Tara realized as they left their apartment and walked down the stairs toward the street that she was staring, and the realization was enough to trigger a renewed wave of panic. Her eyes darted to the railing, the wall, the ceiling, her feet-anywhere but the redhead's lithe form bouncing down the steps before her. When they reached the bottom of the stairway, Willow opened the door to the street with a flourish, a goofy smile on her red lips and Tara's knees wobbled as she passed through the portal to the damp sidewalk beyond. She snuck a look back to the redhead, whose freckled hands turned the key in the street door lock, and the blonde took a quiet, shuddering breath, sprinkles lightly caressing her face. That momentary feeling of calm she had experienced before they left the apartment seemed to be a million years ago.
How is this going to work? she thought, her eyes darting everywhere but Willow in an attempt to not be too obvious in her appreciation as they started down the hill. Rainwater from an earlier downfall gurgled along in the nearby street gutter, and the redhead began to chat about nothing in particular, her voice as happy and bouncy as her step. Tara felt her skin flush, her blood humming in her veins at the sound of the girl's chipper voice. The tingling tickled the blonde's temples and made her feel lightheaded every time she glanced at the redhead from the corner of her eye. It was torturous. She felt that a glance was not enough. She wanted to drink the girl in, soak her up in her skin till she turned wrinkly. She wanted to stare, even if that meant tripping over her feet as they walked, but, but she thought ruefully, her eyes fixing on a point a few blocks away, staring is rude, and altogether inappropriate considering their situation.
The blonde felt like she had held her breath all the way to the bus stop, her nods and murmured "mmm-hmms" keeping up the appearance of a two-sided conversation. Once there, the two girls chatted awkwardly about the weather as they huddled under the bus stop's plexiglass roof, their conversation stilted as the sky spit drops of rain around them. Tara didn't know what to say. What could she say? "Hey, thanks for going on this secret date with me, roomie." The blonde briefly frowned, a slight dip of the lips that Willow managed to miss as she leaned out of the stop's shelter, looking down the street for the bus.
Tara sighed lightly out of frustration as the redhead leaned back under the protection of the roof, the blonde again sneaking another glance at her 'date.' The awkwardness killed her, because the woman standing to her right adorably mangling the watched pot proverb was the one person she always wanted to talk to, to be with, to share things with. To be standing there in the damp, shifting her weight nervously and averting glances, tongue tied, felt fumbling and wrong. This wasn't how this night was supposed to be.
"So you had a good nap?"
The blonde's response to the question was automatic, a warm smile spreading across her face, her body relaxing as she realized just how insane she was being. She ventured a look at Willow, met the girl's gaze and saw how innocent the redhead looked in anticipation of her answer. This was Willow, who had seen her mouth-breathing and unconscious just hours ago. Willow, who gave her that beautiful song which had jolted her from her post-nap fuzzies and inspired her to instigate this night. Willow, who she should just be herself for.
The song slipped back into her consciousness, the taps of rain on the roof lending a rhythm to their standing there, and Tara silently thanked her roommate for gifting her that song. That wonderful, memory-triggering song. There, huddled away from drops of rain and waiting for a bus that was almost assuredly running late, Tara felt her old hopes growing, her new nerves fading. They had done this before many years ago, been together, themselves and it had been wonderful. She allowed herself a long look at the girl who she loved fervently, who she hoped in the very core of her being loved her back, and she didn't flinch or look away when Willow smiled and returned her long gaze.
The blonde straightened her shoulders, as the courage and the foolishness she had summoned earlier in the evening returned, and she resolved right then and there to once and for all set aside her worries and her doubts and enjoy Willow, enjoy herself, Xander-related concerns be damned. How could she let the nerves, the fears interfere with this night? With time with Willow? Willow was what she needed to worry about, not how she appeared or how she seemed. If she smiled, she smiled and if she stared... well, would it be the worst thing in the world to get caught staring?
Tara finally spoke up, saying with a quiet joy that the nap "was good." She allowed herself to sustain eye-contact with the redhead as they chatted, didn't look away reflexively, and slipped herself closer to the girl when others snuck under the protective awning without a shade of embarrassment, allowing herself to revel in how warm Willow's side was as they briefly touched. This, this was how this night was supposed to go.
After several minutes of reinvigorated conversation, this time about interesting public transportation encounters, the two girls boarded the bus. They sat next to each other perpendicular to the driver, their shoulders touching every time the bus lurched to a start or stop. Willow thrilled at the swaying stops, the feeling of Tara leaning into her giving her goosebumps. She was already euphoric from their minutes spent chatting at the bus stop, Tara matching her every gaze, sneaking in closer to her when others joined them in the three-sided shelter. By the time they reached Fillmore and Geary, the bus was packed, and the girls were practically glued together to avoid awkward encounters with perfect strangers, their bodies touching from shoulders to toes. It was, to each girl's approximation, pure bliss.
The short walk from where they hopped off the bus to the restaurant had passed in a blur, the uninterrupted flow of their conversation carrying them smoothly through dinner. So far, it was going better than either could have hoped for.
With a content sigh, the blonde looked down to their picked-over plates, and the empty seat to her left Willow had just vacated for a much-needed trip to the ladies room. A soft smile spread across Tara's lips. There were so many conversations that they could have had over dinner, so many questions she wanted to ask but didn't. Curious questions about the housing applications on her roommate's bed, questions about whether the redhead ended up calling Buffy, why she needed Xander, why she was nervous about seeing her mother, what that song she had heard earlier in the evening meant to the 'Real Willow...' Yet, all seemed too serious, too complicated, and so she had left them unasked in the swirl of her mind. They were having fun; she didn't want to accidentally tip the evening in a wrong direction by asking a complicated question that would spin the redhead off into who knows what direction. The questions could wait.
For now, talk about favorite concerts, favorite foods, and funky restaurants would suffice. The blonde decided right then and there to thank the cloud-obscured stars that she didn't hyperventilate or otherwise externally express her profound nervous anxiety on the way to the bus stop, killing their evening before it could properly begin. All in all, Tara surmised as she reviewed their laughs, their looks and yes, even their brief touches, the evening was going quite well.
A slight crinkle in her brow appeared as a buzz vibrated in her pocket. She pulled her phone free, unused to it ringing, and saw that she had one new text message. She opened the phone, and seeing Dawn's name, read, 'Did you hear that Angelina Jolie is gushing about Brad being a great partner? WTH? Do you think BP is actually a lesbian?' Tara rolled her eyes. A deep blush settled into her cheeks as she read between the lines, and for the first time in a long while she regretted chipping in with Buffy to buy Dawn that iPhone.
Standing in front of the bathroom mirror evaluating her appearance from the waist up, Willow thought again how glad she was that she had decided on wearing the taller boots, as the bottom of her pants were already ringed with water. She was sure she'd be shivering if she had worn her tennies (or, for the ridiculous moment spent panicking in her room, a set of heels). Water sat inches deep on the sidewalk in places, and both girls had had to take wide steps and zig-zagging routes to try and minimize their exposure to the standing water as they made their way in the night. It was the kind of evening where most cars carefully navigated wading pools that spread out from intersection curbs, and the few drivers who didn't were heckled by pedestrians eager to avoid being drenched by a tidal wave of oily water.
Willow continued looking at herself in the mirror and sighed. The rain had done a number on her hair; it seemed flatter than ever on top, with odd flips at the ends that went out in every direction. Unsuccessful in subduing a particularly maddening flip, the redhead wondered how the dampness managed to make Tara look more beautiful, while it melted her own carefully coiffed red hair.
The thought of the blonde's looks this evening made Willow smile. Rain on Tara looked good. Her lips took on a rosier hue in the cold, her cheeks flushed a beautiful shade of pink. Her hair looked darker the wetter it got, changing from the dirty blonde of everyday to an almost chocolate brown. It was natural and flattering, and Willow almost thanked the heavens that they had decided to open up tonight after all.
She had worried Tara had regretted her decision to head out to the concert as they left their apartment, despite the blonde's earlier protestations that she was eager to get out. Their walk down the hill to the bus stop had seemed so awkward, like the blonde was preoccupied with the work she wasn't getting done, or too polite to say that she'd really just rather go veg out at a movie. But then they got to the bus stop and the redhead had asked after her roommate's nap, and it seemed like a veil was lifted, and whatever had held the blonde apart disappeared. The result was Willow relaxing into the blonde's smile, and the time since seemed to have passed in the blink of any eye. Willow wondered briefly what it was about her simple question that seemed to free Tara from her thoughts, but coming up with nothing, decided thinking was overrated and she should just enjoy the results.
After another evaluative look, and another vain attempt to tame what seemed to her to be a wild mess of hair, the redhead exited the bathroom, walking into the colorful restaurant's main room. The restaurant fit Tara; casual, with bright color splashed over every corner of the place, primitive drawings of fish and mermaids complementing swirls and symbols on the ceiling. It was a crayon box come to life, and the redhead understood immediately as they had walked to their seats why Tara enjoyed the place.
Willow turned the corner from the bathroom to see Tara quickly snap her phone shut, the blonde looking up with a wide-eyed, embarrassed glance. The redheadís eyes were immediately drawn to the phone, then to the bright blush on Tara's cheeks. Willow couldn't help but smile widely.
Tara with a cell phone. The redhead did a quick scan through her memory and could think of only three instances where she had seen the girl with the phone; once in the cab on the way to Morgan's, and twice in their living room as the girl listened to missed messages. As she slid into her seat, the redhead couldn't help but smile at the irony of Tara being the phone girl, and not her.
"Phone call?" Willow asked, her voice teasing despite every effort not to.
"Text message," Tara replied sheepishly, as she tucked the offending electronic device into her pocket.
"From whom?" the redhead asked, curiousity getting the better of her before a nervous realization welled up inside of her, the last syllable of her question milliseconds past her lips. It might be Morgan, Willow thought, texting to shore up plans for tomorrow. Oh please don't say Morgan, donít say Morgan, donít say Mor-
"Dawn," the blonde replied with a slight head bob. Dawn, who is so on to me... she tacked on mentally with a dry swallow.
"Dawnie," the redhead replied happily with a bright smile, thankful that it hadn't been her potential romantic rival. "Had a little bit of, Buffy gossip to impart?"
Tara smiled as the redhead shimmied in her seat a little, the girl's pink tongue darting out to her teeth. "No," the blonde replied, looking down to her hands. "Um, just, just s-something about Brad Pitt." She looked up, shrugged her shoulders and smiled the smile that silently said, Ďkids, what are you gonna do,í and Willow smiled widely in reply.
"Back to Brad Pitt, huh." She shook her head, memories obviously bouncing around inside her brain. "Guess that, Shia Lebouf crush is over."
"Guess so," Tara replied with an overly enthusiastic nod. She could only imagine what Dawn was telling Buffy about their phone call right now...
Willow smiled and then thumbed to the bathroom behind her. "Do you still need to-"
"Yes," the blonde replied, relieved for the slight reprieve as she stood up and started to move toward the ladies room. "Be right back."
Willow kept her eyes front and center, not wanting to get caught looking at the retreating blonde. After a moment taking in the details around the room, she sighed and turned to watch the TV quietly murmuring from behind the bar. She ran her fingertips lightly along the side of a glass for a long moment before the game being broadcast bored her. She scanned the table, picking up the pen that was left behind with their bill, and started doodling on her receipt.
Tara wiped her hands on the paper towel, tossed it into the trash and then brushed her slightly damp fingers across her face. She blew out a puff of air as she looked at the face staring back at her in the mirror. The light rain that they had encountered on their walk from the bus stop to the restaurant hadn't affected her too badly, other than darkening her tied back hair a bit. Relieved, she tugged at the bottom of her shirt and then smoothed her hands down the front of her pants. Just as she was about to open the bathroom door and return to the table, she felt her phone vibrate again.
She rolled her eyes and stepped back to the sink counter, so as not to be hit by the swinging bathroom door if someone entered. She pulled the phone from her pocket, expecting to read Dawn's name on its face. Only, it wasn't Dawn sending her another text message about Brad Pitt. It was Morgan, likely calling about their meeting, or date, the blonde conceded, tomorrow.
The blonde sucked in a sharp breath, surprised by the call and surprised by her surprise. Hadn't Morgan said she would call to finalize details? The phone continued to buzz in her hand, and after a brief moment of indecision, Tara let the call go to voicemail.
The phone stopped buzzing for a brief moment before buzzing once more, a message reading, "New Voicemail" appearing on the phone's screen. The blonde swallowed, flipped the phone open and then pressed the cancel button, clearing the message from the phone's face. She'd listen to the message tomorrow morning. Tonight, tonight was about her and Willow. She'd figure out what to do about Morgan in the brighter shade of day.
Tara re-entered the restaurant's main room and grinned as she approached their table. There, hunched over and scribbling, was a very focused redhead. The blonde got close enough to see what looked like doodles on the slip of paper before Willow noticed her return. With a slight blush, the redhead put down the pen, subtly crumpled the slip of paper in her closed fist and smiled at the blonde in one smooth movement.
Tara couldn't help it. She leaned against her chair with a slight smirk, resting her knee on the seat and after clearing her throat, raised an eyebrow, willing Willow to explain the origins of the blush on her cheeks and the drawings on the crinkled piece of paper in her hand. The redhead blushed an even deeper shade of red under the girl's gaze, her freckles blending into the background. The blonde couldn't help but chuckle slightly as she rested more fully on her chair, Willow looking around the restaurant angelically. If this were a Looney Tunes cartoon, she'd be whistling, the blonde thought. When their eyes met again, Tara inched her eyebrows up even higher, her canary eating grin threatening to burst open.
Willow sighed, rolled her eyes dramatically and held her arm out stiffly toward the blonde, the crumpled piece of paper balancing on her open palm. "It's a doodle," she confirmed with a feigned pout, and the blonde gently plucked the wad of paper from her hand. "I do doodle, but you too, you do the doodle too," she said in one breath, standing to match Tara's pose. She felt self-conscious of her drawing as she watched the artist across the table start to unfold the paper.
Tara couldn't help but giggle at Willow's huffy defense of her doodling, and she took her time smoothing out the slight piece of paper and looking at the adorable drawing, nodding approvingly. She handed the drawing of a stick man walking a stick dog back to the redhead, who stuffed into her jacket pocket. "I actually already knew about your doodling habit," Tara confessed. The redhead looked up questioningly, and the blonde explained. "Well, there was the laundromat," she said, resting more fully against the chair, "which technically was writing, but with doodle flair." Willow's pout puckered into a begrudging grin. "And then there's Ms. Bodybuilding Stick Woman, which Buffy has framed on her desk, so..."
"I forgot about Ms. Bodybuilding Stick Woman," Willow replied sheepishly.
"But you're right, I do, do the doodle, too. In fact, I probably should doodle more."
Willow acknowledged Tara's admission with a nod and a smile, refraining from further comment on the girl's doodling habits, not wanting the artist's mind to move to the paintings she wasn't painting. She should enjoy the evening, and thinking about what she should be doodling, or painting instead, could interfere with that. The redhead slipped her coat from her chair and pointed to the blonde's coat, which rested delicately on the back of the other chair. "Are you ready to go?"
"Yup," Tara said, moving her knee from the seat and picking her jacket off of the back of the empty chair. As both girls pulled on their jackets and headed to the door, the blonde said to Willow's back, "you know, whenever anyone says the word 'doodle' I always think of that Sarah Vaughan song, 'Doodlin'."
"I don't know that one," Willow replied breezily as she walked ahead of the blonde into the cold, and Tara smiled. It seemed special and rare that she mentioned music that Willow didn't recognize.
"It's um, really fun," the blonde said as she buttoned up her jacket and they started away from the restaurant's doors, the cold air accosting them. Both girls checked the weather in their own way, Tara by holding her open palm out to feel for drops, Willow craning her neck to look to the sky. Satisfied they weren't in for anything more than a soft mist, Tara continued as they began to leisurely head toward the concert venue, her breath appearing before her rosy lips as small, quickly-disapating clouds as she spoke.
"In the song a girl sings about doodling on restaurant linen while on a date, and then being chastised by a waiter." The blonde smiled at Willow as they walked shoulder to shoulder, the smell of wood fires permeating the night. "The song always really confused Anya because she couldn't understand why the girl felt that it was okay to doodle on cloth linens. She um, she said that she hoped that the manager put a charge on her bill."
The redhead smiled, the sound of splashing tires accompanying their soft footfalls. "Sounds like a neat song." Anya. Willow scrunched her brow before turning her head to catch Tara's gaze. "I'm sorry, again, about the other day, running errands?"
"Sorry...?" The blonde replied, confused as she wrapped her arms around her middle, the cold seeming to soak through her warm layers.
"What with the awkwardness at Anya's, et cetera," the redhead explained, her hands rotating at the wrist in front of her. "Sorry," she said sheepishly. "Again."
The blonde frowned slightly and shook her head as they crossed to the other side of Fillmore Street. "You don't have anything to be sorry about, Willow."
Willow shrugged her shoulders in a way that said she wasn't so sure. She buried her hands into her jacket pockets, the doodle brushing against her right hand. "Maybe I should have just bought a mechanical pencil..."
The blonde laughed lightly, catching the redhead's eye before returning her smiling face forward. "You didn't need to buy anything," she reassured, lightly bumping her shoulder against Willow's. "Even though I um, I think that in Anya's perfect world everyone has oniomania." The redhead scrunched up her brow and Tara quickly explained, "compulsive shopping." The blonde paused. "I took psych in college. Some things stuck."
"Me too," Willow quickly replied. "I mean, I took psych, too." The redhead smiled sweetly, before shaking her head. "Though, I didn't like my professor very much. She was a little, on the scary authoritarian side."
"Yeah?" Tara answered, her eyebrows creeping up on her forehead. "At least you didn't have to take Intro to Psych with Buffy. I spent an entire semester listening to the lecture with one ear and Buffy with the other." She looked at Willow with a slight half grin, letting the girl know that it was both torture and not as bad as she was making it out to be in one fell swoop.
"Ah yes, the golden days of Buffy and Riley," Willow said with a head nod, her tone flirty.
"Right," Tara concurred, her grin growing. "Before the, not-so-golden days of Buffy and no Riley."
"What with him leaving for the Central Republic of Where in the Hell," the redhead added. Tara's brow inched up, Willow catching the look from the corner of her eye. She answered the look innocently. "That's where Xander said he went."
"Oh, right," Tara said with a slight nod, her grin fading. She remembered when Xander had come up to comfort Buffy after Riley left for the Peace Corps within days of their break up, how much the petite blonde had appreciated the comfort that only an old friend could give a broken heart. It was one of the last times Tara could remember the two old friends getting along, and it hurt her heart for Buffy to think of how strained things had gotten between the two in the ensuing years. It also hurt her head a little to remember a time when she liked Xander, when he wasn't the dirtbag who constantly hurt Willow, but the good man who treated her kindly and who very obviously cared deeply for his friends. She absently rubbed her side with her right hand.
"Are you okay?" Willow asked, noticing the quirk in Tara's brow, the blonde's mind suddenly seeming very far away.
"Yeah," the blonde said casually, snapping out of her remembrances and offering up a slight smile. She nodded softly and said, "just, was a crazy year, you know?"
"Yup," Willow nodded, thinking of all that came after Riley left. Joyce passing, Buffy starting to see Spike, the custody battle with her dad. The redhead remembered how powerless she had felt that year, the best friend living 3,000 miles away, and how grateful she was that Buffy had had Tara there to help, even though Tara was going through her own hard times with her dad. It had made her proud to know Tara, know that Tara was there to listen, to be what she couldn't be over the phone.
The two girls exchanged soft smiles, and walked a half block in silence, the redhead wondering if she should just let things lie or inquire further into the troubled look that had crossed the blonde's face moments earlier, Tara willing herself to forget the brief mention of Xander, and the confusing good memories that arose. Opting for changing the subject, Willow spied a neon sign and read it aloud. "Boom Boom Room."
Tara looked up at the club they were approaching down the block, and over to Willow. The girl's face was so open and expressive. Everything but her melted away and the blonde felt her heart warm despite the chill in her bones. "It's a blues club." The redhead's brow raised and she nodded, urging the blonde to continue. "It was John Lee Hooker's club. It's really nice, inside, very..." she searched for the appropriate word, before settling on, "decadent."
'Decadent'... Willow thought, rolling the word around her mind. "How so?"
Tara looked back to the sign and then to Willow, her explanation carrying them up to and past the establishment's doors. "The walls are covered in red curtains, there are red candles, red vinyl chairs along the walls and it's really narrow, so everything just feels, red." She thought a moment as she nodded to the bouncer, who kindly nodded back. "It's very cozy, and can get loud." She chuckled softly as the door opened and sound spilled out, proving her point. "It just feels... decadent"
Red and loud... "Like Morgan's." Willow cringed internally as she blurted the words out. She looked down at her feet as they stopped at the intersection before checking both ways for traffic, her words somewhat feeble as she explained. "Red and sort of loud."
The blonde couldn't help but be surprised at hearing Morgan's name. "Hmm, better music at the Boom Boom," she said quickly, smiling at Willow. "A-And, fewer lesbians." She thought she caught Willow's cheeks blush, but couldn't be sure so close to the blues club's red neon glow. "Plus, the floor is this really cool black and white checker pattern... much more decadent than hardwood."
Willow smiled at Tara's goofiness, the redhead's cheeks ablaze as they talked about a night she'd rather forget. Another change of subject was in order. "That's cool that there's a blues club here. And so close to the Fillmore," she said, waiting for a car to pass and the light to change before starting into the crosswalk.
Tara nodded, self-consciously hoping that the lesbian mention wasn't awkward or unfunny. She stepped into the crosswalk with the redhead and pointed to a building on the left a block away. "And that's Rasselas," she said, their shoulders once again brushing together. "It's a jazz club. Also very cool, kind of blue." She smiled sweetly. "They have pretty good ethiopian food."
"Huh," the redhead answered as they started to cross over the bridge spanning Geary, the wet street and sidewalk streaked with a rainbow of colors from the Fillmore's large electonic billboard, advertising bands familiar to Willow and foreign to Tara. "That's an interesting combination," she said, linking arms with Tara as they walked past a loitering group standing around the southbound bus stop. "I don't think I would ever think 'jazz' and 'ethiopian food'."
"W-We should check it out sometime," Tara said, relief and delight flooding her in equal measures when Willow turned to her with a beaming smile at the spontaneous invitation, their arms still linked tightly.
"That would be cool," the redhead answered, quickly looking down to her feet and then up as they started to navigate through pockets of people mingling outside The Fillmore's entrance, her chest swelling with happiness at the promise of another night out with the blonde. Cigarette butts glowed in the gloom, and an empty tour bus sat parked off to the side. Security did quick body searches nearby, and an amateur scalper feebly offered single tickets to groups crossing from the bus stop.
"Cool," Tara said almost automatically, her head bobbing, her gaze firmly locked on her feet as Willow let go of her arm. The blonde watched as the redhead searched through her small purse for their tickets, and smiled when Willow looked up and handed her one of the slips.
"Ready?" The redhead asked, zipping up her purse, a bright smile on her lips.
The blonde smiled back. "Yes."