They didn't make a scene when Tara reappeared at the gallery, a little over an hour after she had initially left. Michelle had been casually visiting with Lucy near the information desk, while Marissa stood at the junction of the two rooms speaking with a potential client when the blonde re-entered, her head down. Marissa and Michelle shared a quick, concerned look and Michelle nodded to Lucy, indicating a pause in their conversation, before making her way to greet Tara.
"Hey, forget something?" Michelle asked, knowing that couldn't be the case. Not with Tara's shoulders bowed like that, not with her blonde hair obscuring her face like that. The artist looked up and Michelle's spirits sunk. "Are you okay?" She asked quietly.
Tara didn't say anything, just pressed her lips together tightly and shook her head. She took a deep breath, her eyes glassy with unshed tears and a wry smile crossed her lips. "Are you sure I can't close up for you guys tonight?" The blonde's voice was thick, pleading and she knew if they said no she'd have no place to go. Anya was on a date, her other friends were unaccustomed to her just dropping by (especially at this hour) and Morgan... well that had been a desperate thought in a desperate moment.
"We would love for you to close up," Michelle said simply.
Tara nodded and looked over to Marissa, who gave her a brief, sympathetic smile. "I'm j-just going to go freshen up," the blonde said to Michelle, aware that the taller woman was watching her closely.
"Okay," Michelle said, stepping back to allow the blonde room. "Marissa's been talking to this guy for a while; as soon as she's done we'll take off."
"Thank you," Tara said, her head again bowed. Thank you, she echoed in her mind, grateful that she had friends who would without asking, give her support, and space, simultaneously.
"If you want to talk..." Michelle said, letting the statement hang, knowing that the blonde wouldn't take her up on it. She had known Tara long enough to know that the girl's mind was set on spin, and that if she needed to talk, she'd initiate an exchange.
"I know," Tara nodded, looking up and smiling weakly. "M-Maybe another time." Michelle nodded, and Tara excused herself, crossing to the small bathroom located in the back of the second room near the office. As soon as she closed the door, a tear slipped down her cheek and she quickly wiped it away with the back of her hand.
Crying's not going to help anything... Tara thought ruefully, moving to the sink. She turned on the faucet and washed her hands, before bringing up a splash of water to touch her cheeks. She rubbed her wet hands across her eyelids, and then wiped her face on her jacket at the crook of her elbow. She sniffed, and looked at herself in the mirror. Red cheeks, red eyes... it's like her face had been claimed in the name of pain. She sighed and moved to the paper towel dispenser, where she grabbed a few sheets and finished drying her face and hands. She tossed the spent towels in the trash, and returned to the gallery to do what she came to do. Avoid being around Willow-in-love.
Tara closed the gallery at 11, then loitered in the office until after midnight, finally heading out to catch a cab at the hotel across the street at 12:30. The ride back to the apartment she temporarily, god, it has to be temporarily shared with Willow was silent, the driver no more interested in sharing his thoughts than she was in sharing hers. She paid the man, tipping him generously, and entered the street entrance to her home. She took the first flight of stairs with a certain heaviness. They were just watching a movie; could you have overreacted any more? She thought, the familiar chastising statement cycling in her mind. She pursed her lips though, as her heart weighed in. But her face... the look on her face... she's gorgeous, and glowing, because she loves Xander. She sighed as she turned the key in the lock, opening her front door. That's not true, she's gorgeous because she's Willow. Just... I wish... god, I want...
She entered the dark apartment, closing and locking the door behind her, and listened. She heard nothing. She shucked her shoes, removed her jacket and placed her keys on the secretary table. Were you expecting her to be up? It's... she walked into the room and caught site of the microwave clock. 1:04 in the morning Tara closed her eyes and then reopened them, walking toward the stairs. Are you going to do this every night...? Find reasons to stay out late? Sleep in late? She placed her foot on the first step and thought, it's like this because you've let it get this bad...
The stairs were illuminated with the soft blue moonlight streaming in through the high window ten feet above, and there was no need to turn on a light, the steps before her plainly visible. Tara was lost in her thoughts as she took each step slowly, her forehead furrowed, her lips pressed together tightly. Dinner, she thought, her stomach twisting at the thought. You can talk to her about her moving out at dinner. She felt the familiar flood of fear and hurt crushing her chest, and she sighed heavily, hoping that she could push down the lump in her throat, push down the tears starting to rally at the back of her eyes until she was safely tucked into bed. She took the turn in the stairwell automatically and kept ascending, not bothering to bring her eyes up to look at the hallway at the end of the climb.
Tara froze, her feet on different steps, and looked up. Standing at the top of the stairs was a rumpled Willow. Tara blinked several times in quick succession, but the redhead didn't disappear. She really was standing there, her bare feet partially obscured by the bottom of her baggy cotton pajama bottoms, her arms mostly covered in a half-pulled on sweatshirt, her hair mused. Tara wondered in shock if this was the most beautiful she had ever seen Willow. Her pale skin glowing in the moonlight, the whites of her large eyes shining, her thin frame covered in soft fabric. It wasn't until Tara got over the surprise of seeing the girl she loved standing before her like a vision that she studied the girl's posture, saw the anxiety, her brow knit together, her chest noticibly rising and falling. "Willow..." Tara said before shaking her head, unsure of what needed to be said. Is she upset, did something happen with Xander...? "What are you doing up, it's after 1-"
"I couldn't sleep," came the simple, somewhat plaintive response, the quiet of the house settling right back in as soon as the words reached Tara's ears. "Are you okay?" Willow asked softly, a worried tone that Tara didn't think she had ever heard before from her roommate.
What? Tara thought, confused by the question, the tone, the girl standing before her.
"It's just, you seemed upset when you left," Willow said, twisting her fingers nervously, standing still otherwise. "I didn't want to say anything, because I know what it's like when your head's kind of busy, and you just need to go, get out, think... but... are you okay?" Willow panicked internally when she saw the tight expression on Tara's face. I should have stayed in my room... she thought nervously, wondering if it was possible for her to claim sleepwalking as a defense for her intrusive behavior.
Who is this woman... Tara thought, staring at the redhead at the top of the stairs. Where is keep-to-myself-Willow? The blonde licked her lips slowly before asking, "you c-couldn't sleep because you were w-worried about me?" The words were tinged with a strong dose of disbelief.
"Yes," came Willow's unsure reply. I should have stayed in my room... she again thought, realizing that the look on Tara's face wasn't changing.
What? Tara's brain again shouted, her face still twisted. I mean... what?
Say something else, anything else, Willow's mind commanded. "There's also a chance I'm up because I ate whole bag of candy corn," Willow tacked on lamely. Tara couldn't help but smile slightly at that, half knowing it was just Willow trying to lighten the mood, and half because she could see the redhead actually doing it. "I just..." Willow took a deep breath, building her courage. "Do you want to talk about it?" She looked at Tara with as much hope as her expressive face could muster, and held her breath in anticipation of the response.
Tara was paralyzed. The look on the redhead's face... Do I want to talk about 'it'? That I'm broken hearted because I'm hopelessly and ridiculously in love with you, that it makes my blood boil that you love someone who doesn't have the good sense to love you back, that I constantly feel sick because you love someone who isn't me... "No," Tara replied simply.
Willow's shoulder's slumped, and she ducked her head. Tara caught the redhead deflating, and quickly said, "because it's nothing. Nothing interesting anyway." Willow looked up hopefully, openly seeking reassurance that that was indeed the case, so Tara said with a slight half smile, "gallery stuff."
"Oh," Willow replied, nodding her head as if that simple statement was enough to close the conversation. Tara looked around, noting the awkwardness of their situation. Her one foot elevated above the other, her weight distributed unevenly on different steps, Willow standing above her, looking down at her. The house was absolutely still, and Tara could swear she could feel the air pressing between them.
Do I move, stay here? Tara thought, unsure of what was happening. This sort of interaction with the redhead... it had never happened before. She was worried about me, Tara's mind spun. She stayed up because of me, the girl who needs to be up for work in five hours is standing at the top of the stairs-
"How was your date?"
Tara brought her head up slowly, confused. My date...? Willow was looking at her with... I don't know that look, what is that look?
Casual. Look casual. Willow said, concentrating her energy on breathing normally and keeping her face relaxed, neutral. Don't look jealous, or nervous, or jealous-
"My um, my date?" Tara asked, the confusion evident. I had a date...?
"Weren't you meeting Morgan?" Willow asked, forcing the words past constricted vocal chords. Please say, 'Morgan, he's just a friend'... emphasis on he... Willow thought desperately, still projecting a calm visage that clashed violently with the tension between them.
"Oh," Tara replied dumbly. She thinks I'm dating Morgan? Why would she- "Morgan's just a friend," Tara said assuredly. "We're not; I'm not dating her..."
Her. Willow thought, swallowing hard. She chose that moment to pull her sweatshirt on fully, over her head and down her torso. Not because she was cold, but because she needed a brief moment to compose herself, hide her crushed face underneath the well-worn fabric. Morgan's a her.
Tara watched the redhead pull on her sweatshirt, and took the opportunity to take a few steps up the stairs, her voice quieting as she got closer to the redhead. "I made a mistake," Tara said, stopping a step below Willow. "I thought we were meeting tonight, but we weren't... I went back to the gallery." Willow tugged at the bottom of the sweatshirt, pulling it into place over her slight frame and Tara had to curl her fingers into a fist to resist reaching out and smoothing the redhead's wayward hair.
"I thought you didn't have to-"
"I didn't," Tara interrupted, watching Willow run her hand through her locks briefly, taming most of the fly aways. Soft... I bet her hair is soft... Tara thought, envious of the redhead's fingers. "I went back," the blonde said softly. "I thought Michelle and Marissa might want the night off after all..."
"Oh," Willow nodded. A moment of quiet settled between them, Willow's tired mind trying to figure out why Tara would come all the way home only to go back, Tara's alert mind soaking in Willow's every move. Willow looked up, and their gaze met. "I wish you had stayed home." It was a simple statement, but it hit Tara in the heart. She nodded, the redhead's words taking her breath. Willow smiled sadly at the blonde. The silence between them was thick. "Tara?" Willow asked, her voice vulnerable, open.
"Yes?" Tara replied quietly, unable to take her eyes off the redhead's large expressive eyes.
"Are we..." Willow paused for a second. Do you really want to ask this question...? "Are we friends?"
Tara swallowed hard, not expecting the question. Are we... "What do you think?" The blonde replied deftly.
Willow smiled a little at Tara's technique. I probably would have done the same... only with more words, babbling, border line freaking out... "I don't know..." she replied truthfully. "I know I'd like us to be." She swallowed hard. "I want us to be... friends."
Tara nodded. She wants to be friends... "I think we are... in a way" Willow looked at her a bit skeptically. "Or else I wouldn't have offered to give you that painting you wanted to buy," Tara gently teased, smiling as Willow chuckled slightly, before the mood again turned serious. "But I know what you mean."
"I know I haven't made it easy..." Willow said, Tara watching her closely. "I've been a bad roommate." Tara opened her mouth to speak, but Willow interrupted her. "Maybe not a bad roommate, but certainly not, friend-material. Spending all my free time in my room, whatever." Willow looked down and then back up. "But I'd like that to change. For us to be friends. Good friends."
Tara stared, not quite believing the words she was hearing. Willow wants to be good friends. The blonde thought back to the panic she felt earlier in the evening, knowing that what she was about to say came directly from her heart, unedited by her brain. "I want that, too." And let the self-doubt begin... Tara thought immediately, knowing the mental battle she had just set herself up for.
Willow nodded, unable to find the words that she'd need to express the joy she was feeling, as she suddenly found the floor very interesting. She wants to be friends, too. She looked up, and smiled when she found Tara's blue eyes on her, the two getting lost in each other's gaze.
What have I done... Tara thought, taking a deep breath. "It's late..." she finally said, changing her standing position and pulling herself level with Willow in the hallway.
"Yeah," Willow said, her brow furrowing. "I have to be up in like five hours." Tara winced sympathetically and Willow nodded.
"You better get some sleep then..." the blonde trailed off. Willow nodded again, but the two women continued to stare. "Um, dinner, tomorrow," Tara finally said. Stop staring Tara...
"Yeah?" Willow asked. Oh no. "You don't have to cancel-"
"No," Tara said reassuringly, "it's just, I don't have anything to do tomorrow. I was supposed to do some paper work at the gallery, but I ended up getting it done tonight so..." she smiled. "I was thinking, you could leave me a note telling me which meal you want to make and I could do the grocery shopping, maybe start the meat if it's a meat dish."
"Tagliatelle with spinach, chicken and garlic cheese," Willow said, the relief in her voice paired with a soft warmth.
A half smile pulled at the blonde's lips. "I liked the looks of that one, too," Tara said conspiratorially.
"I know," Willow said, returning the smile. "You like spinach."
Tara's brow quirked. How-
"I'll leave some money-" Willow began, before getting interrupted.
"My treat." Tara smiled warmly.
"Okay," Willow nodded, not wanting to argue and destroy the mood. "But next meal-"
"Your treat." Tara said, her heart expanding as Willow smiled again. Willow in moonlight... The blonde shook her head slightly at the thought. "Goodnight, Will," she said, smiling and turning for her room before she found herself lost in the girl's green eyes again.
"Goodnight," Willow replied, turning for her own darkened room. She entered and shut the door behind her, leaning back into the wood. Will... she smiled, as she felt her knees growing weak. She called me Will...