Tara shook her head to clear her thoughts. Swiftly she stood and crossed the room, setting her book down on the desk and picking up Willow's gift.
She ran her fingers over the Scooby-Doo wrapping paper and smiled. Tara had seen Buffy eyeing the gift at the hospital. Buffy's eyebrow had quirked and the corner of her mouth turned up into an amused smirk. Maybe wrapping gifts in Scooby-Doo paper was a very Willow-type thing to do. There was really no way for Tara to know, since she had refused the opportunity to find out. She had refused coffee, and hadn't even asked Willow for her telephone number or e-mail address. Willow was probably an e-mail kind of girl anyway; that much Tara could guess from the way Willow had been so focused on her computer thingy in Chicago.
Wistfully, Tara wondered to herself where the redhead was at this moment, what she might be doing. Had she used Tara's colored pencils after all?
Tara sighed and focused her attention on the gift in her hands. She traced the precise letters on the paper that spelled out her name and Willow's, smiling once again at the little Scoobies before carefully splitting the tape that held the wrapping paper together. She pulled the edges open and when she saw what was inside her eyes involuntarily drifted shut. After a few seconds she opened them again to confirm what it was she held in her hands.
She glanced at the book on her desk then back at the gift in her hands, and before she knew it she was laughing. She laughed so hard tears began to form. After a minute or so she calmed down and set the gift down on the table.
"I remember all of it."
Willow's words echoed in Tara's mind.
On her desk sat two identical copies of Dan Brown's Angels & Demons.
She must have remembered that I was reading The DaVinci Code at the airport. I had almost forgotten... and she remembered.
It was, in a way, an odd gift. Who could read The DaVinci Code and not read the other books? Really though the logic of it didn't matter, what mattered was that Willow had remembered. And maybe, maybe Willow had some other kind of logic going on in that head of hers. Maybe... maybe there was something about this specific book...
Biting her lower lip, Tara ran her fingers down the edge of the book cover, stopping at the bottom corner. Slowly she opened the cover to find... nothing, just a white space. She let out a breath she had no idea she'd been holding and placed her palm flat on the blank page.
It had been just a thought, a small hope that maybe there would be something written inside the book. But maybe Willow had just thought Tara would like the book after all, and took the chance that Tara didn't own it yet.
Tara didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed. But she didn't have the time to figure it out as the phone on her desk let out a shrill ring. She shut the book and picked up the phone to hear her roommate's voice on the other end of the line, begging her to come out front and help her unload the copious amounts of groceries she had purchased.
Sighing, what's with all this sighing lately, anyway? Tara replaced the phone in its cradle. She picked up both books and on her way out she placed them in the bookcase next to her desk.
Angels & Demons. Willow let her thoughts wander as she took a sip from the cup in her hands. The woman sitting in the lounge chair next to her was reading Angels & Demons. When Willow saw the book sitting on the table and when she saw a woman with long dark blond hair reaching for the book she had been hit with a mild anxiety attack. Her back had been turned slightly but when the woman turned to sit back in the chair Willow saw that it was not Tara. She didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
After returning from Sunnydale at the end of the summer it seemed that everywhere she went Willow felt she might run into Tara. While the constancy of that feeling had worn off with the passing of time, Willow still sometimes thought she might have seen Tara walking down the opposite side of the street. What has it been? Like four months now, five?
Granted it was oddly random that they should run into each other twice, in different cities no less. What were the odds though of Tara being in this particular Starbucks in New York at the same exact time Willow would be here? After all, Tara lived in California, and Willow hardly ever came to this particular Starbucks out of all the Starbucks in Manhattan. Willow hardly ever went to Starbucks at all, she preferred the non-chain type café's that were cozy and exuded the personalities of their owners and employees. But there were none of those nearby that Willow knew of, and it was too cold to go exploring when there was a conveniently placed Starbucks across the street from the new Time Warner mall.
Willow was still amused by the fact Mandy wanted to go to the Time Warner mall on the pretense of going to look at some special frying pan they were selling at Williams-Sonoma, when really she knew Mandy wanted to go to J. Crew.
Only Willow and Faith knew that Mandy was secretly obsessed with J.Crew. Though Faith and Mandy often looked as though they had dressed from the same closet, they really shopped at very different places. Faith wandered through the Village, browsing the smaller shops and boutiques hidden away in the neighborhoods of lower Manhattan. Mandy however preferred to get her hip-hugging low-riding pants at the more upscale retail stores, like J. Crew and Kenneth Cole, a discovery Willow made in the few months that she had begun to spend more time with Mandy and her band.
Between Buffy, Faith, and Mandy, Willow's wardrobe had been almost completely made over since her high school days. Though she still had a few fuzzy sweaters and plaid skirts in her closet, she had learned from her friends to jazz them up with leather pants and jackets, tank tops, and fitted denim. And now thanks to Mandy and their numerous shopping trips Willow was quickly amassing a collection of button down shirts and low riders. Willow took another sip of mocha, while running through the contents of her closet in her mind's eye.
Sweaters, I should look for a nice sweater, maybe in blue.
The sound of loud voices drew her attention back to the woman reading the Dan Brown novel. Another woman joined her and they were hugging and exchanging greetings loudly to be heard over the music the café was blasting. Willow watched the woman dropped her book into her bag then leave with her friend.
Picking at the edge of her coffee cup, Willow let her thoughts drift back to Tara. She wondered what Tara had thought of the book. Faith had given her a hard time about going back to the house to get it, but Willow wanted to give Tara something. Something that was already hers, much as Tara had given Willow her colored pencils, not something purchased in a hospital gift shop. So they had turned around and gone back to Willow's parents' house. Willow ran in and grabbed the book she read on the plane from New York, a roll of scotch tape, a pair of scissors, a pen, and, most importantly, her Scooby-Doo wrapping paper. She had been so nervous and afraid that she would lose her nerve that she had sprinted back to the car. Of course running was hardly ever a good idea for Willow. Between her bedroom and the car she had dropped each item she was carrying at least once.
Though she was not too pleased about having to turn back, and not too enthusiastic about the effectiveness of Willow's idea, Faith had laughed hysterically at the redhead. Watching Willow run from the house to the van had been like watching a tennis match, she had to stop, go back to pick something up, go back to the car, stop, go back, turn around, stop, go back, turn. But Willow would not be deterred. She had, finally, jumped into the backseat of the van, ordering Faith to drive while she spread out in the back and carefully wrapped the book.
Of course, AFTER Willow had given Tara the book, the idea that Tara might already have it came up.
5 months earlier...
Dawn cornered Willow in the hallway, first begging, pleading, cajoling, and then finally stomping her feet until Willow gave in and told them all that she gave Tara a book.
"A book? You gave her a book?" Dawn said incredulously. "Geez, Willow, how unromantic is that?"
The three older girls all looked at Dawn in disbelief. Faith snickered, fighting the urge to look proud that the teenager had figured it out. Willow gaped, frowned, then opened her mouth several times as if to speak, but nothing came out. It was Buffy, who was more used to her younger sister's growing bluntness, that finally broke the silence.
"What do you mean unromantic Dawn?" She asked. Buffy knew exactly what Dawn was thinking, but she didn't know whether to be shocked and dismayed and deny it all, or to use the opportunity to team up with Faith and Dawn in a little Willow-teasing.
"Exactly that, how romantic is a book?" Dawn had replied, annoyed.
"What? Romantic? What?" Willow had asked, putting an end to her fish-face impersonation session.
"Geez Will! You like the girl, you want to say thank you, get her like flowers or chocolate or a little teddy, or ooh, OH! Those cute little heart-shaped candies! But a book?" Dawn said, waving her arms enthusiastically.
Oh lord; she really has been spending too much time with me! Willow thought to herself while simultaneously wondering how Dawn knew... .
"Oh come on Willow, I saw the way you were staring at Tara last night. I know what that look is, I'm not a kid you know. It's the same way that Xander used to look at Buffy, and how... um... other people look at Buffy sometimes too, and how Buffy used to look at Riley... and I'm shutting up now..." Dawn had anticipated Willow's next question and beat her to it, unconsciously bringing up what was still a sensitive subject. But when she looked up it was Faith and not Buffy who looked angry. And it was Buffy who put a hand on Faith's arm when Dawn mentioned Riley.
Buffy simply squeezed Faith's arm briefly, smiling sadly. With her free hand she reached up and tucked a strand of dark hair behind Dawn's ear.
"It's okay Dawnie." After a pause, her smile turned into a full out grin. "Now, about that gift thing..." She turned to Willow "Dawn does have a point, it's not the most romantic gift in the world Will."
Willow knew when she was being ganged up on, but was helpless to stop it.
"But, but it is! It could be! It is!" She pouted and Buffy could have sworn Willow had stomped her foot a little bit.
"Okay, okay, break it up. Why don't you just tell them why you gave her the damned thing Red? And none of that, ‘it's just my way of saying thank you' crap." Faith had finally decided to become more active in the conversation.
"Fine." Willow frowned some more before plopping down in a nearby chair.
"At the airport, she was reading..." For the next ten minutes Willow explained the reasons for her giving the blonde the book. When she finished, the other girls stared at her.
"So you wanted to ask her out but you didn't know if you'd have the guts to so you gave her your book that was written by the same guy that wrote the book she was reading at the airport and..." Dawn scrunched her nose, as if deep in thought.
"That... that actually is kind of romantic." Buffy interrupted, smiling that sad smile again.
"Nah, Red was just to chicken to ask her out." Faith was shaking her head at Willow, still frustrated at Willow's timidity in approaching Tara.
"I am not!" Willow responded indignantly. "I'm not! I did it!"
"Did what?" Faith and Buffy asked in unison.
"It. I did it! I asked her out for coffee or tea or whatever, I did it!"
"Before or after you gave the book?" Faith cringed.
"A-after." Willow deflated just a little.
"And?" Buffy pressed. Fun as it was to tease Willow, Buffy really did want things to work out in the relationship department for her best friend.
But Willow merely stared at her fingers and shook her head.
"Oh Will." "Damn Red." Buffy and Faith both reached out to hug the redhead.
"I'm sorry to interrupt this touching show of support but, um Will, what if she already has the book?" Dawn finally spoke up. "I mean, if she read The DaVinci Code that long ago, she probably already read Angels & Demons right?"
What if Tara did, in fact, already have the book? Then she wouldn't even open it because she probably already read it.
There goes that then.
Willow lifted her coffee cup to find that the cup was empty. She sighed and approached the counter to get another cup, Mandy was already ten minutes late, which meant Willow, would probably be waiting for another twenty minutes.
So she nearly jumped out of her shoes when she felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to find the dark-haired girl step into the line behind her.
"Sorry." Mandy grinned unapologetically. Willow was so easy to catch off guard.
"You're here." Willow frowned.
"Yeah, imagine that!" Mandy laughed. "Only ten minutes late!" Seeing Willow's frown slowly dissipate, she continued. "There was a subway delay thing, so I cabbed it." She pointed out the window.
Willow glanced up to where Mandy was pointing just in time to see a familiar face walk past the Starbucks. It took a few seconds for Willow's brain to register to ocular input, but when it did, her eyes doubled in size and she spun around to look in the direction the owner of said face had been walking. By the time her brain thought to confirm what her eyes had seen it she was only able to catch a fleeting glimpse before other people had come and gone past the coffee shop window, but it was enough.
"No fucking way." Willow whispered to herself. "I gotta... That was... I'm just gonna..." She mumbled as she slowly gravitated to the door.
"Red? Will? You okay?" Mandy followed her friend, concern and confusion etched on her face.
"No, I... I think... That was... No fucking way..." Willow shook her head in disbelief still drifting to the door while staring at the space where she had last seen shining blue eyes and long blond hair.
"Will? Willow?" She asked, stepping in front of the redhead.
Willow finally snapped out of her trance to tear her eyes away from Mandy, but she quickly returned to looking out the window.
"Oh fuck it. I'm sorry Mandy. I have to go."
Something in the way the redhead's face changed made the brunette take a step back.
So that's her resolve face full-on...
Before Mandy could say anything Willow had pushed past her and was out the door, running past the coffee shop window and down the street.