Tara had chosen just a salad and a banana for a late night snack. She started moving the salad around on her plate. She wasn't very hungry, but she knew she should eat something. Tara was lost to her own thoughts and stared at her banana.

Conley noticed Tara's brooding and made an offhanded comment, "Did you catch Willow's fruit problem? "

"I'm not a fruit!" Tara shot back defensively.

Sister Conley furrowed her brow trying to figure out what had prompted the response. "No, I didn't say that, I said she had a fruit problem. She eats fruits. What I meant was she seemed angry at her apple today and you look a little upset with your banana."

"Oh," Tara was embarrassed by her outburst. "Sorry, I guess I'm just a little out of it today."

"I guess so," Conley affirmed. "You know if you need..." Conley didn't get to finish her thought before Tara interrupted her.

"No, it's ok. I guess I'm just a little tired is all." It wasn't completely a lie; she was tired, tired of struggling, tired of not knowing what was right, tired of not understanding Japanese, and tired of learning. She just wanted to take a nap. But now was not the time.

"Okay then." Conley tried to look anywhere but at Sister Maclay; she didn't want to embarrass the girl.

Nevertheless, Tara was embarrassed. She said in a near whisper, "I'm sorry. I've just got some things on my mind." Tara finally looked up and caught Conley's eye.

"I don't think you're the only one." Conley used her eyes and eyebrows to point toward Willow who was still studying her apple. She had started playing nervously with the stem, twisting and bending it without any intention of breaking it.

Tara regarded the girl discretely. Tara smirked with amusement when Willow suddenly found the stem in her fingers and looked disappointed. Conley had also seen the girl fiddling with the stem and bit back a snicker of her own.

Conley considered her next statement carefully. She rejected a myriad of comments and settled on the one least likely to cause Tara any concern, "She sure can turn your frown upside down, can't she?"

Tara turned back and gave Conley a quick glance to make sure she too was smiling at Willow, "Yeah." She shook her head, trying to give herself an extra moment for the right type of response, "I don't think she knows it though." Tara realized that she had censored her thoughts to reply to Conley. She hadn't wanted to sound overly attached to Willow, or she might give herself away. One lunch blunder was enough.

Conley shook her head as well, "No, I don't think so either." Conley looked at the remaining half of her sandwich for a second and picked it up before she continued, "I think you are good for each other, a good compliment." Conley took a bite and started chewing.

Tara stabbed a piece of lettuce, "Why do you think that?" The lettuce disappeared behind Tara's lips and she stabbed her next mouthful.

Conley swallowed, "You make each other smile." She took another bite of sandwich.

Tara paused mid air with her fork poised for entry, "You and Colson Shimai make me smile too." Tara used her fork to point to the other sister and when she flicked her wrist in Colson's direction, she dropped her would-be bite of food. It landed in the middle of the table and a little splatter of dressing landed on Colson's arm that was resting on the table between them.

Conley looked down at the offending drip then back up at Tara. She shook her head back and forth and dabbed her arm with her napkin. "Maclay Shimai, didn't your mother ever tell you not to point at stuff with your fork?" Tara just blushed.

Conley motioned with her head toward the redhead who had been watching their exchange. Tara turned to look in that direction and saw Willow trying to hold back a chuckle of her own. A look of genuine affection now directed at Tara had replaced the apple glare.

Tara smiled nervously when she first looked over at Willow. Their eyes locked in an instant. Blue met green and the distance between them seemed to disappear. Tara's face reflected the same fondness back to Willow. She quickly broke the gaze and looked back at Conley. Conley wore a similar expression. Tara resumed her salad stabbing.

"See." Conley took a drink of her soda, "good for each other."

Conley was nearly done with her sandwich. "We better hurry up. We gotta go not understand another few hours before dinner."

Tara looked up at Conley again, "You noticed that too?"

"Well yeah, did you think it was just you?" Conley looked a little puzzled at Tara's comment. "I'm hoping they did that on purpose just to scare us."

Tara wasn't convinced, "Well it worked." I bet Willow freaked if they did that in her class too. No wonder she had that "million mile stare" and looked like she wanted to bore a hole through her apple. Knowing her, she was projecting herself into that apple since it was red and all. She probably worried when she saw that I was doing the same thing with my banana. If she thinks I'm upset, she'll blame herself for that too.

Tara noticed that while she was reviewing Willow's apple mood and her own fears that the others had completed their meal and Colson was looking at her.

"Earth to Maclay Shimai, are you ready?" Colson appeared to be repeating her question.

"Oh yeah, sorry," Tara thought she was saying that far too much today. She picked up her banana and got her books together again. She looked to where Willow and the others had been sitting. They had already gone. "Sorry," she whispered to herself. That apology was for missing Willow leave. Tara thought back for a moment on Conley's comment, "Good for each other," huh. I wonder.

Continue to Latter Days/Lonely Nights Chapter Twenty-Six

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