A very nervous Willow stood at the door to her parents room and raised her fist to knock. Just as she was about to bring her knuckles into contact with the wood she had yet another panic attack. Short, sharp breaths came all too fast and she lent her forehead on the door. Willow fought to regain some semblance of composure... she couldn't enter her parents room looking as though she were a few seconds away from a heart attack. She drew her hand back to her side and pressed her ear up against the door. Inside all she could hear was the faint rustling of paper. She knew her father would be sitting up reading the New York Times for the second time that day in case he missed something that morning. Her mother would probably be curled up with the latest romance novel, although she would never let that incriminating little fact be known to anyone outside their family.
Once her breathing had returned to normal, Willow quickly rapped on the door twice before she could chicken out yet again. She shuffled her feet, pulling her dressing gown more tightly around her even though their house was kept at a perfectly comfortable temperature.
"Jenkins, is that you?" her father's voice sounded out.
"No, it's me..." Willow ventured quietly before realising that the people who ignored her existence most of the time might need a little more help than that, "It's Willow."
"Come in," her father sounded surprised and so he ought to be because Willow had never knocked on their door, even as a small child.
It was much in the vein of a small child that she now opened the door and padded into the room to stand at the foot of her parents huge bed. It was only now that there was no turning back that Willow realised she ought to have chosen something a little better than her nightgown and baby pink dressing gown... with little ribbons and lace around the neck. She knew she must look all of twelve years old instead of the adult she hoped to be.
Her mother and father lay propped on opposite sides of the bed doing exactly what she had imagined them to be doing. Her father with the paper lowered just enough so she could see his bald head and bespectacled eyes peering at her over the top of it and her mother trying to hide whatever it was she was reading beneath the covers. They both had matching looks on their faces. Seemingly polite expressions which really in place to try and hide their surprise. They were both failing miserably at the hiding part.
Willow sighed and knew she was going to have to start the conversation seeing as though she was the one who had steered the family into previously uncharted territory. Tentatively she reached out a hand for the bed and then sat down right on the very corner. The way her parents inched further away from her made it seem as though she had sat right next to them.
"There's something I've been wanting to ask you," Willow started off simply once she had wriggled a little niche for herself on the corner of the bed.
"What is it dear?" her mother asked with a very concerned tone.
"Um..." come on Willow... it's easy! "Uh... um... Mom, Dad..."
Her parents sitting in their bed seemed to be the scariest figures on earth, one in striped cotton pyjamas and a one in a frilly silk nightdress that was a hideous shade of apricot.
No it's not easy!, Willow blurted out the first question that came into her head, "Mom, Dad, how were your days?"
Her parents looked at each other at precisely the same moment as though to telepathically ask each other, 'is our daughter sane?' They then looked back to her at precisely the same moment and Willow performed a Tara-like ducking of her head beneath their combined scrutiny. For any other child to ask their parents such a simple, mundane question it would be the start of a typical family conversation. For the Rosenberg's however, it was the cause of some discomfort as they wondered how to respond.
Willow found a piece of duvet to play with as her parents stared at her, keeping her head down but looking at them from the corner of her eye. Her father had completely laid the paper down now and had turned his full attention to her.
"Well, my day was just fine thank you honey," Ira replied, "You might be interested to know that we sealed the Carrington merger today. I tell you what, that young Hugh is a fine young man, I'm looking forward to taking him under my wing at work."
"That's great Daddy," Willow said quickly before he father could continue gushing about Hugh.
Her mother was watching her reactions so very closely that Willow was worried she would see what she was thinking. She tried to steer her thoughts towards something that would keep her expression more neutral. Or is the very least, a little more guarded because she couldn't help but think about Tara at every moment, even when it wasn't quite appropriate. Not that she thought about kissing Tara at every moment of her day... she thought about holding her hand, stroking her soft skin, waking up next to her... Sheila appeared not to notice however.
"I had afternoon tea with Mrs Emmanuel Stein and she was saying that everyone she had spoken too since Friday night said that you were the most stunning girl in the room by a country mile," Sheila said with a broad smile on her face, "And she also said that you and Hugh were a picture perfect couple, everyone was saying so!"
Willow looked at her mother's smile and realised that at that moment her mother was more proud of her than she had ever been at any moment in her life. Including all those times Willow had received the lion's share of prizes at school ceremonies. Moments that had meant the world to a young Willow apparently did not mean as much to her mother, not as much as finding the perfect match anyway. Willow let out a breath she hoped no one would notice but it ended up being a lot louder than she intended. Sheila picked it up immediately and sat up from the pillows, leaning closer to Willow.
"Honey, what's wrong?" she asked and Willow could tell that she was genuinely sincere and it scared her to the point she wanted to run from the bedroom rather than answer that question.
Nothing's really wrong as such... and yet...
So many things were wrong. Willow remembered the many times that she had wished her parents would ask her that one small question. Not out of any obligation but because they genuinely wanted to know what she felt and thought and was going through in her life.
I love Tara...
I want to go to college...
Willow knew that revealing to her parents the direction her life was taking would have been made so much simpler if they had taken an interest in her life before. That was it really... she wanted them to be there for her, to at least try and understand.
Is that it, do I want them to love me? They do don't they? Of course my parents love me.
Willow knew that they did in a way that was unique to them. However, Willow also knew that it was a way that meant they would not accept her for what she was... they would accept her for what they wanted her to be.
"Willow," her mother was saying as the thoughts played through Willow's mind, "Willow?"
"Wha-what?" Willow looked up quickly.
"Willow are you sick?"
"N-No... sorry, just thinking a little too much."
"There's something you want isn't there?" her father finally spoke up, asking the age-old question parents always asked their children.
He smiled and leaned forward in a position mimicking his wife's as Willow shuffled in her perch on the edge of the bed.
"Well... yes there is," Willow said quietly.
"Does Hugh want to take you out this weekend?" her father asked with something akin to a grin on his face, "Of course the answer is yes, provided he has you home by ten and we'll want to know where he's going to take you."
Willow's jaw dropped for a few moments before her anger crept stole up on her and burst out before she could rein it in,
"He asked you didn't he?" Willow snapped at her father, "He asked you if he could take me out?"
"Well of course Willow, he was just securing my permission... very smart move if I might add..." Ira was surprised by her tone and moved quickly to defend himself.
"He is very polite you know," Sheila added with a nod.
Willow bit her lip before she let her anger run away with her. She knew she would end up saying something she regretted and that was the last thing she wanted. She had never argued with her parents for any reason. There had never been any teenage rebellion in the Rosenberg household and Willow had often mused that her parents didn't realise just how lucky they were.
"W-why are you so convinced that Hugh is the one for me?" Willow asked quietly, trying not to let her anxiety show through.
Her mother's eyes widened and her mouth worked soundlessly for a few moments before she found her voice, "Why would you think he isn't the one Willow?"
Because Tara is the only one for me, Willow answered simply in her head and just as simply to her mother, "I don't love Hugh."
"Well honey that's nothing to worry about," Sheila said in a relieved tone and Willow was so sure that she was going to add, "I don't love your father but that hasn't stopped us from being happy."
Willow put a hand to her head and rubbed it for a few moments, she was getting a headache. She hadn't ventured into her parents bedroom to talk about her non-existent relationship with Hugh.
"There is something I want to ask you both," Willow tried again, determined to go through with it.
"Yes honey?" her father asked yet again.
"I've been thinking seriously about my plans for the future... and I've decided what I want to do..." Willow couldn't bring herself to look at her parents faces as she continued, "I want to start the next semester at NYU."
Willow realised she might as well have announced that she was gay when she saw the looks of pure shock on her parents faces. She had never mentioned college before so she had been expecting that it would come as something of a shock to them... but this? Her mother was speechless for a good minute, something Willow had never seen before. Usually Sheila had something to say in response to everything but now it was a soundless gape. Her father was just as shocked at first but as Willow watched him, his expression changed into something that shocked Willow. He removed his glasses and chewed on the end thoughtfully. Willow dared to feel a surge of hope.
"That's preposterous!" Sheila finally found her voice, "Willow Rosenberg, please tell me you are not serious?"
"I am," Willow replied simply.
"Well... you're not going... Ira, tell her she's not going!" her mother's voice was quite shrill, verging on becoming hysterical.
Ira didn't seem to be interested in what his wife was saying, instead he turned to Willow and regarded her carefully. It was as though he was seeing her in a new light.
"Your test scores are quite excellent honey..."
"Ira!" Sheila turned on her husband, "It's ridiculous for someone like Willow to think about going to college, she has so much potential, she would be throwing all of that away."
"And how would I fulfil my potential by not going to college?" Willow asked coolly, already knowing the answer.
"Hugh..." her mother began.
"So my only potential in life is to be married to a man you consider suitable and have his children and become the proper society wife... you're saying my only potential is to become you."
"W-well," Sheila spluttered, "The only girls who go to college are those unable to catch a good man! You're not one of those girls Willow, look at you... you're attractive and well brought up and you have Hugh!"
"I don't want Hugh!" Willow resisted the urge to stomp her foot.
"Sheila, I don't see any problem with Willow going to college. I'm sure Hugh will understand..." her father began, doing his best to keep both women happy.
"This has got nothing to do with Hugh!" Willow stood up so quickly she felt a slight head rush.
All her life Willow had become the perfect little girl her parents wanted her to become and now she was beginning to pay for it. She stood at the foot of her parents bed, her mother's face taking on a pink tint that clashed with her nightgown while her father had almost chewed through the end of his glasses. Her fists clenched at her sides, knuckles white with more frustration that anger.
"Why can neither of you see that I don't want to spend my life being defined by a man. I don't ever want to be Mrs Hugh Carrington,! A society wife with the perfect husband and perfect little family..." Willow hoped she hadn't gone too far and she slowed herself down, "I just want to be me... I'm Willow, I want to be Willow."
"And what just does being 'you' entail Willow?" Sheila asked what seemed to her to be a perfectly reasonable question.
"You're supposed to be my mother, you tell me... oh wait, you wouldn't know would you because you've never taken the time to get to know me!" Willow snapped.
"Is that a rebellious tone I hear Willow Rosenberg?" Sheila asked, her shrill voice now on the verge of tears.
Willow could see that she was going to get no further unless she started yelling and that would not take her in the direction she wanted to be.
"No, it's not mother," Willow replied quietly, "I'm going to bed... goodnight."
She turned on her heels and walked out of the room, her pink dressing gown swirling angrily behind her. Willow wanted to slam the door shut but instead she closed it quietly with just the faintest click as it shut. As it shut she heard her parents begin to argue, her father's voice so quiet she couldn't hear what he was saying. Her mother had burst into tears, her voice so shrill Willow couldn't hear her either.
With a last look at the door, Willow turned and walked back down the hallway in the direction of her room where she knew there would be a stuffed animal waiting for her.
The door bell of the book store jingled, alerting Tara to the presence of yet another customer. She felt like letting out a groan of exasperation, the store had been far too busy for a Tuesday morning. It was most unnatural. However, when she looked up she saw the front door closing behind Willow. The redhead stood in front of the door for a few moments and stared at Tara. It took Tara only a split second to see the red-rimmed eyes and she found herself pushing the chair back from the desk. Tara crossed the short distance of floor space and came to stand in front of Willow. Gently, Tara drew Willow close for a few glorious seconds before she remembered that there were other customers in the store. They stepped back from one another... just two friends sharing a hug.
"I take it things didn't go so well with your parents and the college chat?" Tara asked quietly.
Willow just shook her head.
Tara waited patiently as it appeared as though Willow would burst into tears. Willow dashed a hand across her eyes, obviously annoyed at her own self-pity and yet there was nothing she could do to stop it.
"What did they say?" Tara's voice was soft, a caress in itself.
"The whole conversation played out as though I was already engaged to Hugh... as though somehow his feelings about the matter meant more than mine. Tara, I gave them every indication that I didn't care for him at all but they still couldn't see... do they not notice, do they not care that I don't even like the guy?"
"Baby, they care... it's just that, well you know... they're parents."
"They're driving me crazy."
"Yeah, parents do that."
"I just wish that they would listen... but they never have so I shouldn't have hoped that they would this time..."
"Ah... Miss?" Tara spun around to see a customer waiting impatiently at the desk to purchase a book.
"Sorry sir!" Tara flashed a quick, reassuring smile for Willow as she went off to serve the customer, beginning with a polite apology, "So sorry to have kept you waiting, how can I help?"
Willow found a comfortable armchair that was luckily placed in the one patch of sun in the whole store and she curled up in it. As she sat with her knees tucked up beneath her, she watched Tara run up the sale. Even doing the simple tasks the girl was gorgeous.
For a girl who had never done a single household chore in her entire life, to suddenly start imaging doing them came as somewhat of a surprise. Willow found herself imagining washing and drying dishes with Tara even though she had never ever picked up a tea towel. Making their bed together or sitting down to a meal they had cooked... in their own home. She didn't know where it came from but the image of a small cottage with a wide porch and a swing found its way into her mind. Quiet... surrounded by homey country gardens and a birdbath, there had to be a birdbath. Something small, simple and neat with just enough space for the two of them... Willow shook her head with a wry smile, what a glorious but foolish thought.
Tara interrupted her musings a few moments later when she rejoined her. With Tara, however, the interruption was never abrupt or unwelcome. The blonde knelt beside the armchair and placed both her hands on Willow's arm, running a thumb lightly along her skin just to confirm that she was there.
"I'm sorry things didn't go well," she began quietly, "So, do you think you'll be able to try and ask again?"
"Well, Daddy actually seemed to almost think it was a good idea," Willow brightened slightly for a moment when she remembered the thoughtful look on her father's face but it was gone as quickly as it had arrived, "But while he may run a multi-million dollar corporation with apparent ease... he balks in the face of family matters... I'm afraid that its up to my mother... and anything that doesn't involve marriage to Hugh Carrington is not a good plan in her books."
"And anything that does is definitely the worst plan in mine," Tara whispered quietly.
Willow reached across her other hand and placed in securely over Tara's, their fingers entwined tightly. They shared a brief moment, Willow sighed as she lost herself for a few wonderful moments in Tara's gaze... In those moments everything was just fine... perfect really.
Tara was upset that there was nothing she could do to help Willow... she squeezed the redhead's hand firmly. She could be there for her. And she would... always.
"I love you Willow."
Willow smiled, "Never going to get tired of hearing those words."
Tara rested her chin on Willow's forearm contently and would have remained like that for some time, gazing up at her girlfriend. However, she saw yet another customer approach the desk and wondered why everyone suddenly wanted to buy books on a Tuesday morning. She turned back to Willow,
"Willow, I really need to get back to work... if Mr Giles... I mean, I don't think he would mind you being here but we've been so busy today and there's so much to do..."
"Oh!" Willow went to stand up, "I'm sorry, I should have realised..."
"I didn't mean for you to go," Tara stopped her from standing with a gentle grip, she glanced around the shop at the browsing customers as though she wished she were able to snap her fingers and make them all go away, "Do you want to hang out here?... um, there are some inventories that Mr Giles wanted to be checked, it's not the most exciting way to pass the time but... we'd be together... so..."
"I'd like that," Willow replied quietly.