Willow was curled up on the couch in the casual living room, the one where they didn't entertain guests. For this reason Willow found it much more comfortable that the cheerless and all too perfect room in which her mother held tea parties and the like. She almost felt like a normal teenager watching TV... if you didn't notice the careful interior decoration that was purposefully designed to look casual. Or the original artwork on the walls by an up and coming New York artist which her father had paid a pretty penny for.
In the wake of her conversation with Buffy earlier that day, Willow had a plate of large chocolate chip cookies balanced on her lap. A tall glass of milk sat on the coffee table in front of her... comforting food. Some silly comedy about a perfect couple with perfect children in a perfect house with a perfect dog was on the TV. Willow watched with a wrinkled nose at the saccharine sweetness of it all. Just a few months ago she probably would have quite enjoyed it. She would have laughed along with the antics and smiled when it came time for the happy ending. The dog would have the last say and everyone would laugh.
It was a lie.
A lie generated to sell more electrical appliances.
Buy a Hoover... and receive this great new life absolutely free...
The show finished, theme music playing cheerily over the company logo. Willow rolled over onto her back, balancing the cookies precariously on her chest. She picked one up and bit a large chunk, the chocolately goodness was good but not good enough to take away the sting of what Buffy had said to her earlier in the day. She sighed... the day chocolate failed to make her feel better was a very sad day indeed. She brushed crumbs from the front of her favourite cotton nightgown and put the remainder of the cookie back on the plate. There was only one thing on earth that tasted better than chocolate and that was what she was craving now. A good healthy serving of Tara... with extra helpings of course. A veritable buffet of sweetness...
"Your Dad said I might find you in here," a soft voice snapped her rudely from her daydreaming.
Willow sat up in a flash, forgetting where the cookies had been sitting and they went flying as the plate clattered to the floor. Cookie crumbs littered the couch and the pristine white carpet. Hugh had the good sense to look embarrassed as he quickly moved to help her pick them up. He set the plate on the coffee table and looked at her with red cheeks.
Willow ducked her head beneath his gaze, feeling incredibly uncomfortable sitting in front of him in her nightgown. She drew her dressing gown firmly around herself and tried to lace up the ties with shaking fingers. No matter how hard she tried she couldn't quite make her fingers form the small ribbons into bows. Willow felt like an idiot, unable to even tie a bow... it was just Hugh. It wasn't like she cared.
"Here, allow me Willow," Hugh said softly, hands reaching out slowly.
Willow couldn't explain why she didn't get up and run... probably because she didn't feel threatened by Hugh. He was just an over-sized teddy-bear and yet she cringed as his hands moved much too close to her body for her liking. With a deftness that surprised Willow, he tied the ribbon into a neat bow.
Hands! Hands! Willow thought as they were much too close to her chest for her liking, Those are taken!
"O-one w-would think you had practice at this sort of thing Mr Carrington," Willow stuttered, scooting a few discreet inches further away from him.
When Hugh took a seat at the opposite end of the couch, Willow breathed a sigh of relief. He looked just as uncomfortable as she felt, an observation which served to make her feel somewhat better. It this situation hadn't unnerved him then she would have been very scared indeed.
"I have four sisters... so I'm well versed in all the feminine accoutrements... I think I could even remember how to French braid your hair if you'd like," he winked and Willow couldn't help but let the grin that had been building escape, he was quite charming in an oafish way. She quickly wiped the grin of her face just in case it encouraged him in some way.
"I think I'll be fine thanks... but I'll keep your name in mind if I ever do need a stylist," Willow said politely.
Hugh chuckled, "As a matter of fact I'd like you to keep my name in mind for a job of a different sort."
"Yes... a job as your date... to the movies next weekend... Friday night to be precise," Hugh looked nervous as he smiled at her expectantly, "Do tell me you'll say yes?"
Willow's throat went dry all of a sudden. No! Willow grimaced inwardly and reached for her nearby glass of milk. She downed a huge gulp and unfortunately it went down the wrong way. Willow coughed in a most undignified manner, tears coming to her eyes. In a flash Hugh was at her side, his hand rubbing her back soothingly. Willow worked quickly to clear her throat and restore her frantic gasps to something more resembling normal breathing. She held up her hand for Hugh to stop,
"I'm fine... fine... see, normal breathing," Willow felt like shrugging him off delicately but there was no way for her to do so without getting up and moving altogether.
"So, was that a good reaction? Does choking on your milk mean you're excited about going with me?" he asked hopefully.
Willow looked up at Hugh's openly expectant face and for just a split second she felt bad that she had to let him down with a refusal. Then Tara's face filled her mind and she didn't feel bad in the slightest. The only problem was how to refuse politely and get the message across once and for all that she really wasn't interested.
"Hugh... that's really sweet of you... but..." Willow began awkwardly.
Hugh made things all the more difficult for her by sitting back down, much closer this time. Their knees were very nearly touching.
"You're seeing someone else? Your father assured me you weren't... are you seeing someone else Willow? Because if you are I'll gladly step aside if he's good enough for you."
You can't hold a candle to her Hugh...
"I-I'm... you see Hugh, I'm..." Come on Willow, it's not so hard to say it. Her name is Tara Maclay and you love her... yeah, but that's not the hard part, the hard part is how he'll react to the news that he's not being spurned for another man... but for a woman... "I'm not seeing anyone, it's just that..."
While Hugh was sitting opposite her, crestfallen, Ira Rosenberg chose that exact moment to walk in on them. He took their close proximity to mean something entirely far removed from what it actually did. He beamed broadly.
"So, you've agreed to bring my little girl home at a decent hour then Hugh?"
Willow glared at her father but of course he didn't notice as he crossed to the buffet to pour himself a glass of scotch.
"Hugh?" Ira raised a glass in Hugh's direction as an inquiry to whether or not he wanted a drink.
Hugh looked to Willow before looking back to Mr Maclay and shaking his head, "No thank you Mr Rosenberg, I really have to get going."
Willow sighed, her carefully rejection had been completely ruined and now Hugh was probably thinking she was a heartless tease. Oh my god, I can't believe I'm even contemplating what I'm about to do!
"Pick me up at six o'clock?" Willow said to Hugh as he stood.
Hugh looked down at Willow, surprise written all over his face. He stared at her blankly, Willow put on what she hoped was an earnest expression. He smiled gradually and nodded emphatically once, "Sure Willow..." he remembered Ira was in the room, "Certainly Miss Rosenberg... six o'clock... I look forward to it."
Willow gave him a tight lipped smile, "Of course Mr Carrington."
"Good evening then... good evening Mr Rosenberg," Hugh gave an awkward little wave and practically skipped out of the room.
Ira waited until Hugh was long gone before crossing the room to sit next to his daughter. Willow had gone a very pale shade and was lying back against the sofa cushions.
"That young man is besotted I tell you," Ira winked at Willow.
Willow didn't reply, she rolled over and buried her face in the sofa emitting a loud groan. Ira stared at her with a perplexed frown on his face.
"Willow honey... what's wrong? Are you sick?"
"No Daddy... and yes. Everything is wrong! Did you have to... I mean, I'm eighteen! I don't need you and mother to organise my dates for me."
Ira suddenly appeared as though he had just experienced a remarkable revelation,
"You don't like Hugh in that way do you? I mean... in a romantic way," Ira asked quietly, as though he thought Willow should be pleased that he had figured that out all by himself.
"Look who just arrived at the party!" Willow said, a little firmer than she'd meant to, "He's a nice enough young man but... not the right one for me... grrr! Now I'm going on a date with him."
A very flustered father patted his daughter on the shoulder, "Well, its just the one night and you can do for worse company than Hugh."
"I know Daddy... I'll survive," Willow let her father pull her close.
Ira rubbed her shoulder comforting and Willow snuggled further into his embrace. He smelt of scotch and cigars and some horrid cologne that her mother insisted was absolutely divine.
"Besides, I think I have some news that might cheer you up some. I talked it over with your mother..." Ira paused and cleared his throat, "Well now, that is a bit of a lie... I told your mother that you have my permission to apply for late admission at NYU..."
Willow pulled out of her father's arms and looked at him. He was absolutely serious, there was a sparkle in his eyes that said he was very pleased with himself. She took everything that had happened with Buffy... and then Hugh and shoved it all aside as she let this new development take centre stage.
I can be happy right? It's not bad for me to feel happy now after everything? Just for this moment I can be happy...
Willow managed to let out a giggle of delight. In what had been an awful day this ranked as probably the best news ever.
"Daddy, please tell me you are serious... I want to hear you say it."
"I am serious. I even sent someone to pick up the application forms for you..."
Ira Rosenberg was cut short as his daughter threw her arms around his neck, catching him in a stranglehold. Willow found herself grinning uncontrollably and everything didn't look quite so very bad as it had just a few minutes ago. She could be happy.
Saturday morning... Willow looked at her watch... nine o'clock. I hope she doesn't sleep late... does Tara like to sleep late? Willow tried to remember but her mind kept drifting to the feeling of being curled up with Tara in bed, waking her with kisses...
No, Willow could not for the life of her remember if Tara liked to sleep late. She could however remember the way her kisses felt, every contour of her lips...
She looked up at the building in front of her. Willow hoped like heck that she had the right address. The building was just as Tara had described it so she was quite sure as she rapped on the door lightly. Footsteps came from inside and Willow quickly straightened her cardigan, patting her hair a few times. The door swung inwards and a stout, friendly-faced lady opened the door. She looked inquiringly at Willow,
"Um, Miss Willow Rosenberg... I'm here to visit Tara Maclay. I'm... I'm a friend of hers, a good friend, very good," Willow was sure she came out sounding like a raving psychotic.
"Hi Willow, Tara speaks of you often, it's very nice to be able to put a face to a name and such a beautiful face at that," Willow smiled shyly, "And I'm Mrs Connelly, come on in dear."
Willow stepped into the foyer, careful to make sure she had no mud on her shoes, highly unlikely but it always did pay to check.
"Tara's room is the first door on the right at the top of the stairs, go on up."
Willow nodded, she couldn't walk up the stairs fast enough. She took two at a time, holding her skirts clear of her legs lest she trip and fall right back down the stairs. She reached the aforementioned door and knocked lightly. Willow rocked on her heels as she waited,
"Come in," it was her voice, hers!
Willow opened the door slowly, wanting to draw out the moment as long as possible. It swung inwards smoothly and Willow found Tara stretched out on the bed, a book propped up in front of her. She had been looking expectantly towards the door and when she saw Willow her face broke into a wide grin. Willow closed the door behind her quietly so as not to make a great disturbance in the house. Once the door was closed Willow dropped all sense of decorum and she bounded heavily across the short space to the bed. She leapt atop it and rolled on top of Tara who was now giggling, the book having fallen to the floor.
Willow wrapped her arms tightly around the blonde's neck and pressed their cheeks firmly together, enjoying the feel of Tara's smooth skin against hers.
"Willow... breathing is good," Tara whispered, trying to extricate herself from an over excited red head.
"Oh!" Willow let go altogether, deciding that a choking girlfriend was definitely not a good thing.
"Why didn't you call and tell me you were coming?" Tara asked.
"And miss the chance of surprising you?" Willow asked burying her face in Tara's silky hair, breathing in the rosy aroma, "Surprised?"
"Pleasantly so, there's nothing like having your girlfriend try and choke you to make your day!"
Willow giggled and tried to protest but at that moment Tara seized her opportunity and rolled Willow over onto her back, pinning her down with the weight of her body. She had an unobscured view of Willow's beautiful features, her favourite sight just inches from her face.
Willow gazed up into Tara's eyes, seeing the warmth and compassion there. Everything that had happened over the past few days... Buffy's words in particular, it all came flooding back to her. Before she knew it she was sobbing softly, her eyes growing wet with tears.
"Oh god," Tara said, "Sorry, I was a bit rough..."
"N-no..." Willow hiccupped, "It's not that..."
Tara kissed her gently on the forehead, soft lips pressing down in an effort to draw all Willow's pain out like poison from a wound.
"It's all a mess..." Willow continued, although she felt so far removed from it all in Tara's arms, it was like everyone else existed in a different world.
"You can tell me anything you want Willow," Tara smoothed her hair back from her face and brushed tears away with a gentle thumb, "...when you want."
"Buffy came to see me, I thought she might have come to apologise... I thought she would have taken the time to realise how happy I was but all she could say was that it was wrong and that I should break things off with you... and then she left and I don't think she ever wants to see me again," a horrible thought fluttered into Willow's mind and her eyes widened in fright, "Oh! And what if she tells someone else! I didn't think of that... she could tell my parents and Daddy will change his mind about university... oh god Tara, I-I... can't breathe..."
Tara sat up, pulling Willow up with her, straight into her warm embrace. Her arms encircled her, firm hands stroking Willow's back as sobs racked her small body. Willow gulped in deep lung fulls of air, resting her chin on Tara's shoulder. Her fingers clutched desperately at the soft wool of Tara's sweater like a small child.
"Just breathe baby... breathe," Tara whispered softly.
Willow finally managed to feel as though she wasn't going to black out, she glanced downwards and realised she had soaked Tara's shoulder with tears and goodness knew what else.
"Sorry," Willow mumbled.
"I don't mind Willow-drool," Tara said moving slightly so Willow could lay her head on her breast, "I'm really sorry about Buffy, I know how much she means to you... I can't say what she's feeling exactly but I can see where she's coming from because it's the same place you and I come from..."
"I just thought she would understand."
"Give her some time... that's all you can do right now... and you can't control whether she tells anyone... and university?" Tara only just realised what Willow had said just before she broke down completely.
Willow brightened just for a second, "Oh... oh! Daddy said I could go... he told me last night... after Hugh left... ," her face fell again and she felt just a little sick with the rapidity of her mood changes, "Oh Tara, I said I'd go to the movies with him next Friday, I'm sorry but there was no way I could..."
"Baby, you can go to the movies with whom ever you like... friends... are good," Tara didn't even sound convincing to herself.
"Hugh doesn't want to be my friend, hello, friends don't have hands like his!" Willow replied with a hint of indignation in her voice, "But... I'll go just this once and hopefully all this nonsense can be resolved for the last time."
Hands? Tara thought with a worried frown, Breathe Maclay... Willow's yours... oh but Hugh hands on my Willow!
"I trust you," Tara said a little firmer than she'd meant to. She stroked Willow's hair, trailing her fingers through the red silk, "But university Willow? Baby how wonderful is that?" Tara gently steered the conversation away from Hugh before her jealously made her say something foolish and unwarranted.
"So wonderful that I've been avoiding my father ever since he told me just in case he changes his mind, and my mother has been avoiding me... I expect that Daddy finally put his foot down about something and it scared her half to death," Willow almost grinned at this last image, "She'll live... maybe I'll take a paper like Social Etiquette 100 or Culinary Arts 100 or something to keep her happy."
Tara smiled, "Choose whatever papers you want."
Willow looked up at Tara expectantly, "You'll help me though right?"
"Of course sweetie."
Willow smiled contentedly for just a moment as she snuggled her head against Tara's breasts, "The last few days have been horrible, depressing and... peculiar just to say a few things... I feel as though I've been put through a ringer."
"My poor Willow," Tara whispered into her hair, smoothing it back from her brow with a warm hand.
Willow sighed and stretched like a cat, nestling even further into Tara's embrace, "I'll be fine. I don't need any sympathy baby."
"Really?" Tara whispered, nibbling on her ear lobe before trailing a series of small kisses down Willow's throat. She worked her way up over Willow's jaw until she reached her lips. Their lips met for just a moment in a moist and gentle kiss.
"Okay," Willow purred, "Gimme sympathy."
Tara laughed lightly, it cheered Willow to no end just to hear the musical sound. She then wrapped both arms around Willow and drew her to her chest, keeping her as close as possible so she would be safe. Willow nuzzled Tara's neck with her nose.
"It's all been such a roller coaster... first Buffy..." Willow whispered and Tara tightened her arms as she felt the redhead's shoulders shake slightly, "Then Hugh and his hands! And my Dad... and university... Tara, I'm going to university! Well, if they accept me, I have to get accepted first and then I can go."
"Who wouldn't want you?" Tara said looking down at her nuzzling girlfriend with affection.
"A lot of people apparently... probably everyone in my life if they found out about us," Willow said bitterly, the look of disgust on Buffy's face stuck in her mind.
"Buffy loves you Willow."
Willow closed her eyes in pain, "We don't know that."
"I know that... she does. She's just had a shock tis all... just you wait..."
"Wait for what?" Willow burst out, feeling suddenly angry that Buffy would do this to her... make her feel this way, "She's never going to talk to me again. I think she thinks I've chosen you over her... like I can't have both..."
"Jealous in a way?" Tara inquired.
"I think so," Willow yawned widely, putting her hand over her mouth, "Sorry, I couldn't sleep last night... not a wink... too busy upstairs."
Tara responded by easing Willow out of her arms so that she could gently lower the red head to the soft pillows behind them. As soon as Willow's head hit the pillows her eyes closed, she was that exhausted. Reaching across Willow, Tara grabbed a corner of her comforter and drew it up over Willow. With gentle hands she tucked it firmly around her warm body.
"Quieter?" Tara asked as she stroked the side of Willow's face.
"Much," the barest of smiles crossed Willow's face.
"Get some sleep, I'll stay here."
"You don't have to," Willow whispered, already sounding half-asleep, "I don't want to sleep honest..."
"Shhh," Tara whispered in Willow's ear, "Just stay right here, I'm not going anywhere... I'll hold you until you fall asleep and I'll be here when you wake... my Willow."
"I wanted to... talk but I'm so sleepy," Willow prised her eyes open to see Tara snuggling down next to her, she yawned again, her eyelashes fluttering on her cheeks.
"We can talk later baby," Tara kissed her temple.
Tara watched as Willow fought a losing battle to stay awake until her eyelids closed over her glazed, beautiful green eyes for the last time. Her fist curled, tucked up beneath her chin so adorably. Tara gently placed her chin on top of Willow's head and closed her own eyes, content to lie there breathing in the scent of Willow.