Tara sighed, waitressing was ten times worse than toting around books... books didn't reek so much. The kitchen was bustling, it closely resembled a military command centre in a war zone as people barked out orders. They moved as though getting the dishes of food out to the party guests was a matter of life and death. Tara weaved her way through to her destination, careful not to bump into people carrying full trays. The bustle and clamour was slowly but surely giving her a headache. Tara just wanted to go somewhere quiet... she supposed she was too used to working in the bookstore.
"Tara, what is it?" one of the other girls interrupted her with an inquiring expression.
"Ah, nothing... I need another tray of the shrimp pastries," Tara had no idea why people liked them, they smelt terrible to her... but that may have had something to do with the fact she was allergic.
Moments later, equipped with a full tray to unload on happy party guests, Tara emerged from the kitchen. In many ways it was even worse being out here than in the kitchens. At least they were people like her... working at ordinary jobs for a living and they would all go back to their ordinary homes after work that night. The party guests on the other hand lived in some sort of fantasy world. The only contact she had with them was when they reached out to take a pastry from the tray without so much as a word of thanks. Tara had no idea what they did day to day but she suspected it was something very much like this... except at different houses on the shore. The same people all over again, the same conversations about horses and boats and summer vacations to the Bahamas... Almost empty again...
Tara felt her shoulder slam into something moving in an opposite direction and she had a fearful moment as the remaining pastries almost toppled off the tray and onto the floor. Thankfully, with a little bit of juggling and balancing, they were saved. She turned around to apologise to whomever it was she had hit.
"Whoops, sorry... " a voice began and then stopped abruptly.
It was her... the redheaded girl who had collected the book the previous day. Tara let out a breath very, very slowly so no one would notice. The one person who had been occupying her mind for seemingly no reason at all... and they had bumped into each other again. Tara desperately wanted to be somewhere else... and yet at the same time there was no where else she would rather be than next to this girl. She quickly cast her gaze downward, embarrassed beyond measure.
Willow was about to embark on a very sincere apology. The collision was entirely her fault as her concentration had been solely focused on avoiding her mother and whatever young man she had found to introduce to her daughter. The poor waitress had felt the full weight of her anxiety... the waitress... Willow felt her heart do a little jig.
"Hey... hey... it's you!" the redhead said excitedly, "Remember me? The bookstore yesterday? Cowboy book? Funny hat... well, there was no funny hat really but... that was me... obviously... "
Willow cut herself off mid-babble and grinned apologetically, tilting her head to one side as though that would help the blonde recognise her.
Of course I remember... how could I forget a face like yours? Tara managed to look up for a few moments and the barest of smiles flicked across her face as she nodded. The girl was just as gorgeous as she remembered, attired in the latest fashion for cocktail dresses, a daringly cut green number that brought out her sparkling emerald eyes and revealed much of her pale skin. Her red hair was done in curls, sitting on her shoulders... it bounced attractively with each nod of her head.
"I'm s-sorry... I really ought to w-watch where I-I'm going," it was pathetic and Tara knew it but what else could she say in the circumstances?
"Oh no! I'm the complete ditz! I never look where I'm going. Too caught up in everything that's around me... Isn't this party just the dullest, too many old men, there's absolutely no one dancing and I was so looking forward to dancing... I'm wearing my dancing shoes but no one seems to have noticed," Willow finally paused to draw a breath and her mouth dropped, "I'm sorry, minor babbling problem... my father always tells me I should think long and hard before I speak or I'll never attract any men of good breeding."
"I can't see any reason why you wouldn't," Tara ventured shyly, almost in a whisper.
Willow flashed her a dazzling smile, "What, between the babbling, crashing into innocent waitresses... and did I mention that red hair is not in this year... between all that... I'm nothing special."
No, you are! Tara wanted to say fervently but unlike the young woman in front of her, she thought all too hard before she spoke. She merely looked awkwardly at her feet.
"Am I making you uncomfortable... or do I have something on my shoe?" the girl sounded like she was having a minor panic attack as she examined her cute white shoes, dancing shoes... just as she had said. She grinned and looked back up at Tara, "I know exactly what it is... I haven't introduced myself and I don't know your name. Did I mention incredibly rude in that list as well?"
She extended her hand to Tara and with a brief moment of hesitation, Tara took the proffered hand gently. As soon as their skin touched she felt a jolt, almost electric... very nearly making her heart stop. The redhead must have felt it too because she was completely silent for at least a minute. Even though she barely knew her, Tara instinctively thought that was a very rare occurrence in itself.
At first the silence was a little awkward. They stood staring at each other... two girls, holding hands in the corner of a crowded room. Yet it eventually felt as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Tara raised her head to see the other girl staring at her.
Willow was so transfixed she at first forgot why she had even extended her hand... She settled on congratulating herself for such bold manoeuvre, at least it gave her an excuse to touch the blonde. Then she gasped, she was supposed to be introducing herself! My name... what's my name? C'mon Willow, what's your name...
"Oh, Willow... it's Willow... I mean, I'm Willow," the redhead burst out quickly, flashing a relieved smile, "Willow Rosenberg. Charmed to meet you... ?"
Willow... what a strange, but absolutely beautiful name. It suits her somehow. Then Tara realised Willow was waiting for her to give her name in return and all she was receiving was the stare of a speechless idiot, "T-tara... Tara Maclay. L-likewise."
"Tara," Willow rolled the name off her tongue and decided she liked the sound of it immensely.
"Willow," a voice called from the far side of the room and Willow groaned beneath her breath... her mother had found her, "There's someone we'd like you to meet."
Willow threw a quick glance over her shoulder and saw her mother standing with a broad smile as though she'd just reeled in the catch of the day. She was standing next to an incredibly dapper young man. Last week Willow would have leapt at the chance to inflict her dynamic personality on a previously unknown bachelor... especially one as strikingly handsome as the young man at her mother's side. Now she merely glanced over him perfunctorily and was exceptionally disappointed in the knowledge that she would be forced to obey her mother's summons.
"My mother... " Willow began apologetically.
"Oh, you should go," Tara said a little too quickly and was immediately afraid it sounded as though she wanted to be rid of Willow, "I-I should be working anyways. Pastries aren't going to hand themselves out I guess."
"Well, not unless you wanted to fling them around the room like little Frisbees," Willow giggled, "I could think of nothing funnier than seeing a few of these stuffy old dames with pastry in their perfectly coifed hair... but then you'd probably get fired... and I'd probably wouldn't be going away for the summer anymore... so maybe not."
"Well, I'll imagine it then," Tara grinned and looked at the remaining pastries in her tray as though she was working out the splatter factor each one possessed.
Willow smiled warmly Funny... sweet... and gorgeous... I wish there was some way she could hang out with Buffy and I, we'd have a blast... oh my giddy aunt... do I really think she's gorgeous?
"Willow!" her mother's voice was a little more insistent this time.
"Coming!" Willow called as sweetly as she could in the circumstances, "Sorry, the old bat calls... I really have to go... but..."
Willow swept the last few pastries that were on the tray up into her hand and popped one in her mouth with a grin. Tara was left holding an empty tray.
"You should come find me...," Willow said with her mouth full, she swallowed the pastry, "y'know, because these are really good."
"I will if I can," are you kidding? Of course I can! Tara tucked the tray under her arm, "See you later then Miss Rosenberg."
"Willow," Willow said firmly and then lightly, "It's my name... use it."
"Tara," Willow said brightly with a nod and yet another cute grin in Tara's direction.
Tara watched the redhead leave in a flurry of skirts flying around her shapely calves as she swept through the room to join her mother. Even the way she walked was so sensual, her swaying hips hugged by the green dress which also hugged the curves of her bottom... so cute... Okay, staring blatantly at a girl's arse in a crowded room... not such a good idea. Tara was mortified and quickly made her own way back to the kitchen... more pastries, she needed more pastries... but what an arse!
Tara was beaming brightly as she entered the bustling kitchen and swept up to her Mrs Hopkins who was labouring over several steaming pots at once. She looked up when she saw Tara and wiped her hands on her apron.
"Have we anymore of those shrimp pastries, everyone seems to love them," Tara stepped aside as a waitress with a heavily laden tray of quiches manoeuvred her way past.
"The other girls can handle the trays... I need you in here, Sarah had to go home for a family emergency so I'm running short of help with the preparation and there's so much to do! Can you... "
"But... I was... " Tara thought of Willow out in the party, waiting for her to come back.
"Tara... you're here to work, not to ogle at the young men... " Mrs Hopkins said sternly.
"I wasn't... " Tara was about to say she hadn't been ogling at all... but that was a blatant lie, she had been doing a very good job of ogling a certain young redhead in a green dress with a cute arse.
"I know Tara... you've got your head screwed on right... no foolish dreams of being swept off your feet by handsome young rich men like some of the girls around here. Now help me with those fruit tarts."
Tara sighed but tried to convince herself it was for the best. Willow was probably having a marvellous time chatting with that handsome young man. Maybe she had even convinced him to dance with her. Anyways, she most probably wouldn't remember the waitress with the shrimp pastries.
"Who was the girl you were chatting to Willow dear?"
Willow had popped another pastry in her mouth and she was scanning the throngs of people. She looked back to her mother at the mention of her name.
"Oh, just a waitress, I was asking what was in these," Willow held up the last pastry in her hand.
Sheila nodded and turned to the young man beside her, "Hugh Carrington, I'd like you to meet my daughter Willow... Willow, this is Hugh Carrington of the Boston Carrington's. Ira is currently doing business with their family so I thought it would be nice to invite them all along tonight."
Hugh smiled graciously and went to shake Willow's hand, Willow was about to take it when she realised the pastry was still clutched in her fist. She quickly transferred it to her left hand before taking his hand with a slightly crumby palm. His dashing smile didn't falter once, indeed, he didn't even seem to notice.
"Charmed I'm sure. Sheila has been telling me about your upcoming trip to Paris. You know, I was there myself a few months ago... I would be happy to tell you all the happening spots."
He said 'happening spots' as though he thought himself some sort of radio DJ but he just came out sounding like a cad. Willow barely suppressed a wince.
"Yeah, sure," Willow replied with half a smile although she wasn't the slightest bit interested in the 'happening' spots of Paris at that moment, This is going to be a fun conversation... where are those pastries?
Willow still had the residue of the last one in her mouth and she realised she didn't care for them at all, she had never liked shrimp much anyway. It was the person who would come carrying the tray that she was more interested in becoming better acquainted with.
"Would you like me to fetch you a drink Miss Rosenberg, champagne?" Hugh was obviously anticipating a lengthy conversation and was therefore planning appropriately.
"Punch please," Willow swirled her tongue around in her mouth distastefully. I hate shrimp she realised but it only served to make her grin, I really do hate it! Rosenberg... what are you playing at here?
It was just as well Tara hadn't held out much hope of meeting Willow again, by the time she emerged from the kitchen, hours later, smelling of food... the party had well and truly wrapped up and the redhead was nowhere to be seen. She sighed. The odds of running into her a third time were remote... but there was always hope. And besides, she had a trip to Paris to look forward to... if she could ever manage to overcome the biggest obstacle in her path...