Willow returned home Sunday night exhausted.
Stupid traffic... She mumbled internally as she sluggishly climbed the stairs to her front door. The strap of her overnight bag dug painfully into her right shoulder, and she cursed under her breath when she had to place the paper bag she was carrying in her left hand on the floor. She freed her keys from her front pocket, then fumbled with the lock, sighing in relief when she heard the contraption click eventually. She opened the door, picked up the paper bag, and wearily entered the apartment.
It was quiet. Willow held her breath, stretching her senses to identify whether the blonde was home. After a long moment of stillness she exhaled, shut and locked the door, and tossed her keys on the secretary table, satisfied that she was alone. She crossed the main room to the stairs and ascended slowly. All her body wanted her to do, was crawl into bed and sleep, only she couldn't, not at this early hour. 8 p.m. - too late to take a nap, too early to go to bed for the night. Besides, she didn't really want to go to sleep. Sleeping would mean missing Tara, and she desperately wanted to see the blonde tonight.
She opened the door to her room and dropped the overnight bag on the floor next to her closet with a thud. She crossed to her desk, gently laying the paper bag on the flat surface, then looked to the large numbers on her alarm clock, trying to decide how to proceed with what was left of her evening. After a long moment of thought, she turned, grabbed a towel and headed for the bathroom.
She turned the shower nozzles, testing the spraying water with an outstretched hand, and then stripped as the room began to steam up. She entered the shower and sighed as the warm water hit her stiff shoulders. Two hours to get from Gilroy to San Jose... She took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. She had wanted to be home by dinner to spend some time with the blonde, maybe, sort of, apologize for her behavior on Friday, but instead had spent the time sitting still on Highway 101, bored out of her mind, half listening to spanish radio. Willow fully stepped into the stream and brought her hands up to slick back her now-wet hair. She sighed contentedly, the water slowly, soothingly taking away the ache acquired from long hours spent in the car.
She took her time washing away the drive, remembering to use her body gel, and not the bar of soap she had accidently used the previous Friday morning. What a nightmare that had been. She had been so flustered, so freaked out by her dream that she didn't realize that it was Tara's soap she had picked up, that it was Tara's fragrance she was rubbing into her body. The mistake meant the redhead had essentially worn the blonde's scent for the day, a fact that made it impossible for her to escape from thinking about the woman already haunting her mind.
Tara, but not Tara... Willow thought. The soap's scent had smelled slightly different on her skin, not as sweet as it was on the blonde. She remembered now that she had meant to look that up, how much a person's natural body chemistry could affect how scents like perfume would smell on different people... She made a mental note to google 'scent body chemistry' tomorrow.
She shook her head as her mind wandered back to how the soap mixup had caused her to teeter on an emotional precipice all Friday. How she had been torn between being frustrated to tears by the blonde's clean, vanilla scent on every inch of her skin, and revelling in the comforting completeness of it all. How many times during that excruciatingly long day had she just closed her eyes and buried her face in the crook of her elbow, inhaling deeply? The soap's scent on her skin was a poor substitute for being near Tara, but the sensation was close enough to aggravate her then-fragile mental state.
After a good half an hour enjoying the warm water and meandering thoughts, Willow finally stepped out of the shower. She quickly towel-dried her hair, patted down her body and returned to her room, dirty clothes in hand. She deposited the clothes and wet towel in her hamper, then dressed in loose-fitting gray sweatpants, socks and a well-worn M.I.T. t-shirt. The shower had reinvigorated her a bit, and she decided to head downstairs. She crossed to the paper bag on her desk and removed a small book, and smaller box. She then crossed to her overnight bag, where she removed her laptop. Items in hand, she headed downstairs.
She padded down the stairs, listening for the blonde and again heard nothing. The apartment was dark as she emerged into the main room, the sun having set completely, and she flipped a few random switches in an effort to sufficiently illuminate the space. One switch lit up the small track lights framing the painting over the fireplace. Willow stopped and stared. So amazing... she thought before frowning, remembering her earlier inability to just say that. She placed the laptop, book and box on the kitchen counter, then walked over to and opened the fridge, pulling out a bottle of water. She twisted the cap off, closed the fridge door and took a long pull from the bottle.
Should I? She debated. Tara's not home... it's the perfect time to do it. She looked side to side, wide-eyed, comically visually reassuring herself of the blonde's absence. But what if she comes home and I'm all, there in the living room, and she just, walks in on me, catches me? Willow frowned deeply. Would it really be that bad? She sighed and took another long pull of water, her active mind envisioning every potential consequence. After a long moments hesitation, she put on her resolve face and moved to the counter. She grabbed the neatly stacked items she had brought down with her, moved to the space between the couch and coffee table, and sat down.
She arranged her items carefully before her; the small book in her lap, the box to her left, and her computer to her right. She opened the laptop's lid, the machine coming to life, and with a few taps on the touchpad, opened a browser. Google loaded, she turned back to the painting. She then looked down to her lap, pulled her knees to her chest, and opened the book.
'The 20th-Century Art Book.' She had bought it in Sunnydale while window shopping with Xander Saturday afternoon. They had wandered into a bookshop about two blocks from the diner, and she had seen it propped up on a stand. She had flipped through it in the store, and upon recognizing several works that seemed to share Tara's style, bought it. Xander sighed dramatically upon seeing the book's title, but Willow knew, despite his protestations to the contrary, that she needed it, needed to learn something about Tara's craft before she felt comfortable enough to talk to the blonde about her work.
Willow turned the pages slowly, letting her eyes roam over the images featured on each page. She stopped as one of the works caught her eye; a mess of colorful paint, haphazard but beautiful. Like Tara's paintings. "Ayers, Gillian." Willow read aloud. "Her works are often devoid of specific subject matter, but the balance of colors reflects the artist's emotions, or the feelings evoked by a particular time or place."
Willow's brow furrowed and she looked up at Tara's painting. Is that what Tara's painting is, some sort of, emotional snapshot? She took in the painting as a whole, and then in parts, trying to identify the elusive emotion. Joy? Willow guessed, realizing immediately that if the blonde said "rage" she'd see that just as easily. She shook her head, reconsidering the 'emotional snapshot' angle, then looked back to the painting in the book. It sort of looked like Tara's work, as it definitely swirled and clashed, the paint thick on the canvas...
She turned to her computer, typed 'Gillian Ayers' into the search box and hit return, the newly loaded page showing several different paintings. Willow frowned. Okay, so not like Tara's stuff. The paintings on the page were colorful, abstract to be sure, but more... Kindergarten-y. Or folky. Or... not like Tara's work at all.
Willow returned to the book and flipped through the pages until she came to Diebenkorn. Too neat. Willow dismissed. Tara's work is more... passionate. Kinda messy, but in a beautiful, deliberate way. Willow rolled her eyes. That makes no sense... she chastised herself. "Messy, but deliberate"...? "Pffft."
She continued on with the book, growing slightly more frustrated and cranky as each artist was close, but not quite right. Hoffman, Johns, Jorn; nope, nope, nope, Willow sighed. Her forehead knit together in confusion as she read the book's description of Per Kirkeby's 'Birds Buried in Snow'. "Kirkeby's paintings... are frequently highly expressive and gestural." What? Willow thought, how can an inanimate object be 'gestural'? What, is the paint just gonna suddenly, move around? She accented her thought with a twirl of her wrist. She exhaled, exasperated by her inability to break the book's code, and rested her head back on the couch cushion, the book resting against her stomach in her lap. Gestural. Gestural. Gestures.
Her mind wandered at that and she stared off into space. She eventually turned her head and looked at the box on the table, then sat up, reached over and removed the lid. Resting on the spun cotton cushion was a blue, glass beaded bracelet. Willow gently ran her fingers over it, and smiled.
It was a gift for Tara. To show how sorry she was about Friday, although I won't say that. Willow thought, frowning. Something more positive, like, it's a good luck gift for the gallery opening. The beads were smooth under her fingertips, and she imagined how it would look on Tara's slim wrist. It wasn't fancy, in fact some might describe it as 'funky' - Buffy - Willow smiled to herself, but it was perfect for the blonde. The same color as her eyes, a color that would strikingly flatter her creamy skin. Willow sighed wistfully, returning the top of the box to its place, and reluctantly resumed studying.
She continued researching the various artists in the book for another hour; reading the blurbs, analyzing Tara's painting in relation to what she had read, and then searching the internet for additional works and insight. So many of the descriptions were puzzling; mumbo jumbo... Willow thought, her eyelids growing increasingly heavy. She felt herself wearing down, her bones weary and her mind mush, but Tara wasn't home yet... and she still had the bracelet to give her... She finally rested the book on the floor to her left under her leg, and let her head drift down and pillow on her crossed forearms on the table. I'll just shut my eyes for one minute... she thought, immediately slipping off into a deep sleep.
Tara distractedly spun her keys on her finger as she climbed the stairs to her front door. She was anxious about this being her last night alone before Willow returned; anxious because she still hadn't figured out how she would act around the redhead, what she would say when she saw the girl for the first time. Not that I'll even see her probably, what with all of the work I have to do for the gallery opening... She slipped the key into the lock with a deep sigh, turned her wrist and opened the door. Make up your mind Tara, do you want to see her or not?
Her thoughts about Willow disappeared as she entered the well-lit apartment. Did I leave all these lights on... she asked herself, perplexed. She closed the door, turned the lock, and just as she was swinging her hand to toss her keys onto the secretary table, she saw Willow. She froze, wide-eyed, keys in hand, her arm extended. Willow. But- Red hair splayed across the coffee table, and Tara held her breath, waiting for the girl to sit up, turn and take her in. Only she didn't.
Tara's brow furrowed, and she took a couple of tentative steps forward. She had covered half the distance to the table when she heard it; the soft, gentle sound of Willow's deep, rhythmic breathing. The blonde relaxed a little, realizing the girl before her was asleep. Why is she sleeping on the coffee table? And what is she doing home now, she said 'see you Monday'... she thought confused, briefly letting her eyes wander over the box and open laptop on the table. She started to move forward to wake the girl, to lead her up the stairs to her bed, but she stopped short. What if that simple action leads to more awkwardness? Tara stood still for a long moment, conflicted. She finally turned for the stairs, her right foot touching the bottom step before she stopped again. She closed her eyes, then looked back at the sleeping girl. I can't leave her down here like this... her neck... Tara sighed, and walked back to wake Willow.
She stood about two feet from the redhead and loudly whispered, "Willow." There was no reply, so she tried again, a little louder. "Willow." Still no reply, and Tara frowned, annoyed that the girl hadn't stirred. She stepped closer, and laid a gentle hand on the sleeping girl's shoulder. "Willow." She again repeated, her hand slowly rubbing circles across the girl's t-shirt.
The redhead finally woke, and Tara took three large steps backward. "Tara?" Willow mumbled sitting up, confused. "Ow." She winced as she stretched, bringing her right hand up to rub a crick in her neck. She turned and sheepishly looked at the blonde. "Hey..."
"Hey." Tara replied nervously. "I didn't want you to wake up all sore, so..."
"Too late." Willow said half smiling, half wincing. "What time is it?" She sleepily asked, bringing her hand down to feel along her left wrist for a watch she wasn't wearing, her somnolent eyes scanning the room for a clock.
"A little before 1." Tara replied, anxiously looking to the stairs.
"Oh." Willow replied. So Tara was out after midnight... on a Sunday... I wonder who with? "Late night?" She asked weakly, the vulnerability in her voice barely hidden.
Tara nodded, confusing the emotion in Willow's voice for drowsiness. "And going to be a long day tomorrow, so..." She again looked to the stairs.
"How was your weekend?" Willow asked quietly, as she reached over and picked up the box on the table.
"Um..." Tara stalled, pursing her lips and wondering why in the world Willow wanted to know. "It was good, a lot of gallery stuff." she replied, playing things safe.
"Good." Willow said, smiling softly, her fingers playing with the edges of the box, as she tried to think of the words she'd need to say before offering it to the girl standing to her right.
"How was yours?" Tara asked politely, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, somewhat dreading the redhead's answer.
Willow smiled warmly at the girl's inquiry. "Good," she nodded. "My parents were out of town so I spent the weekend with Xander." Tara's jaw set at the mention of the man's name, but Willow failed to notice the blonde stiffen, too preoccupied with the box in her hand. "It was really good; I think he's gonna come up and visit in a few weeks."
"Great." Tara grinded out.
Willow studied the box in her hands. "We went window shopping and-"
"I'm sorry, Willow?" Willow looked up at the blonde, her eyebrows raised innocently as she waited for her roommate to continue. Tara took in the surprised look on the redhead's face and almost said 'nevermind' so the girl could continue with her story... but, I can't stand here and listen to her gush about Xander, not right now, not after this weekend... "I'd, um, I'd love to hear about your weekend," she began, "but, I have a really long day tomorrow, so... I think I should get to bed." Tara said apologetically, thumbing toward the stairs behind her.
"Oh." Willow replied, "okay, yeah." She ducked her head to hide her disappointment as she stood, pressing the box in her hand to her stomach. "I should probably get to bed, too... work tomorrow, well today, and all."
Tara nodded, and catching Willow's eye, offered a weak half smile as she backed up to the stairs. "Well... goodnight."
"Night." Willow replied, automatically.
Tara turned and hurriedly headed up the stairs, not at all happy with how the awkward conversation had gone, but thrilled beyond belief that she had made it out of there without having to hear the redhead describe in any detail the time she had spent with the dark haired man. She entered her room, closing the door behind her, and flounced on the bed, burying her face in the down comforter. Oh no, my life's not confusing at all... she thought before rising with a huff and changing for bed.
Willow, meanwhile, looked down at the items around her, stunned by the blonde's fast exit. Her space screensaver swirled on her laptop, and the art book laid on the rug by her feet. She leaned over, collecting both the book and the laptop, and without any intelligent thought on why Tara had left so quickly, switched off the lights, and headed off to bed.