She called it an apartment but everyone else called it a palace. (At least, by San Francisco's standards.) A spacious, two bedroom converted space with high ceilings, a shared roof deck and enough sunlight to grow a jungle. The bottom floor, lifted just off the street by a steep staircase, consisted of a large living room, an industrial kitchen and a back area that Tara was using as a studio. Up another set of stairs were two large bedrooms and a large bathroom.
She had bought it just after graduating from school with the small inheritance left to her by her mother, and the money from her numerous, student gallery shows. She told her friends it was just an investment, but they knew better. It was Tara.
The house was decorated in a warm, yet modern style. Large canvases, some painted by herself, others by friends and mentors, graced the tall walls. The house was perfectly coordinated, in a way that left visitors feeling equal parts envious and impressed. Little things, like the knobs on the kitchen cabinets were custom, and a beautiful iron chandelier that she had made with a welder friend hung over the tasteful dining area. There had been offers of magazine shoots, of local TV DIY show spots but Tara resisted. She was proud of her home, but it was her home. She didn't want to share.
Except with Willow.
Tara sighed as she moved around her studio, setting up a large canvas near the bright windows for her morning's work. Willow. The name caused Tara's mouth to tug into a frown and she shook her head to try and rid herself of the confusing thought.
She had met Willow five years ago. Tara had been a sophomore in college, living for her second year with Buffy Summers. For her entire freshman year she listened as the petite blonde rattle off story after story about her friends from home. Xander and Willow, Willow and Xander. "Willow is so smart, so funny, so (insert flattering adjective here)." By the time sophomore year rolled around Tara was terrified of meeting Willow. No, not Willow, THE Willow, the seemingly perfect redhead the petite blonde had built up in her mind. Buffy had become, through her kindness and generous spirit, Tara's best friend. Not just her best friend at school, but her best friend anywhere, and the thought of meeting Buffy's other best friend terrified her. What if the redhead didn't like her?
It was a long weekend, and Willow had flown out from Boston where she was attending M.I.T. Had she mentioned the redhead was brilliant? Tara shook her head readying the canvas, thinking back on that first meeting. Tara had stayed back at the dorm room she had shared with Buffy, while the girl had gone to the airport to pick up her friend. Tara must have cleaned, re-cleaned and then re-re-cleaned the small room a hundred times. She wanted so much to make a good impression on this person who was so important to Buffy.
Buffy brought Willow and her bag into the room and proudly introduced the two girls. "Tara, this is my best friend from home, Willow. Willow, this is my best friend here." The two girls politely shook hands, Tara emitting a relieved "hey" while Willow merely mumbled a greeting. Buffy sheepishly smiled at Tara before turning to the redhead.
"You hungry Will? Airplane food is kind of of the yuck."
"I'm fine." The redhead answered, her head bowed a bit. Tara felt for the slim redhead; she looked so uncomfortable, so small.
"I-I could go g-get us something." Tara blurted, immediately cursing the reappearance of her stutter and overeager tone of voice.
"I'm okay, really." Willow briefly looked up and made eye contact with the blonde. They stared for a moment and Willow's face scrunched up in thought. Oh god. Tara thought alarmed. Staring! Staring at Buffy's straight friend. "I'm actually kinda tired, Buff." Willow said, turning away from Tara. Tara sighed, stupid, and Buffy looked at the redhead in surprise.
"Oh. Okay. I mean, it's kinda early for Tara and I but you're probably all tired from the flight. Tell you what, you curl up in my bed and Tare and I will go out, let you catch some zzzs."
Willow had gone to sleep, and the next afternoon Tara had left for home. The girls didn't meet again until a year later, at a Halloween party Buffy and her had hosted in their small, two bedroom apartment. Tara shouldn't have been surprised to see the redhead, Buffy had told her she was coming, but nonetheless, Tara found herself stopping short as she entered the room and laid her eyes on the girl. The blonde stood stunned, letting her eyes feast on the redhead. She looked like a completely different person than the one she had met previously, smiling, laughing, relaxed. Tara leaned against the wall and tried to blend into the crowd milling around, never moving her gaze from the happy girl. She was enthralled.
Willow stood with her hair pulled back into a short ponytail, her body barely covered by a... tarzan suit? Tara craned her neck a bit to more fully to take in the costume. An olive colored tank top covered in tatters, her toned midriff exposed for all to see, a similarly tattered short skirt hugging the redhead's curves, leaving her legs bare. Tara swallowed hard and dragged her eyes back up the lithe woman's frame, allowing her eyes to leisurely move across her neck, her ears, before settling one again on her face. Willow laughed at someone's joke and Tara involuntarily responded with a wide smile. The redhead was gorgeous. Why hadn't she seen it before?
Probably because you were too worried about how she obviously didn't like you... Now- Tara cursed herself. She stepped away from the canvas and pulled on a paint splattered smock. She moved to a small stereo and pressed play, the Kings of Convenience filling the space. She returned to the canvas and picked up her palette, mixing the paint as she lost herself again in the remembrance of that night.
She wasn't sure how long she had stared, only that it had been far to long should she ever have to explain herself if caught. She wanted to look away, but how could she? Every time she tried Willow would do something fascinating, like... drink out of a cup, or tuck a piece of stray hair behind her ear. How could she ever look away from the most beautiful thing she had ever seen? Tara finally did look away, down at her feet when she saw the man slide up next to Willow and wrap an arm around her waist. Tara's face flushed red, and she hotly looked back up, just in time to see Willow kiss the short man on the lips and smile. Straight, Tara, she sighed as she moved through the crowd, looking for a friend to talk to, a song to dance to, something, anything, that would keep her from torturing herself watching Willow and this man.
She had been on her way toward the bathroom later in the evening when the slim hand touched her shoulder, stopping her. Tara turned and came face-to-face with the smiling redhead. "Willow..." Tara replied, her face contorting a bit in surprise. The bright smile on Willow's face faded quickly, and the redhead hastily withdrew her hand, twisting her fingers.
"Hey." Willow said... nervously? Tara was confused, and her face showed it.
"Hey." Tara replied.
"Thanks for sharing your bed." Willow blurted. Tara's confusion deepened and Willow looked as if she was replaying what she had just said in her head. Her features changed, 'oh!' flashing across her face before a deep blush settled on her cheeks. "I mean, thanks for letting me use your bed, while you're gone this weekend."
"Oh." Tara replied. Willow looked at her expectantly, but when the blonde didn't continue Willow launched into what could only be described as the most impressive explosion of speech-sans-breathe that Tara had ever witnessed.
"It's just, the floor is nice, I mean, I'm sure here it's super nice even and I don't want you to think I'm too good for the floor or anything, cause I'm not, but I have midterms next week, four to be exact, and taking tests after a long weekend sleeping on the floor, even a super nice floor, not to mention two trips cross-country in a coach seat with my legs all tucked up and some stranger leaning over into my space and drooling, interrupting the last minute cramming I'll know I'll have to do in order to make up for the time I'm spending here doing stuff like this and shopping, cause Buffy'll want to shop and, it just would just be... bad."
Tara stood shocked as Willow's innocent face waited for a reply, anything. So, beautiful. Tara thought as she stood dumbly before the redhead. "I was actually on my way to the bathroom." Tara said, and then mentally screamed "just on my way to the bathroom!?!"
"Oh." Willow said. "Oh. I'm sorry. Go, I'll just. Yeah." Willow turned and walked away and Tara stared at the retreating form. I am the most ridiculous woman on the face of the Earth, Tara thought as she turned and continued her journey, shaking her head. It was the only time the two would speak that night before Tara left, once again, for home.
Now-Tara shook her head at the memories, the examples of how she just didn't click with the redhead. But that's not true, she thought. There was that one day, in the park three years ago... She stopped what she was doing and stared straight ahead. She closed her eyes and a beautiful smile drifted across her face, the sun warming her and the music creating a gentle cocoon of pleasurable sound. She sighed, dreamily and then opened her eyes. It had been a wonderful day, perfect even. She returned to absentmindedly mixing her paint and again felt a frown pulling at her lips.
Willow. The woman was such an enigma. For two months they had lived together, shared space and Tara felt like she still didn't know the programmer. The redhead worked long hours, and when she wasn't working she was... working. Holed up in her room on her two computers. That's not fair Tara thought, she has dinner with you almost every night, and whenever Buffy is over she's visiting, friendly, pleasant... It's just. She's not the woman Buffy so eagerly describes. She's not the woman that she spent that perfect day in the park with. It was like the redhead was holding a part of herself separate. Or maybe, Tara thought, she just doesn't like you Maclay.
She shook her head and dipped her brush into the paint she had just mixed, and swirled her wrist a couple of times. Enough Willow; time to work. She brought the brush up and quickly moved it across the canvas in a bold diagonal stripe, then pulled the brush away from the mark and stared in confusion. "What..." she said to herself softly, genuinely confused as she took in the vibrant red streak. She exhaled a breath and looked down at her palette. Sure enough, there was the origin of her confusion, a carefully mixed blob of red paint. Red... Tara shook her head, still confused. That's not what I meant at all, I wanted... She frowned as she realized what happened. Willow.