Willow was sitting eating breakfast the following Friday, grateful for the end of what had not been a good week in Willow-world. A whole week had passed and she had not so much as seen a single glimpse of Tara. Her girlfriend had been working at Giles' store while she had spent the week helping her mother with her various charitable ladies groups. Not that she didn't enjoy working with people, it was just that she missed Tara.
For the whole week she had the uncomfortable feeling that she was living her mother's life rather than her own. Her mind had wandered often as she sat at afternoon tea with her mother's friends or listened as an endless succession of ladies delivered reports on the amount of funds raised for various charities. Accompanying her daydreams of Tara were even more far-fetched ones of enrolling at NYU when the next semester began in a few weeks. Willow wasn't quite sure which idea her parents would find more detestable, the fact that she was gay... or the fact that she wanted a college degree.
She poked absently at her muesli, picking out the pieces of dried apricot and not really interested in eating the remainder. Glancing around at the pots and pans suspended from racks and smelling something delicious simmering away on the stove, Willow knew she preferring to eat in the kitchen rather than in the overly stuffy dining room. The huge dining table which could seat twenty people made her look small and insignificant. It was enough to by made to feel that way by her parents without actually having to have it played out for real. As she was toying with the idea of sending a raisin flying across the room with her spoon, Joe wandered into the kitchen, an empty tray in his hand.
"It's a bit late to be having breakfast isn't it?" he asked, glancing up at the clock on the wall.
Willow shrugged, she hadn't felt much like getting out of bed all week... Tara was at work during the day, getting up early only increased the chances of being dragged off to another meeting by her mother. If she had to listen to one more old biddy tell her the line every young women hated hearing...
"I was married at your age..."
...Willow was worried she would grab the handbag of the aforementioned biddy and hit her over the head with it.
"Any exciting plans for today?" Joe saw her glum expression and tried to cheer her up with a smile of his own.
He really was very cute when he smiled, Willows absent musings lifted her spirits a little.
"Not really... although... I thought I might catch a taxi to Greenwich village, there's a few bookstores I want to visit," the plan only just passed through Willow's mind and she grinned happily, it was a daring plan... no, it was an ingenious plan! She would surprise Tara at work... maybe buy her lunch.
Joe raised his eyebrows, "Shopping for books... shouldn't you be looking for a new pair of shoes for tonight?"
If any other person had said that, Willow would have huffed indignantly. The way Joe said it made her giggle... that is, until the 'tonight' part of the sentence caused her to frown.
"Tonight? Joe, do you know something I don't?"
"It's the party at the Mayor's tonight, you know, the 'big social event of the year', all of society being there and so on and so forth. I thought you would have known Willow... your mother does tend to remind you of these things at least half a dozen times before the actual event."
"Well, it's too make sure that I take time to choose my outfit carefully so she can show me off," Willow replied straightforwardly, "To her best advantage... not mine... and yeah, she told me but I did forget. I think I have must have more important things on my mind at the moment."
Like Tara... and Buffy flipping out... and Tara... how on earth I'm going to tell my parents that I'm gay... and Tara, okay, how much more important is Tara than a stupid, stuffy party?
"But you're going right?" Joe asked, confused at Willow's manner, "You love parties."
Willow groaned and set her spoon down in her bowl with a thunk, "It's a night where everyone can say 'look at me, look at me!' I can read the write-up in the society column now, so and so was wearing the latest Givenchy or Dior, Mr and Mrs Proud Parent used the occasion to announced the engagement of John and Jane and so and so was conspicuous in their absence..."
"Okay, you used to love parties..." Joe saw the look that had fixed itself onto Willow's face, "You're not thinking of skipping out are you?"
"That's exactly what I'm thinking!" Willow jumped up from her seat, as she rinsed out her bowl in the sink she continued, "Okay Joe, now if my parents get home before I do... '
"Willow," Joe interrupted, "You know I like you a lot... but I'm not lying for you."
"I'm not asking you to, just, if you see them... tell them I'm sick."
"You're not sick."
Willow held up her finger where she had the tiniest of cuts from helping Sam the gardener prune the roses the day before, "See, wounded... hence sick... aw, c'mon Joe!"
"I'm not making any promises Willow, just try and be back before they are..." Joe waved a cautioning finger in her direction, "Your father is out playing golf which means he won't be home until at least four o'clock or maybe later if he wins. In which case he will arrive home smelling of cigars and brandy just in time to be scolded by Mrs Rosenberg for making her late to the party. Your mother will be home a little earlier... maybe three or so but will be so rapt up in deciding what she is going to wear tonight... you know, changing her outfit a half a dozen times... that she won't think about harassing you until at least five."
Willow grinned, "Got it... see you later Joe... places to be... books to buy..." Girlfriends to surprise...
Tara tapped the pencil absently against her chin and glanced at the books in front of her again. She'd already gone over the books twice, each sum was correct, everything was perfectly balanced... and she was bored silly. It was a beautiful day, far too bright and sunny for people to want to go shopping for books so there had been a grand total of four customers all day long. Only two of them had actually made a purchase.
She glanced around the shop, each shelf of books perfectly aligned, every counter top free of dust... even the window panes at the front of the store were sparkling. Tara lifted herself out of the chair to which she felt like she had become permanently attached and wandered to the sliding ladder used to reach the upper shelves of books. She grinned and looked to the door which was still closed, not looking as though it was going to see the arrival of customers anytime soon. Setting one foot on the lowest rung, she pushed off with the other and sent herself flying along the stacks. With a slight jolt it stopped at the other end. Tara looked back the other way and thought why the heck not... the bell above the door jingled as she was half way through her slide. Tara yelped in fright and when the ladder hit the end she fell off in a most ungraceful manner, hitting the floor hard. She felt her face burn with embarrassment as she gingerly turned her head to see if the customer was about to make a quick exit after observing the shop assistant make a complete fool out of herself. Someone came at her in a flurry of limbs, sliding to a halt and kneeling at her side. Tara looked at the new arrival to see Willow with a worried frown on her face.
"Tara, are you okay?" Willow helped Tara to her feet, an arm around her back comfortingly.
"I'm fine... I think the only thing I really injured was my pride... it's definitely all purple and bruised at the moment," Tara grinned slightly and smoothed her skirt down as Willow spun her around so they were face to face.
"Aw baby," Willow drew her close so their hips were pressed together, she planted a small kiss on Tara's forehead, "That make it better?"
"It helps some," Tara replied, pressing her forehead to Willows, now grinning from ear to ear.
With the desire to make it completely better, Willow pressed her lips to Tara's in a soft, feather light kiss, sighing as she tasted the moist, full lips that she loved so much. She pulled back but kept her body pressed tightly against Tara's, hands caressing her back tenderly.
"So, what brings you to this part of town Miss Rosenberg... surely not shopping for books?" Tara teased.
"Hey, I read! But no... I have to confess and admit that I had something far more devious in mind... and I even came prepared..."
Willow slipped out of Tara's arms and ran back to gather up something lying near the front door of the store. She presented Tara with a gorgeous bunch of blazing orange and yellow tigerlillies, one side slightly squashed.
"Um... I kinda dropped them when I thought you might have hurt yourself falling off the ladder," Willow tried in vain to make one particularly broken bloom stand up straight again before giving up and handing the bunch to Tara with red cheeks.
Tara accepted the flowers with a deep sigh straight from the heart, she looked into Willow's eyes with her own glistening slightly, "No one has ever given me flowers before..."
"That's because they knew that honour was mine... I'm sorry you had to wait eighteen years though," Willow felt her own eyes start to sting and she quickly moved onto the next surprise, holding up the brown bag that she had been holding in her other hand, "And look! It's two for the price of one day at Willow's emporium of love... lunch! I hope you like chicken sandwiches... I'm afraid I'm not such a great cook but I did want to make it all myself."
"My favourite," Tara replied honestly.
Willow brushed the last few crumbs of chocolate cake from her chest as she was perched in one of the armchairs spread throughout the shop for patrons to sit in while they browsed through a book. She had great fun making playfully suggestive eyes at Tara who was sitting behind the counter in case of the unlikely event that a customer would actually come into the shop. Both girls knew full well that if they sat any closer together they were in danger of being caught in the midst of a passionate make out session.
Still, it was nice... Willow felt a whole world away from her parents and the hurtful reply Buffy had given her upon learning of her relationship with Tara. It would have remained peaceful if Willow had not been struggling with the need to tell Tara, to be able to share her problems with one person at least. She wanted to be able to tell Tara and yet she had the dreadful thought that it might ruin their afternoon together. Ignoring the guilt pangs running through her gut, Willow elected not to tell her. She managed to make herself feel a little better with the firm decision that she would tell her eventually... just not at that moment.
"I'm waitressing tonight," Tara admitted as she too polished off the last of her cake, washing it down with a sip of soda, it sounded as though she had been reluctant to tell Willow about it for fear of ruining a possible evening together.
"Where exactly," Willow had a sneaking suspicion she already knew.
"The Mayor's..." Tara began but was interrupted by an excited Willow.
"Me too! I mean... not waitressing but I'm going to be there too. I was planning to be sick but now that you'll be there... I'm so going to be there!"
"Just like the second time we meet... with the shrimp..."
Willow and Tara laughed at the memory of the infamous pastries.
"I hate shrimp!" they both said in unison and then fell into further fits of laughter.
"Okay... no serving shrimp," Tara announced firmly.
Willow glanced at her watch and her eyes goggled at the time. How on earth could time pass so quickly? Then she looked across at the gorgeous blonde and smiled... of course time would pass quickly when they were together, that was always the way it worked. She made mental calculations in her head... forty-five minutes to shower and wash her hair, half an hour to get dressed in her outfit...
"An outfit!" Willow exclaimed aloud, she hadn't even picked one yet and that was always the most time consuming of tasks... an hour at least, "Tara, I really have to get going."
"Of c-course," Tara replied, a little startled at the abruptness of it all, "I'll see you tonight then."
"Count on it baby," Willow grinned as she planted a kiss on Tara's forehead and hurried out the door to hail a cab.
As she waited, Willow bounced on her heels and knew she was going to go all out to look amazing tonight... not for her mother or for any young bachelors at the party... for Tara.
Willow checked her reflection in the foyer mirror as the Mayor greeted her parents with a huge fake smile and pleasantries that sounded entirely empty to her ears. She patted her hair gently. Nancy, one of the maids, had exclaimed in delight when Willow had asked her to help her put it up in the most flattering style she could think of. Together they had created the perfect arrangement of curls carefully piled at the back of her head, leaving several strands to fall down around her face.
Satisfied her hair could be no more perfect, Willow's eyes moved down to the dress that covered her lithe frame. It was strapless, the bodice hugging her bosom tightly and revealing creamy white shoulders... flattering without being outrageously inappropriate. Her slim waist was highlighted by a thin white belt. The skirt then fell away from her waist in full, gathered folds that ended a few inches from the floor. The dress itself was white silk over which organza had been laid and embroidered with a pattern of green flowering grasses and wild clover. Although you could barely see the toes peeking out from beneath her dress, she'd chosen cute white shoes... not dancing shoes but not so high heeled as to make dancing completely out of the question.
Willow clutched her small purse in white gloved hands as she moved through to the ballroom, nodding politely to people who greeted her. She moved past school chums or the other young people she usually would have gravitated towards, scanning the throng anxiously for just one person...
Willow was so caught up searching for Tara that she did not notice almost every head in the room turn when she walked past.
As Willow stood poised on tip-toes to try and see over the heads of the people milling around her, Sheila bowled up to her with all the finesse of a freight train and grabbed her elbow as she steered her off to one side of the room. Willow looked at the smile on her mothers face and felt a little sick to her stomach... the cat had definitely been in the cream again.
"Now Willow honey... I took the liberty of picking up your dance card for you," Sheila looped the ribbon around Willow's wrist for her, not noticing the look of distaste on her daughter's face.
Willow ran her hands over the gilt lettering on the front and absently flipped it open. Her eyes widened when she saw every single dance already had a name written next to it. It was the same name written over and over in over-embellished, loopy letters ...
"Mother!" Willow exclaimed, looking in horror at her card.
Sheila patted her wrist to sooth what she mistook as fright in Willow's voice, "He begged me to put him down for a few dances and I saw it as the perfect opportunity... I said 'Hugh dear, Willow would only be too happy to reserve all the dances for you,' and you should have seen the young man's face... he was beaming!"
"I'm sure," Willow replied in a monotone, when a young lady had her dance card filled with just one name she might as well be announcing that she was engaged... or as good as.
"Now, your father is hoping to sign the final papers that will secure the company merger with Carrington Industries on Monday," her mother whispered as though she were sharing a national secret.
Willow sighed, her mother might as well have told her to let Hugh kiss her if she thought it would ensure the merger would successfully go ahead. Sheila spied Hugh across the room and waved him over. The young man was attired in a dapper tailed jacket and had a single red rose tucked in his pocket. As soon as he reached them he nodded his head politely to Mrs Rosenberg before lavishing what he obviously considered to be the full force of his winning charm on Willow.
He smoothly withdrew the rose from his pocket and handed it to Willow with a flourish, "It doesn't do any justice to your beauty of course."
Willow took it gingerly and smiled her thanks as she resisted the urge to screw her up her nose in distaste. It wasn't that he was unpleasant to look at... it was just that he managed to give her the creeps before he opened his mouth. Whenever he did say something in that smooth voice of his, it made her want to cringe.
Her mother excused herself with a last wink in Willow's direction before Hugh swept her onto the dance floor for the first waltz. The music began triumphantly, Hugh held her hand tightly and placed the other in the small of her back. Willow felt her shoes start to chafe before they had even started moving and knew it was going to be a very long night.
Tara grinned as she picked up the tray with fried pieces of chicken skewered with pineapple on little cocktail sticks. Much better than shrimp pastries. Checking that her black dress and white apron was perfect, she moved out of the kitchen towards the ballroom with a group of other waitresses with trays of their own. They gossiped excitedly amongst themselves in the short distance and Tara feigned an interest while her heart started to thump faster at the thought of seeing Willow.
"Did you see Hugh Carrington come in earlier?" one girl asked another in an awed voice, several others latched onto the conversation enthusiastically.
"Yes, wasn't he gorgeous!" they moved into view of the dance floor, "Oh, there he is dancing... he could be a movie star you know."
"Who's that dancing with him?"
"Whoever she is... she's a doll, not a chance of competing with that girls."
"That's Willow Rosenberg, the gossip is that they're going to be engaged, something about a merger with their father's companies," another girl added, pleased that she had vital information to share.
"Tara?" one of the girls noticed the blonde had gone chalk white, "Are you feeling alright?"
Tara was gazing at a tableau frozen before her eyes. The ballroom was crowded... men wearing black and white tuxedos... beautiful society ladies attired in the most glamorous creations by famous designers. At the very heart of it all... her beautiful dress ensuring she would never fade into the background, was Willow. Breathtakingly beautiful as she was being swung around in the arms of the man Tara now knew to be Hugh Carrington.
"W-what?" Tara stuttered as one of the girls touched her lightly on the arm, "I'm f-fine... just fine."
"I think someone has a crush on Master Carrington!" one of the girls giggled, "She's even gone red."
For once Tara was grateful for the tightly packed throngs of people as she was swept away from the other girls and into the world where people didn't notice her. She just wanted to get rid of the food on her tray so she could escape the ballroom which had suddenly turned into a stifling sauna. She bit her lip and tried to stop her eyes from drifting to the middle of the dance floor...