Return to Latter Days/Lonely Nights Chapter Twenty-Nine

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 8 -Thursday, November 15, 1984)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Willow knew just how true that was, but not for this. This picture only stood for three little words. It was just an expression, a phrase; yet deciphering the meaning, that was a problem. Willow simply stared at the small sheep on the island. There were so many ways Tara could be saying, "I love you."

Willow tried to consider how Tara might have meant her message. As she reflected on the idea of love, she was amazed at all the ways that declaration could be used. Was this just the general love one person might have for another or was it signifying something much, much deeper? Willow had to decide how all the clues would translate to the degree of emotion Tara was trying to express. It was a complex evaluation.

The amusing little drawing appeared to have taken much longer for Tara to draw than Willow had on her picture. Even the blue looked darker, like she had been there for an hour getting the ocean just right. Willow knew there was a lot of attention put into it. Was it simply an indication of Tara's general kindness? Willow didn't want to read too much into the thought behind it, but she didn't want to undervalue the importance either. How much time and care she spent on the drawing were just clues.

The Church taught them to love others, and that was just a non-descript kind of general love. That kind of love didn't require even a little bit of association, just a sense of connection to the human race. Willow mused, she would say she loved animals as well, and that was kind of the same thing. It wasn't personal; there was no relationship when there was no rapport. She considered the attributes of that sort of love; they were outlined: patience, kindness, tolerance. She cringed when she thought of the last word and moved on. Tolerance was just a nice way of saying, "I'm better than you and I put up with you."

To some degree, there is a sisterhood among women. Common experiences, shared social issues and so forth make women have a special connection simply because they aren't men. The statement from Tara on this paper didn't seem at all just sisterly; it felt more personal. Besides, the sheep was all cute and fluffy. You don't make fluffy pictures for just anyone.

There was the love she should have for her mission companions. That was also a very general love but it required some degree of trust. That type of love didn't require any type of personal knowledge of the individual really, just an appreciation and respect for the calling. Through serving together, the shared experiences could lead to an inevitable bonding through the work. The handbook rules forced them to connect through common space, finances, prayer and even food. That type of closeness made you vulnerable. If there was trust, there could be some affinity. It was more personal. Over time, that relationship could result in a very deep connection that lasted a lifetime. With Tara, they hadn't had that much time, had they?

Willow considered those thoughts for a moment. Personal knowledge, affinity and trust lead to a higher or more intense type of bond. Shared experiences increased that connection. One would have that with other missionaries. There was a degree of respect and humility, a shared understanding of the trials and temptations of a missionary. Had Tara and her only bonded over their mutual appreciation of certain texts, the struggle over language and now the animosity they felt from Sister Smith?

Okay, so Tara, sister missionary, gentle spirit indoctrinated in The Church to love others. Wouldn't she just say that as a passing thing? No. She waited; she wrote me a note, while I slept, while I was here. I could have woken up. Then what would she have done?

And she kissed me today. And, she said, she said my babble is charming. Who says that? I don't even believe that, but somehow from her, I think it's true. She said, Willow's breath hitched again as she thought back to their earlier conversation, she said her heart wants me.

No, she can't want me; I'm off the plan. We made rules, well she made rules and I accepted them, but she came and she was here this morning with me, and we play and she's so cute the way she likes her mood pizza and she smiles and ... Great Willow, this is how the babble starts. Stay focused. How deep is her love? Willow sat motionless staring at the picture.

Down the hall, Tara sat wide-awake looking at the ceiling from her bunk. She couldn't really see anything, but she imaged what the patterns of the popcorn ceiling back home would look like. She had spent hours when she was growing up finding images in the white bumpy texture. Animals were her favorite. Sometimes she scared herself when she thought she saw faces there. It was an amusing pastime when she didn't want to think about something that was bothering her. It helped her brain to process things while she distracted her mind with creative energy. She had a sinking feeling that she had crossed a line with her drawing and she did not want to think about that right now.

Tara was torn. She was just coming to terms with her feelings for Willow. Meeting Willow had been the best thing in her life, but the most confusing. She wanted something from Willow that she had never needed from anyone else. She felt drawn to her, and wanted to let Willow in. She wanted Willow to know her - the real her. Willow made her feel free and alive.

She knew having those feelings for Willow conflicted with The Church teachings, but Willow was right, it didn't feel wrong. In fact, the more she got to know Willow, the clearer it became just how sheltered she had been from her feelings. More accurately, she had hidden her feelings from others. She accepted those around her on a superficial level, never letting people too close, never letting them see her fears or the questions that concerned her. She protected herself from her insecurities and wrapped them up in a neat little package of strength in The Church community.

The Articles of Faith, that is what The Church called a summery of its ideology. "We believe…." That mantra gave her authority. Tara stared at the ceiling in frustration. It was just too dark to see. We believe, we believe. …. What do I believe? Tara rolled over and hugged her pillow. Her mind was racing. She took a cleansing breath. When she exhaled, she closed her eyes again. All she saw was red hair, a freckled face, a darling smile, and those intense and loving green eyes. She felt the joy return to her face. Just thinking about Willow gave her hope.

Willow will understand. She'll figure it out. Tara had confidence in Willow. She was smart. Tara knew she would see the sheep, figure out that it was a code for something else. It was just a harmless drawing with a sheep. A fluffy little lamb. What could be wrong with that? It just says, "I love you."

Tara suddenly panicked. Willow will understand! What was I thinking? I can't do that to her. How is she going to process that? Tara's mind went into overdrive as she considered all the ways Willow could interpret the message. What if it were me? What would I do?

Maybe she won't see it first. Maybe she'll see the other. Oh, who am I kidding? She's gonna see the sheep and wont find the letter for a while. Tara squeezed the pillow again. Only two options she could see: retrieve it or leave it. What would Willow do?

Willow took another breath. How long had she been sitting there holding that little drawing? She just couldn't take her eyes off it. She could see the care taken with that ocean. The ocean - parts of the ocean were just the color of Tara's eyes. She could see Tara so clearly in her mind: the contours of her face, the sweetness of her smile, her eyes. Her eyes were like a window to forever.

"You gonna stare at that forever?" Tara's voice was hushed. She'd come upon Willow gazing at the picture and she seemed to be lost in a daydream.

Willow turned toward the voice. "Tara!" She nearly squeaked with excitement. Then she felt self-conscious. She really hadn't figured out how Tara meant the picture and now that she could find out, she was a little afraid.

What would Willow do? Tara took a measured breath and gracefully walked toward the couch. She took a seat next to Willow on the couch an appropriate distance from her. She turned her hips to face Willow on the couch, bent her leg up slightly to rest on the couch for comfort.

Willow's mouth had fallen open when Tara came over. She slapped it shut inaudibly, but the feeling of enchantment remained. In just a few moments, she regained her senses. She was still holding the little drawing in her hand. She could only think of one thing to say.

"It's late," she looked down at the picture in her hand. The last time they had been here, they were discussing rules, and Willow felt nervous. She licked her lips and considered whether she should say anything else.

Tara was equally nervous. She hadn't prepared for the conversation; she just knew she needed to come back. "Yeah," was all that she could say in return.

Willow realized one of them was going to have to take the lead and she was holding the picture. "Hah, I guess the ball's in my court, huh?" She lifted her hand with the picture a little to signal the topic.

Tara dropped her head, "We don't have to if you don't want to." She suddenly felt very self-conscious and slightly chilled. She folded her arms across her front.

"Tara, I just don't know what to say. I don't want to babble." Willow cut herself off. She shook her head, "And I just know I will if I start."

"But I like your babble." Tara let out quietly before she had a chance to sensor herself.

"Yeah?" Willow sucked on her bottom lip and then asked, "Why?"

Tara's raised knee started to shake a little. She was definitely displaying some signs of nervousness. Willow noticed. Tara appeared to have found an invisible thread on her pajama bottoms. She remained silent.

"Do you not want to? I mean, did you not mean to? Willow shook her head trying to make sure she didn't ramble on. "Were you coming to take it back?"

Tara's head shot up, "What! No! Well, no I mean maybe, I don't know." Tara started playing with the non-existent fiber with her fingers.

Willow was still adding factors to her calculation and Tara's nervousness was clearly a dynamic, but she wasn't sure what it meant. "You're not gonna make me ask you questions again are you, cause I'm way out of my league on this one, and I don't even know where to start."

Tara chuckled, but her answer was still monosyllabic, "ha, no."

"Here," Willow moved the picture closer to Tara, "Take it."

Willow was giving her an out. But when faced with that… "No!"

Willow was a little bit startled at the sharp reply. "Tara?" She whispered, "What is it? Are you okay?"

"No." She responded weakly. Tara appeared to be falling into some sort of distress, and Willow felt helpless.

"Oh, Tara, baby, it's ok." Willow moved a little bit closer to Tara, but she didn't want to crowd her, "We don't have to talk about this if you're not ready or you don't want to." She absentmindedly raised her hand and tucked a strand of blond hair behind Tara's ear. "Do you want me to hang on to it for a while, ‘cause I really like it and it means a lot to me?"

"It's silly, really." Tara was able to get some composure.

"It's not silly to me," Willow felt Tara's comfort was returning a little bit. "I really like it, and I know you spent a long time making it for me."

"No, I'm silly, of course you can keep it; I made it for you." Tara took a breath, "I-I just got scared."

Willow looked confused, "Scared of me?"

Tara shook her head. She knew she had to do this, "Scared of me." She finally looked up at Willow. "I get so turned around."

Willow took a good long look at Tara, the softness in her eyes that showed a little fear, her nervous movements and posture. Willow searched for a clue what was really bothering her, but in the end she realized she'd have to ask if she wanted to know the answers.

"Tara," she started out slowly, "I get scared too." Willow cautiously refolded the little drawing and carefully put it back where she'd found it. "I'm gonna keep that safe." She ran her hand gently across the top of the book as if it were fine velvet. The deliberate motion was not lost on Tara. "I know you understand what I mean."

Tara could tell Willow was not done with her comments so she just nodded.

Willow took another deep breath. "I don't want to admit this, but I think we need to try to keep our rules. We need some time to process this." She looked back at the pile on the table and the back to Tara again. She looked deeply into her eyes to make sure she conveyed her meaning. She waited while they connected with the look, two souls reunited, sharing without speaking. In the silence, the fears disappeared as they gazed into one another's eyes. In her eyes, Willow had the answer to her question.

Willow dropped her voice to a sultry whisper and spoke slowly, "But I really don't want to." She followed the comment with a slow seductive grin and a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

After a few moments, Tara realized she was just staring at Willow. The invitation was obvious, the intent was clear. Willow had drawn for Tara her own picture, just not on paper.

Several moments passed before either said a word. Tara finally continued. She took a slow breath before she began. "When I saw you out here earlier I actually brought you something else to look at." She glanced toward the books on the table. "I just got caught up in the moment with the other thing."

Willow was still looking at Tara, "I'm glad you did."

"It's actually from home, it's from my brother." Tara pushed another wayward hair behind her ear as she continued. "Usually he's a typical big brother, acting better than me and stuff, but I know he really cares about me. I got this letter from him today, well yesterday now, and I didn't even feel like reading it."

Willow was puzzled a little, and gently inquired, "how come?"

"Well, you know how sometimes people surprise you?" Tara looked away for a moment to ensure they were still alone.

"Like when you came in on me this morning?" Willow's eyes displayed a playfulness that Tara found endearing.

"Yeah, ok, sort of." Tara retrieved the letter from where she had placed it earlier, "And you know how you said we had to ask the right question to get the right answer?"

Willow was sucked in; she couldn't wait to see where Tara was going with this line of questions, "Yeah."

"Well, I expected Donny's letter to be a lot different than it was." Tara was carefully unfolding the letter so she could share it with Willow. "Everyday I think about you, and I was feeling guilty about that."

Willow jumped in, "Oh, Tara, I'm sorry, I didn't mean…"

Tara cut her off, "No, that's not what I meant." She gathered her courage so she could finish, "Everyday I think about you; you inspire me to be stronger. I admire your strength of conviction, your dedication, and your keen mind. I watch you try, and sometimes you fail but you try again and succeed. You don't give up. And even when something is hard, you work at making the best of a situation."

Willow didn't understand, "You're crazy but thanks; so why would that make you feel guilty?"

"Because," Tara took a breath, "All those things should make me have respect for you as a missionary," she paused again.

The pause was long enough that Willow sensed she needed help. She reached out and simply touched one of Tara's fingers with her own.

"And…" Tara looked down at Willow's finger pressed softly on her own. She gathered all her courage and whispered, "And all I want to do is kiss you."

Willow quickly tried to pull all the information together that Tara had shared with her. "You think that you are not respecting me because you want that?"

Tara looked up again, this time focusing on Willow's mouth, "I did."

Willow gulped. And waited.

"On some level, I know thinking these things about a missionary are not right, but I don't see you that way right now. I see you - the cake part - not the frosting. I see you, quirky you, color coding you, strong you, smart you, funny you. And I want you."

There it was out there. She'd said it. "I just didn't lock my heart in time," Tara laughed as she recalled the advice from the mission president about locking their heart against love while they served.

Willow chuckled as well. "Me either."

"And what all this means? That I still don't know," Tara continued, "But I can't deny how I feel, that would be worse."

Willow was stunned, "Wow, okay."

Before she could say another word, Tara had handed her the letter. It was three small pages. Tara only had one thing left to say, "This answered my questions."

Willow looked down at the stationary. It was simple. It said, "From the desk of Donny" on it.

Dear Tara,

I'm not gonna call you Sister Maclay, because you will never be that to me. You are my sister and I love you. You are who you are.

You were probably expecting some big pep talk from me, but this is it.

Everything you need is within you. You will have the strength to do whatever you have to do.

I know there are challenges there you couldn't possibly have anticipated, and you are probably struggling with your new lifestyle. It's going to be okay.

Just remember; always be true to your heart.

Love D

Willow turned to the next page. Scrolled on the top was just a few words in Donny's handwriting the intended exercise was clear.

Just remember; always be true to your heart.

What do I believe? __

Willow turned to the next page and again there were a few words, but this was different assignment. The note included Tara's answer.

When you follow your heart, where does it lead you?

To Willow

Willow read the words over, and over, until she couldn't see them through her tears.

Tara saw the glistening green and she was moved. She wanted nothing more than to take Willow into her arms and hold her. But they had rules. She considered her options for a moment and moved forward.

Willow felt Tara take her hand into her own. She turned it over and raised it up to meet her lips. She took a slow breath, closed her eyes and gently kissed Willow's palm just above her wrist.

Willow was amazed at how just that simple action caused such an intense response. As an involuntary tremor went through her, she wondered just how much she could take before she broke. She realized that Tara was still managing to stay within the lines and marveled at the intensity of their bond. Could they really do this for two months, and then sixteen more? Then what?

Willow decided she didn't want to think about anything more. She did want to return the favor. She mirrored Tara's gentle caress and kiss. She took the same measured breath. She was swept away.

After several moments of synchronized breathing, Willow broke the silence. "We should go," her voice no more than a whisper. Tara simply nodded and helped Willow to gather her things.

"So tomorrow? We are much with the Japanese and frustration?" Tara smiled, and with a little gleam in her eye, "And we scare the bee gee bees out of all the newbies."

Willow laughed at Tara's rhyme. "You keep that up, I'm gonna have to write some music to go with your poems."

Tara cocked her head and laughed. "I might take you up on that, but not today. Come on, sweetie, let's go to bed."

She called me sweetie. I love that. "Okay, tomorrow then. O ya sumi," [good night] Willow got up from the couch and helped Tara up. She took her books from Tara and again patted the one that held her new work of art. "Oh, and Tara?" she waited a beat, "watakushi mo" [me too]. With that, she turned and walked alone back to her own room.

Continue to Latter Days/Lonely Nights Chapter Thirty-One

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