Willow rarely found herself wishing she had less of a bosom, but as she stood naked from the waist up, critiquing her reflection in the bureau mirror, her face contorted in dismay. The bagginess of her men's wardrobe adequately concealed her modest chest on most occasions, but she could not take the chance when it came to dancing. 'Especially close dancing,' she thought hopefully, the chance alone enough to make some minor discomfort worth her while. Retrieving a thick roll of cotton bandaging from one of her bags, she wrapped it tightly around her torso, pinned it in place under her right arm and slipped on her best dress shirt, buttoning it up to the collar and pulling her suspenders into place with a snap. After several moments of scrutinizing her options, she decided on her dove gray bow tie and waistcoat. A quick brushing of her thigh length black suit jacket and square-crowned bowler and her ensemble was complete. Following one final appraisal of her reflection, she locked her room and hurried across the street to Maclay's.
Donnie greeted Will with a nod, then jerked his head in the direction of the saloon's second floor.
"She ain't ready yet," he drawled, rolling his eyes. "Had all day, too. I swear I don't know why it takes women so damn long to make themselves presentable."
"Best not to wonder," Willow remarked with a nervous chuckle, thinking of her own panic a mere half-hour before upon getting out of the bath and having no idea what to wear.
"I mean, look at me," Donnie continued. "Only took me ten minutes to get ready."
Willow kept her mouth clamped firmly shut as she took in the rumpled suit, bent collar, stained tie, and unkempt hair, but she couldn't prevent her mind from thinking 'that took ten whole minutes?' She was thankfully saved from having to comment on Donnie's appearance by the squeak of the saloon doors announcing Tara's arrival.
The air rushed from Willow lungs and she took a step back. Tara's hair was pulled back loosely, and when she turned to hand her brother a covered basket, Willow could see several braids woven together into a bun and pinned snugly at the base of her neck. The image came to her unbidden of releasing the braids, slowly twining her fingers through each until the silky blonde locks flowed freely over Tara's shoulders, currently obscured by the shawl clutched tightly together in one of the blonde's gloved hands. Tara was resplendent in slate blue silk, the draping skirt fabric billowing out from the cinched waist and sweeping down to the floor, reminding the redhead of the ocean waves she'd loved as a child. When the blonde's eyes darted nervously toward her, Willow realized she had been caught staring, and hastily squeaked out "shall we go?"
"Yep, now that ever'body's ready... get on up here, Clem." Donnie cheerfully greeted the old-timer from the driver's perch and indicated the space next to him, while Willow and Tara looked askance at the crowded buckboard bed. "Hope y'all don't mind the back... there's some grain sacks should be right comfortable for sittin'."
Willow helped Tara onto the wagon and climbed up behind her, trying to recall if the cart had been this full of clutter earlier. The sacks Donnie had referred to would make an adequate seat, but to Willow's eyes the space appeared far too small for two people.
"Donnie, why on Earth didn't you clean this out?" Tara asked in an exasperated tone.
"I forgot," he shrugged noncommittally, but as his sister turned to sit, he covertly winked at the redhead.
Willow blushed and looked at Tara, who smiled warily, gathering her full skirt together as much as possible and nodding to the space next to her. Before Willow could sit down, Donnie snapped the reins and the cart lurched forward, nearly depositing the startled redhead in Tara's lap.
"Sorry," she muttered, gingerly lowering herself to the seat and smiling apologetically. "Is this okay? I can sit on that crate if I'm crowding you."
"It's fine," Tara replied shyly, bobbing her head in reassurance. The close space caused Willow's left arm to brush against Tara's right with every sway of the wagon, but neither made any move to lean away.
Donnie and Clem chatted merrily as the wagon made its slow progress toward the Summers' home, the horse following the track sure-footedly despite the waning daylight. Leaning back against the side rail, head tilted to peer into the sky, Tara let out a relaxed sigh. Willow eyed her curiously, but before she could ask what the blonde was thinking, Tara shifted her gaze to the redhead and spoke.
"Clear night," she observed. "On the ride back we should see stars."
"I heard you liked to look at the stars," Willow commented with a sly smile.
"I do," Tara confirmed enthusiastically. "When we were little, our Dad taught us all the constellations." Tara's soft voice was warm as she spoke of her father. Only her eyes betrayed the sadness that accompanied the memory. "I liked the stories, but they always made the heavens seem... I don't know... farther away? Almost as though they belonged to another time. When we got older, Donnie and I would make up our own stories, our own constellations. Somehow it made me feel more... a part of the world. I suppose that sounds silly," she frowned, lowering her head.
"No! It isn't silly at all. It's wonderful," Willow whispered genuinely, grinning from ear to ear when Tara raised sparkling eyes to meet her own. "Maybe... if you like... you could teach me?"
"Maybe," Tara answered coyly, shooting a quick look at her brother, who was still engrossed in conversation with Clem. "But I'll only tell you mine. Donnie's are a bit... colorful. I wouldn't want to scandalize you."
Willow widened her eyes and dropped her jaw in mock astonishment, earning a giggle from the blonde.
"So what else did you hear about me?" Tara suddenly asked, her brow creasing noticeably. "To w-whom have you been talking?"
Willow detected the trepidation in the blonde's voice, and casually shrugged. "Just Donnie. He also said you wanted to be a teacher, but that Dusty Hollow's already got one."
"Yes, there aren't enough children here to warrant two, and Jenny Giles is really much more qualified than I am."
"You know, not too far west of here there's lots o' towns lookin' for teachers. All you gotta do is show up and say 'here I am!' and they hire you like that!" Willow snapped her fingers, hoping to set her and Donnie's plan in motion. "You wouldn't have to go too far, neither, so you could still visit here whenever you wanted."
"I appreciated your encouragement Will, and maybe someday-"
"Why wait?" the redhead pressed. "You could ride along with me and I could drop you off anywhere you please."
Tara shifted uncomfortably in her seat, her gaze again shifting to her brother's back. Willow realized she was in danger of overplaying her hand, and quickly changed the subject to the dance. With obvious relief Tara explained that Anya had insisted on being thrown an engagement party to make it clear to all that Xander was off the market.
"Though I do wish she'd decided on something less... formal," Tara admitted, blushing as she looked down at herself and modestly drawing her shawl tighter around her shoulders.
"You look beautiful," Willow whispered. "You should always wear blue... brings out your eyes."
"Oh, um, thank you. You look beautiful too," Tara replied earnestly. "I mean handsome... of course."
The rest of the short ride was passed in bashful silence and stolen glances. The sounds of cheerful voices announced their arrival minutes before Donnie pulled the wagon to a stop and called out "here we are!"
Willow scampered off the back of the cart and turned to assist Tara, gingerly gripping the blonde's waist. As the blonde leaned forward to place her hands on the redhead's shoulders, her shawl parted, and after the briefest of wide-eyed stares at the plunging V neckline inches from her face, Willow hastily averted her gaze.
"I've got you," Willow murmured, and with a short hop Tara was standing beside her, neither girl releasing her hold on the other for a long moment. Willow shyly offered her arm to the blonde, who slipped her own through, letting her gloved fingers rest lightly on the outside of Willow's wrist as they followed Donnie and Clem toward the barn.
The barn floor measured fifty by one hundred feet, while the roof soared to thirty at its apex. The stage and dance floor took up half the length of the space, while four large picnic tables and a number of sideboards overflowing with food occupied the area closest to the wide double doors. Clem and Donnie wandered over to the food tables to peruse the feast and deposit the basket of goods Tara had prepared. The blonde remained at the entrance, her arm still linked with Willow's, her eyes and mouth open in wonder.
Four large arches constructed of woven willow reeds and decorated with primrose blossoms separated the dining area from the dance floor. Beyond the arches, evergreen garlands dotted with prairie aster and white yarrow looped along each wall and twisted around the rafters. While the front of the barn was gaily lit, carefully placed hooded oil lamps swung from several joists in the dance area, casting soft shadows and illuminating the glass strung between the beams.
"Good idea with the glass, Will," Donnie remarked as he returned from dropping off the food. "Gotta say it looks right purty."
The group of newcomers was greeted warmly, the blonde's arm never leaving Willow's. Mrs. Summers' announcement that dinner was ready prompted a mad dash for the food tables, and in the momentary chaos, Tara led them unseen through the arches to the dance floor. Willow watched with delight as Tara continued to crane her head back, freeing her arm to spin around under the twinkling glass high above their heads.
"You did this?" she whispered reverently.
"Donnie said you like stars," Willow admitted, looking down at her feet and blushing.
"You did this... for me?" Tara squeaked, her eyes snapping down to meet Willow's.
"Well... yeah. I just thought... Donnie said... and Dawnie broke... and... you like?" she asked hopefully.
"I love," Tara replied in a hushed voice, stepping closer to the redhead. "I don't believe I've ever seen anything so beautiful."
Willow again offered her arm, pausing before steering them back to the party and looking deeply into Tara's heavily lidded eyes.