"Well, technically you were right, most paintings are, 'just paint'." He paused. "And a little canvas." Willow scowled at the dark haired man sitting across from her in the booth at their favorite breakfast haunt. He pumped his fist as a new thought came to him. "Or, maybe you were just being abstract. You know, like, 'deep down inside, we're all, just paint'."
"Xander..." Willow frowned.
"You're a nihilist, and you don't believe in paint?" The man ask, confused. "Damn it, I should have gone to college!" He chastised himself dramatically and then frowned when Willow didn't respond. She had shown up at his door the night before, her chin trembling, her shoulders slumped. She had looked thoroughly defeated, and when he took her into his arms for a hello hug, she had fallen apart completely.
He rubbed his bleary eyes, taking a quick sip of sludgy coffee. It had been a late night, mostly spent listening as the redhead paced back and forth, alternating between crying and babbling about paint, olives, omelets and housing prices in SF, her hands circling wildly in front of her as she talked through her points. She finally wound down around 2:30, falling into a deep sleep around 3. He had wrapped her up in a thin blanket on the couch, and left her to rest.
Now, sitting across from her and nursing a cup of coffee post-pancakes, he didn't know what to say. Obviously his friend was torn up inside, and only making things worse by getting down on herself. It was a vicious cycle, and he didn't know how much longer she could function being caught up in it. He sighed and picked up a blue crayon from a cup next to the ketchup. The table was covered in butcher paper, and he absently doodled a smiley face. His eyes lit up as an idea came to him. He looked up, Willow holding the water cup with both hands, looking down at the melting ice cubes utterly dispossessed. "Scoot over." He said, standing up and making his way over to her side.
"What?" She said, looking up as he moved. "Xander-"
"Move over." Willow complied grudgingly, and Xander sat next to her. She looked at him thoroughly perplexed. "Okay. I think I've figured out how you can fix things. See, the way I see it, you have two problems." She continued to stare at him, so he turned and drew a straight line in front of him.
"A diagram? Is this going to be like, football talk, with Xs and Os?"
"It would be, only I don't know anything about football." He wrote the letter 'T' at the top of the line.
"'T'." She said. "Tara?"
"Yup." He said, putting the crayon back in the cup.
"Tara's not a problem-"
"Hear me out," he interrupted quickly. She nodded, mute, and he continued. "Who is Tara."
"Who is Tara." He repeated.
"My, roommate..." She trailed off, wondering where this was going.
"And..." He led, arching his eyebrows. Willow arched her eyebrows in return, not sure she was following.
Xander snapped his fingers and pointed to Willow, 'ah ha!'. Willow looked thoroughly baffled; she snapped as well and pointed to him, not getting his point at all. He deflated and tried again. "Say you're talking to Shelia about Tara, and she famously botches up her name. 'Tammy?' She says and you say, 'no, Tara, you know, she's...'" He arched his eyebrows again and waited.
"No, you can't use roommate. 'She's...'"
"Buffy's friend." Willow replied, starting to get frustrated.
"Exactly." Xander said, taking a sip of coffee. Willow didn't reply, and he tacked on, "she's not your friend."
Willow opened her mouth to argue and then closed it, her thoughts drifting. She looked at Xander warily. "And."
"And that's your problem." When Willow didn't reply, he continued. "You're so worried about being in love with Tara, and Tara maybe rejecting you should you ever come clean and declare this love, that you've totally overlooked the fact that you guys aren't even friends. She's not even on your radar."
"She is my radar." Willow replied, deadpan.
"My bad, I'm tired. I meant, you're probably not on her radar. I mean, as anything other than her straight, extremely hot roommate-"
"Have you ever dated someone you haven't been friends with?" He interrupted.
"No, but I've only ever dated Oz."
"Right, and when you broke up with him you said the hardest thing about it was that you'd be losing a great friend."
The man picked up a purple crayon and wrote in list form, the numbers 1-5. "Write down five things that you know about Tara. And little personal things, stuff she likes, not stuff like, 'went to college with Buffy', or 'is an artist', or 'has blonde hair'." He held the crayon out to Willow, who took it tentatively. She looked down at the list, and after a brief moment, filled the first space.
1. Loves horses
She paused and looked up at Xander, who nodded encouragingly. Willow turned back to the list, and wrote:
2. Thinks Beatles > Rolling Stones
She sat still for a moment as her face opened up, her expression relaxing as little things about the blonde flooded her mind. Three through five came quickly.
3. Wishes was 2" taller
She quickly wrote '6.', and Xander reached over and took the crayon from her. "Whoa there tiger, only need five." Willow looked at him sheepishly and he smiled back widely, reaching across her to write another list. He got '1.' on the page before she winced. He stopped, looking at her cautiously, before she took the crayon from him and handed him another. He shook his head. "You and your different colors..." He scratched out the previous '1.', then wrote out 1-5 in green.
"What, five things I want to know about Tara...?" Willow asked, her forehead knit together skeptically.
Xander scoffed, "please." He handed the crayon over to the redhead. "Okay, now list five little quirky personal things that Tara knows about you." Willow's brow furrowed and Xander again nodded encouragingly. She turned to the table, and stared at the list. After a long moment she wrote:
1. Likes olives
Xander's eyebrows arched and Willow turned to him, a vulnerable expression on her face. "Keep going," he encouraged. She turned back to the list, and pulled her hand away from the paper, staring intently at the blank numbers before her, the crayon craddled in her hand in lap. After a couple of long minutes, Xander reached over and gently took the crayon from Willow's hands. "I think that proves a point..." He said softly. Willow turned to him, looking like a kicked puppy.
"Proves what point?"
"That Tara isn't going to ever be your friend, much less fall in love with you, if the only thing that she knows about you is that you like olives." He let that sink in with Willow before adding, "or maybe she will, I don't know, I'm not entirely sure I get her."
"Don't get her?" Willow asked panicked. "What's not to get, she's wonderful, a-and kind and--"
Xander interrupted. "And what is with the anxiousness? This seems like the perfect moment for you to lapse into a, 'she's so dreamy' babble, and instead you look like you're going to burst into tears. Willow-" The man thought for a long moment. "You're so wound up and worried about losing this girl, and the truth of the matter is, you don't have her. At all." Willow looked a little surprised. "Move out and get your own place, and she's back to being just 'Buffy's friend', someone you only see when Buffy decides to get you two together." Willow turned and looked back at the four blank spaces. "You need to start sharing yourself with this girl."
"But share what."
"What do you mean?" He asked, confused.
"I mean, what do I have to share?" She said softly, raw.
"Will..." He replied, equally soft, slightly exasperated. "There isn't a set list of 'Willow-isms' that you need to reveal to her and then check off in order to impress her..." She looked at him, exposed and he shook his head. "Now realizing I might have given you the wrong impression with this..." He pointed to the lists, sighing. "Look, you're a sum of your parts, and one of the reasons why I love your sum, is because I've loved your parts." Her eyebrows crept up and he frowned. "That sounds a little wrong, hold on." He thought for a moment, Willow watching him closely, patiently. He looked up, and continued.
"If Tara knew what you loved about life, what you hated about life, what you thought about anything, she would love you." Willow opened her mouth to speak but he interrupted. "And I'm not talking romantically, because I don't know if that's a possibility for her. I just mean... it's impossible to know you and not love you, care about you, and I can't help but think how much better you'd feel around her and vice versa if you let her get to know you. She's a stranger right now... Let her care about you in a way other than 'Willow, Buffy's friend'. I mean," he paused for a moment. "If I had to make a list of things I know and love about you... I'd need every table in here and I'd still only be scratching the surface of your wonderfulness."
"That's just cause you've known me forever..."
"Exactly. Because we've spent time together, just Willow and Xander, dorking it up and hanging out. You don't hang out with Tara. You dance around her, worry about her, stare at her..." She looked up at that. "I know you do, don't even try and say you don't." She shrugged sheepishly. "Have you ever thought that what you might need is to just relax and enjoy her company?"
"I don't know if I can-"
"Of course you can. She's just a girl-"
"She's not, just a girl-"
"She's going to have to be if you're gonna have any chance at a relationship with her." Willow's brow furrowed. "You can't be with someone you're afraid of being around-"
"I'm not afraid-"
"You're terrified." He interrupted, emphasizing his point and not backing down. "Like with that whole paint thing. So what, you said something awkward, put your foot in your mouth. The only wrong thing you did was that you didn't keep talking to dislodge said foot, that you didn't say 'it's just paint but I love it'." She looked at him skeptically. "See Will, I see a painting I like, and I go, 'pretty'. If I ever met the artist I'd probably say, 'me think pretty', and you know what, nothing wrong with that. So I don't know about the symbolism and the brush strokes and whatever it is that art critics say. I know that it's pretty, and the artist would probably enjoy hearing that." He paused for a moment. "Stop trying to say the 'perfect thing' all of the time and just say what's on your mind."
"But what if what's on my mind is stupid?"
"A) The likelihood of that is low, Will, and B) So what? People say stupid things all of the time, but they get along alright, people still love 'em. Living, breathing example." He said, pointing at himself.
"You don't say stupid things, Xand-"
"She can't love you if she can't pick you out of a lineup, if you're just, 'girl who breathes and takes up space'." Willow went quiet, nodding, conceding his point.
"What if..." She trailed off meekly, looking down at her hands. "What if I do all that, the sharing and speaking my mind and stuff, and she doesn't like me?" Willow asked, not daring to look up.
"Not gonna happen." Willow frowned and Xander continued, full of bravado. "You wanna bet money? I will clean you out Rosenberg. Come on, $20 says you're giggling at inside jokes within two months."
Willow smiled slightly at that and Xander watched her closely, making sure she was reassured for the time being. Satisfied, he reached over and picked up an orange crayon, and Willow followed his movements curiously. "Second problem..." He said tentatively, drawing an offshoot of Tara's line, like a break in the genelogical line. He carefully wrote 'C.O.' at the top of the line, parallel to the 'T' atop the other line. Willow turned to him.
"'Coming out.'" He said plainly. Her cheeks immediately flushed and she looked down. Xander scooted closer to her and put an arm around her shoulder, dropping his voice. "I know things didn't go well when you tried to tell your mom... but that was two years ago, maybe-"
"When I told her Bryan had a new boyfriend on the phone yesterday, she winced." Willow said, her throat constricted, face hot, embarrassed both by her own situation and her mother's reaction.
Xander exhaled, disappointed and angry with Willow's mother for what was probably not the last time. "I'm sorry, Will." She shrugged, still obviously bothered. "But..." He thought for the right words to say. "I took it well." Willow looked up at him, and he smiled warmly. She almost cried, remembering how sweet he had been when she had shown up in his parent's basement, sobbing and blubbering, so thoroughly wounded by her mother's detatched disappointment in her when she tentatively, and hypothetically, suggested she might be gay. How he had held her and assured her that he was fine with it, that he loved her regardless of who she loved. She sniffed and swallowed hard, nodding.
Xander saw the change of emotion on her face and sought to keep the redhead's mood light (well, lighter than sobbing would allow). "I mean, true, there were some awkward moments-"
She laughed, wiping her eyes with a napkin. "Like when you spent that night grilling me about which girls from our high school class I had thought were hot?"
"Still can't believe you said no to Harmony." Willow's face twisted in disgust. "Forgetting about the fact that she was a mean, twisted, vapid bitch, she had a smokin' bod." Willow rolled her eyes and shook her head, a soft smile on her lips. "Tell Buffy," Xander softly urged. When Willow squirmed, he continued. "You know she'll support you, Will-"
"You don't understand-"
"Buffy, she... she has these expectations of me. I mean, she was so excited when I said I was moving to San Francisco. 'Finally, someone to go pick up guys with!'" Willow shook her head. "Always trying to set me up with guys, saying how she loves Tara but is glad she has this straight friend to go on straight double dates with... And Tara is her friend. If something happened, or didn't happen, and things got awkward between Tara and I--"
"I'm sorry, got awkward?" Xander asked, incredulously, rhetorically. Willow shot him a dirty look and he held up his hands. "Sorry. Continue."
"Just..." Willow thought, deciding to lay out every irrational thought. "What if Buffy thinks living with Tara made me gay, or I was just, gay for Tara-."
"Okay, first? Tara has nothing to do with coming out to Buffy." He reached up and X'd out the 'T' on the page, Willow inwardly wincing. "If Tara never existed, you'd still be gay, and you'd still at some point need to come out to Buffy."
"I know." Her reaction practiced, as they had had this exact conversation before.
"Tara didn't 'make' you gay, your gayness has nothing to do with Tara. The only 'gay' connection between you and Tara is that she's the one you want to be gay with." His eyes glazed over for a moment and he went quiet. Willow pulled a face and hit him in the arm. He turned back to her. "What were we talking about?"
"You were being disgusting."
"Oh right, being gay with Tara." He smiled and Willow smirked, shaking her head at his obvious attempt at levity.
Dork. She thought.
"Buffy might be thrown when you tell her, and it might take her a little bit to get over her disappointment that you're not gonna be her 'man-hunting, wingwoman', but, she loves you. She'll get over whatever she needs to get over and things will be okay."
Willow nodded, 'knowing' he was right, even as she worried that he wasn't. "And... you need to tell her, because eventually... you need to tell Tara." Willow looked up and Xander continued. "You can't be gay with Tara if she thinks you're straight."
"I know." Willow said softly. Observant, wonderful, dork.
"Unless you have this," he circled the 'C.O.' "You can't have this." He circled the X'd out 'T'. "Hey, look, Xs and Os." Willow smiled slightly. She sighed and nodded her head, acknowledging his point and they sat still for a moment, Xander giving her the time she needed to let their conversation soak in. Willow reached over after a few minutes, and took another crayon from the cup. She stretched her arm across the butcher paper and wrote in red a perfect 'T', next to the X'd out, circled 'T'. Xander smiled to himself.
"I haven't even asked you about your life." She said, without looking up.
"It's okay. More important things to talk about."
She grimaced and looked to him. They stared at each, friends for so many years and she nodded her head, allowing him that. "So how's Julie?"
"Ah, Julie. Well, I don't know, we broke up."
"What? When?" Willow asked surprised.
"A few days ago. Didn't want to bother you with it, was a mutual thing, we're both fine... Actually, very glad to be 'Xander: Single Man', again."
Willow evaluated him, trusting that if he needed to talk to her about it he would. They allowed a comfortable silence to settle, each lost in their own thoughts, taking sips of cool coffee. Xander finally looked over at Willow mischievously. "So... you're absolutely positive Tara's gay?" Willow's brow furrowed and she stared at him in wary confusion. "Cause, I'm single now, and I like horses-"
"Jerk." She said, swatting him and smiling beside herself as he mock winced in pain. They again let themselves sit, quietly, comfortably. Just two old friends finishing up their cups of coffee on a slow Saturday morning.