Tara was so dreadfully late for work, she had been having the most wonderful dream about strolling down the Champs-Elysées. Not that she had the slightest clue as to what it ought to look like but that was clearly besides the point. There had been singing and dancing... wait, people only did that in the movies... and now obviously in her dreams. She had been rudely awakened mid-twirl beneath the Arc de Triomphe by a harsh banging on her door. Tara had jumped out of bed in a flash... expecting that the world was ending or something equally as life-changing. It turned out she had merely forgotten to iron her father's work shirt the previous evening. Now she was at least half an hour late to open the store and her father had refused to go out of his way to give her a lift. A most unpromising omen on the day she had chosen to tell her father about Paris...
...Out of breath and racing to the store, she couldn't have known that this day was to eventually mark an event of entirely different proportions... life changing proportions. When Tara reached the shop exhausted and most probably looking a fright... she found a surprise waiting for her...
Willow looked at her watch and tapped her foot more than a little impatiently on the footpath. It was bad enough her mother had sent her all the way to Greenwich Village just to pick up a book but now the store was late in opening. She had been there kicking her heels for the better part of twenty minutes, twenty good minutes she could have spent shopping in her favourite boutiques. This part of the city was not somewhere she frequented... there were dozens of dreary bookstores and clothing stores carrying the sort of fashions Willow wouldn't be seen dead in. She huffed impatiently and was about to hail a cab to get her out of that bohemian hell when a very flustered and pink looking young woman came running across to the door. She drew out a set of keys from her bag.
"I'm so sorry... I hope I didn't keep you long," it was close to being her worst nightmare, a customer who had been kept waiting by her tardiness. She quickly opened the door and led the way inside.
While not normally given to flights of temper, Willow was more than a little pissed off and she was ready to rip into the young shop assistant.
"I've been waiting for... " she had merely begun her rant when the blonde turned around to face her and all thoughts of making any nasty comments flew straight out of her head.
Tara managed to reign in her erratic breathing and she finally took a good look at the day's first customer. The most gorgeous pair of green eyes were staring at her intently. Long, red hair framing a pale, expressive face... so beautiful... Tara bit her lip and ducked her head... she wasn't supposed to stare the customers to death.
Sapphire blue eyes stared into her own for a few moments before the girl ducked her head. The fuzzy warmth Willow had felt while the blonde's gaze rested on her disappeared. Look at me please She made a small gesture as though she was about to reach out and tilt the downcast chin back upwards before she thought about what she was doing.
"Can I help you?" the young blonde asked shyly, interrupting Willow's awkward moment without even realising she was doing so.
"Ah yes," Willow finally remembered why she was there in the first place, "My mother called a few days ago to check if you had a book... Rosenberg was the name."
"Oh yes, I have that right here... A complete illustrated history of the old west?"
"Yeah, that's it," Willow sighed, "It's for Daddy's birthday, he likes to think of himself as something of a cowboy... except that he's never ridden a horse much less herded cattle on the open range... he has the hat though."
Tara grinned as she retrieved the package from behind the desk, a wrapped parcel with the name Rosenberg written clearly on it. She had wondered several times who would be picking up that particular book after speaking with the well-to-do sounding woman on the phone a few days ago. Glancing back up at the young, sophisticated woman she felt her heart give a painful little tug.
"That'll be seventeen sixty-nine," Tara placed the book on the desk as the redhead fumbled in her purse, Rosenberg... if I could somehow find out her first name...
Willow handed over a twenty-dollar bill and watched as the blonde counted out change. There was fragility about her but at the same time there was a distinct aura of strength that Willow found intriguing. She wondered how such a beautiful girl ended up working in a bookstore... what was her story?
Tara handed over the change and the book with a small smile, "Thank you very much Miss Rosenberg."
"Cool, thank you," Willow replied, taking the change and the package that the other girl held out, returning the smile twofold.
Willow held the book to her chest and stood in front of the desk not quite knowing why. Just a few minutes ago she had been in such a hurry to leave and yet now she wanted more than anything to stay. Okay, backing up Willow... small steps, out the door and off to some real shopping... but who is she... what's her name? Why on earth do I care?
"Can I help you with anything else?" Tara was puzzled when she didn't leave.
"Err, no," Willow replied quickly, a mortified look flashing across her face for a split second, "Thanks again... bye."
"Bye," Tara replied quietly when the door had closed shut, more than anything she wished she just knew the redhead's name.
Who are you kidding Tara... what would you do with her name if you knew it? What good would it do to know her name? You're never going to see her again...
That in it itself was the saddest thought that had ever crossed Tara's mind. She sighed as she looked around the empty and quiet store. It was probably for the best anyway she mused as she rested her chin in her hands. This way, she would always be a perfect image in her mind... unchanging and perfect. She had found her at last... but the girl of her dreams would never have a name.
"Hey Buff... have you ever found a girl attractive?" Willow ventured quietly while they were sitting in Willow's room watching Bandstand.
Buffy lay on Willow's bed, her chin propped up in her hands, feet tapping along to the band on screen, "Huh?"
"Have you ever looked at a girl and thought 'she's attractive'?" Willow looked down at her hands, fidgeting nervously.
"Of course!" Buffy said in a exasperated tone, "I do all the time... every time you get dressed up to go somewhere I tell you how gorgeous you look because you are! Is this about you wanting to feel better about red hair not being in this season... because if it is, we have had this conversation before and I have done all the reassuring I can do."
"No Buff, it's not that at all... though I had forgotten about that until now... ," Willow saw the look of mortification on Buffy's face and added, "Don't worry about it, I would have been reminded eventually anyway by some stuck up tart with 'Marilyn' hair. And that's not quite what I meant about finding a girl attractive... I meant, have you ever been attracted to a girl?"
"You're attracted to a girl?" Buffy coughed on her soda and had to set it down on the floor.
"N-no... definitely not, not at all," Willow shook her head quickly, "I was just asking if... I mean, does it happen?"
"Not to my knowledge it doesn't," Buffy looked at Willow as though she had sprouted an extra head, "Are you feeling okay Will?"
Willow sighed and nodded, "I'm fine, sorry for the weirdness but I-I... "
How on earth could she talk about this with Buffy and not make it sound as weird as it really was? It's not weird... it's just... well, it does come out weird when I try and talk about it... oh rats! Now she's going to hound me about it for weeks...
"Oh look, Jerry Lee Louis is on!" Willow pointed at the television and Buffy's gaze switched from her to the screen. She seemed to forget about their little conversation as with an excited squeal she rushed over to the TV to turn the volume up a little.
Willow let out the breath she had been holding onto for most of the conversation. Focusing on the television without really seeing it she tried to reason out what she had been feeling ever since her encounter with the blonde shop assistant. There was a reason for everything, if there was anything Willow was sure of... it was her ability to reason. She could have sworn though that it had been love at first... Willow unconsciously shook her head... can't be that... and yet... It was exactly the same feeling she had felt when she fist laid eyes on Jimmy Simpson in seventh grade and the musician she had gone steady with the previous year. Only this time it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say it was ten times as painful. Willow... don't be ridiculous, besides, you're never going to see her again... okay self, are we done with the angsty feelings then?
Later than evening, Tara had a rash burst of courage, buoyed by the memory of the redhead girl she had met that morning. She approached her father as he was sitting in the living room reading the paper. She set a steaming cup of coffee down on the table beside him. He looked up and smiled quickly in thanks. When Tara didn't move away again he frowned at her.
"Is there something you wanted?"
Okay... keep it simple... it's for work... not fun, work. "Ah, y-yes there is... I was w-wondering if I could get your permission to go on a trip... for work that is."
"For work? Since when does working at the bookstore involve going on trips anywhere?" his tone was suspicious and his frown was even more so.
"Not the bookstore... the university. Mr Giles... "
"Mr Giles? Who on earth is this Mr Giles?"
"My boss Dad... the man who owns the store?" Tara drew in a deep breath, "He's also a university lecturer and he's going to Paris for the summer. He asked if I wanted to go with him as his assistant... "
The paper on his lap slid off as he stood to his feet, Tara backed away slightly.
"His assistant?" he said it sarcastically, "Tara Maclay is there something going on with this man... are you having relations with him? If you are I am going to kick your arse so hard you'll never sit down again!"
Tara took another step back and held up a hand in supplication, shaking her head quickly "Oh no, Dad no... Mr Giles is the dearest man... it's purely professional! I'm to help him with his notes and lectures. That's all!"
"I don't care if he's the bloody pope. It's not a good idea traipsing all the way to a foreign country in the company of a man... people who know us will talk."
"But Dad... "
Mr Maclay pointed a finger in a silencing motion, "Tara, I know this all sounds very exciting to someone as young and naïve as you but listen to me now. You are not going... I don't wish to do this out of spite, I'm merely protecting you from things you cannot understand. Is that clear."
Tara should have known better, in reflection she should have ducked her head and said, "Yes sir" as she always did. Instead she let loose her anger and disappointment in an outburst most unlike her,
"Dad, I'm 18 years old... you can't tell me what to do anymore!"
He had been about to sit back down in his chair before she started shouting. Now there was a fire in his eyes as he stood over her,
"My word is still final while you live in this house and unless I am very much mistaken, you don't have anywhere else to go... Tara Maclay you are not going anywhere, especially not in the wake of an outburst like that."
Tara paled in the face of his fury, the last thing she wanted was a black eye to wear for the next few days, she continued, pleading, "I just want this Dad... you have no idea how much I want this."
"Yes, well, we all want a lot of things in life that we can't have... we tend to get stuck with the things we don't want," he made a special point of staring intently at her with his last statement and Tara felt tears prick her eyes.
"You're not going and that's my final answer, I don't want to hear anything more about this ridiculous notion of Paris... hah! Paris of all places! Go to your room, I'm sick of looking at you."
"Y-yes sir," Tara replied to the floor.
She backed out of the living room and climbed the stairs, her feet dragging as though they weighed a ton each. Tara sat heavily on the top stair, her head in her hands.
See, good things just don't happen to you... what were you even thinking letting yourself get worked up like that?
Tara knew exactly what it was. It was the fault of a certain nameless redhead who, in mere minutes, had made her feel as though she was actually someone... instead of just Tara.