(Day 8 -Thursday, November 15, 1984)
When the door opened in the classroom, all eyes turned to see who was coming to visit. The woman hastily glanced at a paper in her hand and glimpsed at the girls' nametags. She handed Tara a note and left as quickly as she'd come. Tara palmed the pink memo and scanned the words. Then she checked her watch. She didn't have much time. A feeling washed over her; she just wasn't sure what it was. There was no time to prepare; she just had to get through the next several minutes.
As her mind began to process the implications of the note, the room seemed to cloud over and grow distant like everything had been sent down a tunnel. The words coming from the instructor sounded a little like Charlie Brown's teacher. The thought amused her for a moment as she impersonated the noise in her head. Wa wa wa wa wa wa. The small grin disappeared as quickly as it had come. Focus Tara! What was it Willow had said? "We need to accept whatever obstacles are placed in our path. If we have faith we can make it through." She whispered a wordless prayer for wisdom, strength and guidance.
She silently motioned to the girls that they should join her. She wasn't sure when she would return, so she motioned with her head toward the clock on the wall, and shrugged meekly. Conley caught on quickly and decided to gather her things. Tara followed suit, as did Colson. They headed out the door and out into the hall.
"Maclay Shimai?" Colson asked. She showed concern in her voice. She'd never seen anyone get a note during class, let alone be called out of one. She was seriously troubled. Conley matched concern, but didn't have anything worthwhile to add so she remained quiet.
"Wakari masen," [don't know] was all Tara could say.
They traveled in silence toward the front of the building. There were many new missionaries arriving and it was absolute chaos. Conley and Colson held back allowing Tara a little privacy in case she needed it. Tara approached the desk alone and handed the slip of paper to the woman behind the counter. Then she waited.
The woman scanned the note, nodded and handed it back to Tara. "Keepsakes," the woman smiled warmly. She reached for the phone and pressed a button. Tara presumed she had just announced her presence. "You may go sit in the lounge," she smiled up at the three girls again and gestured down the hall.
The three walked slowly down the hall. Conley was first to speak. "Sore wa ‘kipuseki' nara ba, ii desu ka." [If that is a keepsake, it is good?]
"Yosh!" [great!] Tara beamed at Conley for using the new "if" sentence structure they had learned that morning.
Conley tilted her head when she heard the exclamation from Tara. She rarely sensed that level of enthusiasm from the girl and wondered if she was nervous. She pointed to the chairs, "dozo." [go ahead] The three took a seat in the lounge to wait.
The girls had taken the chairs across from her. She suspected they wanted to gauge her mood, to see if she was nervous. She actually was, but she didn't want them to see that. She glanced down at her pile of books, let her hair fall and let her mind drift.
She assumed this meeting had something to do with the note she'd left earlier. She couldn't actually remember if it was yesterday or the day before. She knew right now that she wouldn't be able to concentrate on anything of substance. She grabbed her notebook and a pencil. She opened to the last few pages and read over her recent comments. It was covered with Willows. A plethora of Willows. Tara smiled at the thought. She absentmindedly started to doodle. She tried to reconstruct the past few days in her mind.
She had arrived a week ago and met Willow. Willow had been so cute babbling that first day and then when she tried so hard to use the chopsticks only to realize that peas, carrots, and mashed potatoes might be her undoing. There was just something about her; Willow excited her on a different level than anyone had before. Then that night they had talked and gone back to Willow's for some "light" scripture study. Tara had sensed right away that she and Willow had a connection.
Tara reflected back. It had been instantaneous with them. Their first full day at the MTC, Willow had socked Sister Smith in the nose. She'd gone by that night under the auspices of study, but really, she just wanted to check on Willow after the debacle of a day she had had. The pranks she was currently enjoying from Willow started from her decision the morning of the third day.
It was that third day they were set apart. That was the last time she sat in this room. Willow had admitted she was looking at Tara. The attraction between them was obvious and she wondered if any of the others suspected things were heating up between them. Tara couldn't remember why they hadn't had their thumb-wrestling match yet, but maybe that was better. Holding hands with Willow might lead to other things...
Was it really only the third day they had all posed for that picture? The feeling of Willow stretched in front of her on the bed for their six sister's pose came to mind. Tara closed her eyes as warmth washed over her. She allowed the event to progress to its conclusion in her mind. She chuckled quietly at the image of Colson diving across the bed. The moment was bittersweet. Touching Willow was never long enough, but the intensity of the girl's eyes immediately following their de-spooning - that look permeated her soul.
Sunday, that had been the infamous cold water on Willow day. It was another moment pushing her into forbidden territory. She hadn't taken Sacrament that day. She had struggled, she remembered, with her internal conflicts throughout the day. That night she'd learned about Willow's color coding system. Was that the chocolate cake analogy day? She didn't really remember much except how impressed she was with the way the other girl's mind worked.
The fifth day: that was p-day. She hadn't really spent that much time with Willow, but the nighttime...she always looked forward their evenings together. As she tried to reconstruct the day's events, she remembered how Willow had been stuck in the front row with the other sisters in their Devotional. They ended up at the vending machine that night, or was that technically the beginning of the sixth day? Oh well, at least I waited an appropriate interval before I kissed her. Tara laughed at herself. Oh, who am I kidding, I wanted to claim those lips the first day I met her. She's just so....
Okay, so that kiss led to our rules and the note I left on Wednesday - which was yesterday... Wednesday was also Donny's letter and pizza. It was when I read Donny's letter I realized just how much my heart revolves around her. Tara glanced at her little drawing and laughed. She hadn't realized how deep her feelings were for the redhead. That letter from Donny and his words of wisdom were an inspiration to her.
Tara knew only a few things. She couldn't deny her feelings and she could not betray Willow. There was a little conflict however. Temple membership required purity in thought and in deed. She knew her mission was simply an extension of those vows. As she pondered her situation, she continued with her doodling. It could be about something else. The fact that she was worried about a Willow discussion made her realize that it still was an issue. For about the one hundredth time that day Tara repeated her new mantra: What would Willow do?
Ha! Panic! That's what she'd do. She'd think of all the dire consequences. In Willow's world, that pink paper might be the last keepsake she would have. She would want to give Tara a reminder of why she was leaving. The thought saddened her, she didn't really believe it could be that bad, they hadn't really done anything too drastic, but Tara knew in her heart, she had wanted more of Willow than a few discrete kisses. If it was about intent and she talked about it, she could be in trouble.
What was she really worried about? As she mulled over her recent thought process she realized it didn't have anything to do with Willow at all. Tara knew she didn't have much more time before she would have to meet with the Mission President to discuss her concerns, but she really didn't feel apprehension anymore. She was hopeful. Willow and she had made a plan. They were following the rules and everything. She thought that perhaps she'd jumped the gun making an appointment to see the Mission President. When the door to the office opened, Tara stood up with confidence. Just like any other interview. Just pretend you're talking to dad.
When the door closed behind her, Colson and Conley just looked at each other.
"I'd love to be a fly on the wall on that one, and I feel bad about that just so you know." Colson admitted.
"Yeah," Conley shook her head, "Me too, but she'll be fine." Conley considered for a moment. "She has us, and we'll be there for her no matter what."
That comment earned Conley a second glance. Colson hadn't really run through all the different reasons why Tara would be called to the office, but she was suddenly more than a little concerned. "Gosh, I hope everything at home is okay."
"I think we just need to be strong for her and give her whatever she needs. If she wants to talk to us about anything, we need to be ready to listen, and if she doesn't we can't push." Conley looked back to her study books that had kept her distracted while they had been waiting. "Benkyo vokabu?" [Study ‘vocab?']
Colson laughed, "These green beans are going to have no idea that we can't really speak Japanese - that we just add "u"s to the ends and other vowels in between to everything. And that thing with the semi silent "u" that's totally cool." She chuckled a little bit more, "and in your case, you go so fast even in English, they'll never have any idea you aren't fluent in Japanese." She was still giggling for a few seconds after her comment.
"Right," Conley held out the word, "We have a long way to go, and I bet when we get there, it will still feel like it did yesterday in class. Totemo wakari masen." [Totally, do not understand.]
"Totemo," [Totally] Colson said in confirmation. She giggled again, "We sound like a bunch of little Japanesey Rosenberg Shimais. Shimai, shimai tachi" Colson made a faced when she confused herself, "Is that plural?"
Conley was stuck for a moment, "No, not plural. It's just implied - like sheep." Conley distracted herself for a moment trying to come up with another English equivalent. "English is weird," she finally concluded.
"Fer sure." Colson chose another California beach phrase she'd heard once or twice when the redhead mocked the language styles of the teens in her state. The conversation tapered off.
"Shitsumon ga ari masu." [I have a question] Colson broke the short silence.
"Hai, dozo,"[yes, go ahead] Conley waited while Colson tried to work through the wording. Conversations often came to a screeching halt when Japanese was required.
"Rosenberg Shimai to Maclay Shimai wa ... doshite no doryo desu ka?" [Sister Rosenberg and Sister Maclay ...(she meant) why are they not companions?] Colson did the best she could to convey the question properly, she knew it was probably wrong... but maybe Conley would get it....She hoped. They were all trying so hard to speak Japanese, but it was tough.
Conley looked at Colson and easily interpreted her meaning. "Wakari nai," [Don't know] She chuckled a little, "Sore wa misuturi desu." [It's a mystery (English with Japanese flavoring)]
The girls fell into a comfortable silence. And waited.
Tara finally exited the office and nodded to her companions that it was ok to go. It was too late to go back to class so they headed over to the cafeteria to get a jump on the dinner crowd. Tara said nothing as they walked back to the dining area. The fog she'd experienced earlier that day had returned. She needed time to process what had just happened. She felt numb.
Tara flashed back to a pre-mission interview she had with her Bishop. It was the same warm smile and handshake, "Hello sister, what can I do for you?" It was such a benign question, so disarming and serene. She wondered why they didn't ever ask how she was. When her Bishop looked at her, it seemed as though he knew everything about her, all her strengths and weakness rose to the surface for him to see. She always felt transparent with him. She couldn't lie.
She thought back to the proverbial kindly gesture toward the chair on the "passenger's side" of the desk. The chair was always a little less comfortable; she felt off balance. They seemed so majestic in their own chairs as though they had a mantel of authority not given to regular people. Tara was on a ride and she wasn't driving. This wasn't a roller coaster ride, this was a high-speed street race with hay bale barriers, scenery and possibly funny round goggled thrill seekers steering their old-fashioned sports cars.
She didn't even remember walking back from the office, through the line, or sitting down with her companions. She was waiting for the cloud cover to lift, for reality to shift back into place. She looked down at her food selection: a small salad, corn and spaghetti. She couldn't understand what had prompted her to put the Russian dressing on the greens. She'd never even tried that kind before.
She barely noticed when the room started filling up and a bubbly redhead sat down directly across from her. Colson had moved over to let her take the seat in front of the quiet blonde. Tara was picking at her corn when something green landed in the center of the pile. The little wayward pea broke her trance almost immediately. Tara didn't realize that Conley and Colson had saved room for the other three to join them or that they had signaled to Willow to come over.
Tara was hiding behind her hair. She didn't really look up to see where the pea had come from; rather she scanned the trays around her to see who had selected them for a list of suspects. Seeing no peas except for those on the tray in front of hers, she quickly glanced to see if it might have been intentional. The first thing she saw was a beaming smile.
Tara motioned to her pea and abbreviated her question, "Nan desu ka?" [What is it?]
Willow thought as quickly as she could and said quickly, "Riro pi ni korun kurunaru desu." [It's a Willow pea (English) with/on corn kernel(s) (English)]
Tara didn't recognize anything Willow said and she looked frustrated. Willow sensed her distress immediately. She locked eyes with Tara, "Watakushi no pi." [My pea] When Willow said pi, she winked at Tara. Tara looked like she was catching on. "Riro" she lowered her eyelids a little bit to denote this was a personal message. "Riro pi," she watched Tara look back down at her tray. "Riro pi ni tera no korun kurunaru." [Willow pea on Tara's corn kernel(s)]
"Oh," Tara picked up the pea with her chopsticks, "Arigato. Riro pi ga suki desi." [Thanks. I like Willow pea.] Tara had replied almost absentmindedly which earned some concern from Willow, but she was undaunted.
"So," Willow began after a moment, "nani ui desu ka?" [What is up?] She grinned when she said the sentence fluidly. "We learned directions today." Willow was about to bounce herself right off the bench. "I kinda practiced that in my head a few times." She admitted. "I couldn't wait to try it out on you." Willow blushed a little.
Conley was watching the exchange with interest deliberately not listening or rather trying to translate the dialog mentally. She knew if she were upset, seeing the girl would probably make her feel better. Willow was almost cheerful to a fault. With Maclay, it always seemed to have the desired effect.
Tara finally lifted her head and looked toward Willow. When Willow got a good look at her, she was mortified. Something had upset her Tara. Every instinct told her to reach out and touch her, but she was across the table. They were not alone. She couldn't think of a thing to say. After a little internal debate, she realized showing appreciation was all she could do.
"Pi? [pea?] Tara watched as Willow carefully picked up one pea. She held it up with her chopsticks as if in offering. Willow quickly glanced at her chopsticks and the lone pea she held carefully between the two pieces of wood and then stared back to Tara's eyes. "Arigato - por la ohashi lecciones." [Thanks - for the (Spanish) chopstick lessons (Spanish)] Willow hoped the poor use of her new-patented Jaspanglish would meet Tara's approval. She wasn't disappointed.
As the half smile slowly emerged on Tara's face, Willow beamed with joy. Eigo de hanashi mo ii desu ka? [Is it okay to speak English?] Willow really wanted to communicate with her girl, and even in her best Jaspanglish, she knew too much meaning would be lost. She needed all of her skills to perk up Tara.
"Hi, dozo." Tara agreed.
"I'm really glad you smiled, because I wondered how good my aim would have been - ohashi de." [by chopstick] Willow glanced briefly toward the proposed target and smiled. "You know I still need to get even for that mushroom incident after our doryo inventory." Willow licked her lips unconsciously and her tongue poked out between her teeth.
Tara blushed. She dropped her head again to concentrate on her spaghetti.
Willow looked at Tara's food selection. As Tara lifted a grouping of noodles up to her mouth, Willow commented quietly, "Pretty color scheme."
Tara's eyes drifted around her tray to review her food selection as she was putting the noodles in her mouth. When she realized what Willow had seen, she grinned, and slurped a wayward noodle. A drip of red flew toward Willow from the whiplash. When the noodle whipped back around, it caught Tara on the chin living a tiny line of red sauce.
Tara looked up at Willow.
Willow was in the process of touching a spot on her cheek just under her eye. She looked at her finger and realized what had happened. After a quiet snicker, Willow looked around at the others who were all engrossed in their food. She gave Tara a half grin of her own and sucked on her finger. Then she nodded toward Tara with her chin. She motioned with her finger onto her own chin, but Tara appeared to be confused. After a few attempts mirroring personal sauce removal, Willow finally reached over and wiped the red away. She glanced around again to ensure she had a modicum of privacy and licked her thumb. "What? Five second rule should apply there."
Tara blinked. No matter what, she always makes me smile. Tara shook her head, closed her eyes for a moment and resumed eating. I really need to talk to her, but it can wait.