Tara sat behind the desk in the gallery office, staring down at nothing. Willow had left ten minutes ago, and the blonde still hadn't been able to quiet her mind. She had been so focused on making sure Willow was okay, that Willow wasn't freaked out, that Willow didn't bolt out the door in embarrassment over her slip and spill that she had said something that wasn't entirely true. "It doesn't bother me." Willow and her having dinner, Willow coming to the gallery, her forgetting to mention moving out to the redhead... It all took a backseat to one thought. Jill...
When was the last time she had thought about Jill? Months, a year? Longer? She took a deep breath, trying to steady herself, but it was no use; she felt so lost. It wasn't until she made it back to her seat behind the desk after walking Willow out that the reality of what had happened hit her. Willow had brought up Jill. Willow... the woman she loved and wanted to be with more than anything, brought up Jill, the only woman she had ever been with. What did Willow know about Jill, about their relationship? Tara's face went hot with embarrassment at the thought. Had Buffy shared her secrets with Willow? Did Willow know how naive she had been, how she had wrongly put her faith into someone who ended up being so cruel? Did she know about other, more personal things...?
Tara tried to stretch her mind, to remember her time with Jill but it was all such a blur. Hiding their relationship from their parents, settling in at college.... Jill leaving. Their relationship had been so intense. And tense, stressful, unsettling... There was the sneaking around, the lying; Jill herself. Her ex-girlfriend never relaxed. Even when they were alone, when they were intimate, if you could call it that... Tara internally grumbled, embarrassed and slightly bitter. The girl was... Jill. Desperate. Demanding. Distant.
Tara had thought her ex's reservations would all disappear, melt away once they were together at school, able to live their lives away from their combined parental glare. She thought Jill would reciprocate the words she had been saying for months, that they would be able to finally physically express those words in a way that wasn't so... clumsy. Restrained. Carnal. Empty. It wasn't until Tara had described what she had thought was love making to Buffy after Jill left for home, that she realized how badly Jill had used her. That their frustrating relationship, what she had thought had been respectful, ill-fated love, was really just lustful sex. If you could call it that... Tara again thought. The look on Buffy's face when she had shared the details of her physical relationship with Jill that day six years ago... Tara's cheeks flushed red at the memory.
And now Willow, the straight girl that she loved with all of her heart, was bringing that relationship up casually over lunch. And Tara knew it wasn't even Jill that was causing her such consternation; she had gotten over the girl years ago. It was Willow. That Willow might know how awkward she had been. How humilatingly naive. How inexperienced and ultimately, how inadequate. That Willow, the girl she wanted to impress most, might instead pity her. Feel sorry for her because she was duped by a 'straight' girl looking for a few thrills. The indignity of it all, Willow knowing she was... what?
"Hey, why was Willow here."
"W-What?" Tara said, looking up startled. She had been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn't heard Marissa enter the office.
"Willow? Here?" Marissa led, her eyebrows arched, standing across from the owlish blonde.
"I need to go for a walk," Tara said dazed, standing.
"Are you okay?" Marissa asked concerned, moving immediately to Tara's side.
"I just need some air," Tara reassured, walking around the frizzy-haired woman toward the coat rack. Marissa watched the younger girl closely, troubled by her obvious distress.
"Do you want to take the rest of the day off?" Marissa asked.
"No," Tara said, pulling on her jacket and checking to make sure she had her cell phone. "I- I just n-need to go for a walk."
"Okay," Marissa said simply. Tara nodded, and exited the office.
She crossed the gallery floor quickly, grateful that Lucy was no where to be seen, and greeted the cold air beyond the doors with a deep breath. She had no idea where she was going as she dodged tourists on the sidewalk, just that she needed to get out, clear her head. She turned left after a few blocks and entered Chinatown. The neighborhood was bustling, as always, people spilling out into the streets; the stores attracting as many gawkers as customers. She walked with purpose, only slowing to avoid slamming into someone, only stopping when she saw red.
Red. Tara shook her head as the light changed and she crossed the street. Out of all the good in that conversation, and this is what you're focusing on, fixating on... She shook her head, allowing herself to remember Willow's adorable insistence on buying a painting, the girl's kind gesture with the cookbook. Anya... Tara chuckled a bit before going contemplative. Anya. Willow asked about my life... my personal life. Tara frowned a bit at that, trying to remember the last time, if ever, the redhead had shown an interest. Three years ago... Tara surmised.
Willow usually stuck to the easy stuff. 'What did you do today', 'should I pick up more milk', etc. Never, 'who have you slept with recently...' Tara stopped, unnerved by the thought. Why did she ask about Jill? Tara looked up, and was amazed as she took in her surroundings. Okay... she thought, eyes a little wide. Walked to North Beach, am now standing in Washington Square... She sighed, and sunk down into a nearby park bench. She sat motionless for a few minutes until her phone rang. She pulled it from her jacket pocket and looked at the screen before answering.
"Hey Buffy," she said, pressing the small phone to her ear while looking around.
"Tara, Tara, quite contrara, how does your gallery show go?" Tara felt a warm smile break across her face as she heard Buffy's bouncy voice.
"It goes," she replied in a soft voice.
"Good," Buffy said perkily. "How about the rest of life?"
"It goes," Tara repeated. Before Buffy could comment on the lack of enthusiasm, the blonde asked, "how is fashion week?"
"Eh," Buffy replied, Tara's eyebrows inched up at the thought of Buffy 'eh'ing parties and haute couture. "I'd rather be at home."
"W-Wow," Tara said. "Are you sick? Malaria? Typhoid?"
"Nah, just would rather be home," Buffy said. "It's tiring, party, show, party, show. I think I'm getting old. Kinda miss sleeping. And you and Willow, of course."
"Of course," Tara said subdued.
"Are you okay? You sound down-in-the-dumpsy."
"Thanks," Tara deadpanned.
"Seriously, what's wrong?" Buffy asked, her genuine concern evident.
Tara paused for a long moment. Do I really want to get into this right now. With Buffy...? She took a deep breath, and said, "I had lunch with Willow today."
"Really?" Buffy asked, sincerely surprised.
"She came down to the gallery," Tara explained.
"Why?" Buffy asked, cynically.
"She said she wanted to see the paintings again. See the gallery in the daytime."
"Huh," Buffy said. "And, Will put you in a bad mood...?"
"No," Tara said. "She- We were talking, and it came up that she thought I had been involved with Anya-"
Buffy burst into laughter. "Oh, my, god; how horrified were you?"
"I explained that I didn't mess around with straight girls-" Tara continued on, knowing that if she didn't keep talking she'd chicken out.
"Especially straight girls named Anya-" Buffy chortled.
"And Willow said 'is that because of Jill.'"
Buffy's laughter stopped immediately. "What?" She asked quietly.
"I heard you," Buffy interrupted. "Tara... are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Tara said, nodding her head.
"Why in the world would Willow bring up-"
"Buffy..." Tara interrupted and then paused, trying to figure out what she wanted to ask, what she needed to know. "What does Willow know about Jill? I mean, does she- did you, tell her, about us-"
"She knows you were involved, that she was your girlfriend. That Jill went 'straight' and that she hurt you when she left."
"But, I mean... does she know, other stuff, details..."
"Details...?" Buffy asked, confused before cluing in and saying in a strong voice, "no. No, Tara, anything you told me in confidence stayed between us."
"No." Buffy said forcefully. "I told Willow what I thought about you guys in the beginning, like my observations of you two together, but I would never, never, repeat anything you told me in private. Tara, I wouldn't betray your confidence like that. I'm like a... confidence lock box."
"Okay," Tara said. There was a long moment of silence between them.
"Are you..." Buffy started to ask, before trailing off.
"What?" Tara asked.
"I just..." Tara could hear Buffy's sigh before she continued. "I'm not... sure, I know what you're worried about. I mean, even if Willow did know the details..."
"Buffy..." Tara said in a patient tone.
"You don't have anything to be ashamed of Tara. You know that, right?" Buffy said with certainty. "Jill was a bitch, what happened between you two... she used you. She abused your trust, and didn't appreciate what you gave her, emotionally or physically. She's the one that gets the yucky feelings. You? You get puppies and lollipops."
"I told Willow that it didn't bother me to hear Jill's name," Tara admitted confidentially.
"Is that true?" Buffy asked.
"Yeah," Tara replied honestly. "I've been over her for so long..."
"Then what's with the wiggins?" Buffy asked.
"Just embarrassing," Tara said, shrugging. "I just don't like to think... I don't want anyone, Willow, to look at me and think-"
"What? That you're inexperienced? Tara... that's nothing to be ashamed about."
"You had a bad experience, so you're a little gun shy. You're waiting for the right person... there's nothing wrong with that."
"Okay," Tara said, blushing.
"And honestly, out of everyone on this earth... well maybe that's going overboard... just. Willow... Willow has her own stuff, stuff that's equally-"
"Humiliating?" Tara asked, not really buying it.
"Tara, she's pined after Xander for more than ten years." Buffy said simply and Tara's brow furrowed. "And Oz... just. She knows, what it's like to be hurt by a first. A couple of firsts, actually... You don't have to worry about what she thinks about you, or you and Jill... if anything, I'm sure she'd be a sympathetic ear if you wanted to talk about it." There was a moment of silence. "Not that you would."
Tara nodded. "Thanks."
Tara took a cleansing breath and smiled, ready to change the topic. "So, tell me about the pretty dresses. Are any of them wearable? Like, in public..."
Willow returned to her office that afternoon, grinning like an idiot. Well that was a disaster. She sat in her chair and woke her computer, opening her email program with a confident tap of the mouse. A total, unmitigated disaster. The bright smile on her face was a sharp contrast to the thoughts in her head. She couldn't help it though. Logically, she knew things had gone badly. Hello, Jill? What is wrong with you... but emotionally. She was on cloud nine.
Tara doesn't mess around with straight girls. She highlighted some junk mail and trashed it, before clicking on her research project. For all she knows, that's me. But it's not me. Her smile went larger. All this time I thought she didn't like me... but maybe she just... hasn't seen me yet. She clicked on her project notes and beamed. Maybe, after I come out... "Yay!" She wiggled in her seat, turning on her music. This is a great day.
Tara woke Tuesday morning to gray skies and a chilly floor. She pulled on some socks and her robe before heading downstairs for coffee and some yogurt. It was just after 9:30, and she still had a few hours to kill before she had to get ready to head down to the gallery. Marissa had been respectful when she returned to the office the day before, asking only if she was okay another time. Tara explained that she was fine, just had a lot on her mind. The gallery owner had nodded, and left it at that.
Tara emerged from the stairs and turned to the kitchen. Her brow knit together when she saw a large book on the counter, dozens of post-it notes jutting out from the pages, a slip of notebook paper on the cover. The blonde started to smile as she got closer, realizing that it was the cookbook Willow had bought. She picked up the note, and read:
Tara put the note on the counter and started flipping through the pages, noting with amusement that the ink on each post-it note appeared to be in a different color. What is... red for chicken, green for vegetarian... Tara chuckled, shaking her head. Quirky...
By the time evening rolled around, Tara had managed to go through the entire book. She spent a few hours behind the desk in the gallery office leafing through the pages, checking to make sure she had seen everything there was to see. Happily there were several 'Willow' meals that appealed to her as well, so there wouldn't be any drama about selecting a final meal. She had gone to the ATM and pulled out some money, which she planned to leave for the redhead so they could split the groceries' cost. A slight smile played on her lips as she thought about spending the evening with her roommate. Alone. No interruptions.
Tara looked up as a laughing Marissa and Michelle entered. The office door closed and Michelle pressed Marissa against it, kissing her neck as the gallery owner howled. Tara smiled watching the affectionate pair before arching her eyebrows and clearing her throat. Marissa pushed at Michelle to stop, to no avail. Tara blushed red, and cleared her throat loudly, ducking her head and allowing her face to be obscured by a curtain of hair.
"I heard you the first time," Michelle said, her voice muffled, before she pulled away from her wife to grin at the blonde artist. "Tara, you need to go home."
Tara looked up and her brow knit. "Are you sure you, two, aren't the ones that need to go home. Or at least, get a room." She smiled sweetly, an impish gleam in her eye.
"Oh see, we have a room," Michelle said grinning devilishly. "I have plans for that desk." Tara pushed back from the desk, her face twisting in disgust. "And the chair." Tara stood as Michelle teased.
"Stop," Marissa said smiling, tugging on her wife's arm. "Tara, go home. We'll close up."
"Are you sure, cause from the looks of it you might be a little too um, distracted..."
"I think we'll be able to control ourselves until after 11." Tara hemmed and hawed, so Marissa continued. "Why don't you give Morgan a call?" Tara looked at the frizzy haired woman warily. "You went out with her Sunday night, right?"
"Just as friends," Tara qualified.
"Well why don't you go get a just-as-friends cup of coffee tonight?" Michelle asked, again with the teasing grin.
Tara looked doubtful, so Marissa said, "or... you could always go home and see what Willow's up to. Maybe go grocery shopping for your big meal."
Tara mulled it over and nodded, moving to the coat rack. "You're sure you two will be able to keep your hands off each other-"
"Who said anything about that?" Michelle said, winking at Tara and pinching Marissa, who yelped in response and swatted her wife.
Tara just shook her head as she exited the office. "Wait, Tara." Tara turned to see Marissa leaning out of the open doorway, a few potential customers standing a few feet away in front of the canvases. "You'll be in tomorrow at one to sign the L.A. papers?"
"Yes," the blonde reassured, smiling as she noticed Michelle's hand on Marissa's hip.
"Okay, now go." Tara nodded and turned, walking to the door. "Say hello to Morgan, or Willow; whoever," Marissa called after her.
Tara shook her head and smiled gently at Lucy as she exited. "Good night..." Willow... The blonde smiled widely, and pulled her jacket tight around her as she walked toward the BART station. I hope she's home...
Willow sat on her bed, facing her large computer monitor, a DVD's main menu shown. She bounced excitedly, a wired headset connecting her to her cell phone. "She doesn't like straight girls," she said through a large smile.
"Yeah, you said that, oh I don't know, a million times already," came Xander's weary reply.
"She thinks I'm a straight girl," Willow said excitedly. "But I'm not!"
"Okay, exactly how much sugar have you had today?"
"Xander, you don't understand," Willow said, wiggling in place. "I totally messed up. I wasn't going to ask where she was and I did. I wasn't going to say anything about my crazy Anya and Tara thought and I did. I even brought up her ex-girlfriend, and you know what?"
"She held your hand and said it was okay," Xander replied.
"She did," Willow beamed. "She held my hand, and I'm a straight girl. I mean, I'm not, but you know-"
"I do know. Very exciting. But-"
"I'm getting ahead of myself." Willow stilled herself and frowned. "I'm getting way ahead of myself, aren't I, I need to-"
"Breathe, once and a while," Xander interrupted. Willow took in a deep breath, exhaling. "Okay, so you have dinner tomorrow," Xander said. "Good chance to sit around, chat a little-"
"What if I say something stupid?" Willow asked, suddenly panicked.
"Like today?" Willow frowned, and Xander said, "just keep talking, you'll babble your way out of it."
"Okay," Willow said, feeling slightly reassured.
"What?" Willow asked innocently, a hint of anxiousness coloring her voice.
"Be yourself," Xander said cautiously. "This isn't a date, just you two hanging out. Getting to know each other. Becoming friends."
"Friends, right. Not a date," Willow repeated.
"However, if things do take a naked turn, I fully expect you to call me-"
"You're disgusting," Willow said, rolling her eyes.
Xander chuckled, then shifted gears. "You ah, you make plans to see your mom soon...?" He asked, the tone immediately turning the conversation in a more serious direction.
"Yeah..." Willow said, nodding her head nervously. "She's going to a conference in Seattle in a week or so, said she'd layover in San Francisco for a night."
"That's good, Will," Xander said sincerely.
"Yeah..." Willow replied, tense. "Buffy gets back the next day, so I'm gonna try and... one-two 'em. Figure, back-to-back the drama."
"They might surprise you..." Xander said hopefully.
"Yeah, so don't want to get my hopes up," Willow replied with a nervous laugh. Best be prepared for the worst... she thought, a moment of silence settling between them. Willow nodded her head resolutely, and said, "so you ready to start this here movie?"
"We're watching a movie?" Xander asked, mock confused.
"Xander..." Willow smiled, used to the routine.
"Yes, I am ready," the man replied. Willow picked up her remote and settled back into her pillows. "I have my popcorn, my bladder is virtually empty-"
"Too much info Xand-"
"Let's start this sucker... ready... now!"
Willow hit play on the remote, and the film started, the two settling in for a few hours of wisecracks and quality best friend time.
Twenty minutes later, Tara entered the apartment. She had a slight grin on her face that she couldn't seem to wipe away. It was 8 o'clock, plenty of Willow-time if she's was home. The blonde shut the door behind her and listened for sound. She heard what sounded like a TV going upstairs and smiled. The smile brightened when she heard the redhead's laughter. Best sound on earth... Tara thought, placing the cook book and her keys on the secretary desk before stripping off her jacket and shucking her running shoes. She crossed to the stairs, and took them slowly, listening for another bark of laughter, giggling when she heard Willow snicker.
"Xander, shut up..."
Tara froze on the stairs, her smile fading fast. Xander's here? She angled her eyes up in the direction of Willow's room. He's in Willow's bedroom...? The blonde didn't know what to do. Her first instinct was to run... First instinct, try only instinct. She quickly turned and headed back down the stairs. She was shaking by the time she got to the secretary table. What is he doing here... She grabbed her jacket and keys, heading for the door before she realized she wasn't wearing shoes. She turned back and tried to slide them on without bending over, but couldn't manage. "Damnit..." she whispered, tears starting to sting her eyes. Again. You did it again. When are you going to learn...
"Tara?" Tara stopped and took a shaky breath, composing herself before she turned to see a beaming Willow walking toward her. "Hey, I thought you were closing up the gallery tonight..."
"I w-was," Tara said, cursing her stutter as she swallowed hard. "Marissa didn't n-need me... so."
"That's so weird, I didn't even hear you come in," Willow said smiling. Tara looked at the radiant grin on the redhead's face and her heart broke. Xander... She's lit up like the most beautiful star in the sky because of Xander...
"The book!" Willow said excitedly, pointing past Tara to the secretary table.
"Oh, yeah," Tara said, turning to look at the book. All day, you spent all day with that stupid book, getting your hopes up-
"Did you find anything that looked yummy?" Willow asked upbeat. "I hope you don't mind, me going through and picking stuff, I mean I know I said together but-"
"N-No, I don't mind," Tara said, numb. Just get through this, and figure it out later... "I um, I picked a few out that looked okay."
"Good. I'll get the groceries tomorrow after work," Willow said, twisting her fingers nervously, hoping she wasn't making too big of a fool of herself. Okay, I feel like this smile is going to break my face in half. And the blush? So totally red.
"Okay," Tara said, nodding her head. I have to get out of here... "I- I put some money in-"
"My treat," Willow said beaming, waving her hand in front of her dismissing the offer. Tara just nodded, unable to look up. Willow looked at the girl, standing in socks, holding her jacket and keys, finally noticing Tara's body language. "Coming or going?" She asked with tentative hope. Did something happen at the gallery? Should I ask...? She looks upset...
"W-What?" Tara blinked, not understanding the question.
"Coming or going," Willow explained, pointing at Tara's feet. "You have your jacket, but-"
"I was just-"
"Do you have plans for tonight?" Willow interrupted the blonde, asking hopefully. "Xander and I are watching a movie, I'm sure he wouldn't mind if we went back to the beginning, it hasn't been on that long."
"No t-thank you," Tara said. Oh yeah, me, Willow and Xander piled up on her bed, watching a movie...
"Are you sure?" Willow tried again. She's definitely upset about something. "I know it's a little weird, cause we're watching over the phone-"
"Over the phone?" Tara interrupted, confused.
"Yeah. Me here, him there. There being Sunnydale."
"He's not here?" Tara asked, the surprise evident on her face, her mind spinning as she tried to make sense of the situation.
"No," Willow said, shaking her head. Oh god, I'm going to sound like the biggest dork... Tara looked confused, so Willow took a confidence-enhancing breath and continued. "I know it sounds weird, watching a movie over the phone together, but it's really not. I mean, okay, maybe it is, it's just, he's the best person in the whole world to watch movies with, he's so funny and, it's a little quality time together." Willow immediately amended, "but it would be so fun if you joined us!"
"I can't," Tara said, racking her brain for a reason why. "I um, I have plans, already..."
"Oh," Willow said, pouting a little. "With who?" She asked, hoping she didn't sound disappointed.
"My friend Morgan," Tara said. If she's free... god, please be free.
"The one you went to the show with on Sunday?" Willow asked innocently.
"Yeah..." Tara nodded, finally sitting to put her shoes on.
"Cool," Willow said. Okay, something's definitely wrong, ask her. Willow took in a deep breath. "Tara..." The blonde didn't look up, tying her first shoe up. "Are you okay? You seem a little..."
"I'm fine," Tara said quickly, pulling on her other shoe. "I just, I just had a long day. You know?"
"Yeah... Okay," Willow said. Don't press, she obviously doesn't want to talk about it right now. Maybe tomorrow... "Well, I won't keep you then." The redhead backed up to the fridge, pulling out a bottle of water as Tara tied her second shoe. "If you change your mind though... It would be really fun for you to join us."
"Thanks," Tara said, standing and pulling on her jacket. "But I should probably go."
"Okay." Willow said, smiling. Tara offered a weak smile, and went to open the door. "Tara?" The blonde stopped, her hand on the door handle before looking up. "I'm really looking forward to dinner tomorrow night," Willow said cheerfully, hoping her smile could in turn make Tara smile.
"Right," Tara took a deep breath, offering her own slight smile. "Me too."
Willow watched the blonde exit, and turned for the stairs. She definitely seemed upset... she thought, heading up the steps. I wonder why... she crossed the hallway to her bedroom door. Maybe a sale fell through... She jumped on her bed and crawled up to her place against the pillows. She put her earpiece in her ear and dialed.
"How big is your house? It took you that long to get water?" Xander said with mock incredulity.
"Tara was home," Willow replied, taking a sip of water.
"You're ditching me, aren't you," Xander said. Before Willow could say no, he continued. "Nah, nah, that's okay. I expected it. It was only a matter of time until you ditched me for a woman."
"You dork, I'm not ditching you." Willow shook her head, chuckling. "She had to go out again. Plans with her friend; second time they've hung out this week." "It's not that Anya chick-" Xander said.
"No! Thank god," Willow replied rolling her eyes. "Morgan. You know, like Morgan Freeman?"
"Or Morgan Fairchild." Xander asked. Willow's eyes went wide as Xander continued. "She used to be hot, but now she's just eeyah. I die a small death everytime I see her in an Old Navy commercial."
Willow felt herself starting to hyperventilate as she lost the ability to hear Xander's rambling. Oh my god. Willow swallowed hard. Morgan might be a woman.