Return to You Make Me Smile Chapter Nine

You Make Me Smile

Author: MissKittys Ball O Yarn
Rating: NC-17
Feedback: Please let me know what you think... cause I love feedback. I hope you enjoy. Please leave feedback on the You Make Me Smile thread on the Kitten Board.
Disclaimer: Joss owns it all. Except my brain... well, probably that too.
Note: Thanks to Starcomed for her heroic efforts in beta'ing this fic for me. And for the fact that all the brackets she has to lug around must weigh a ton... You're a peach, sweetie.

As Tara poured her first cup of coffee that morning, her emotions volleyed between astonishment and a tinge of muted animosity. She leaned against the kitchen counter and stirred a teaspoon of sugar into the hot brew. She didn't know why Willow would have done such a crazy thing as buying her a car. She muttered something incoherent under her breath as she brought the rim of the mug to her lips and took a sip.

Light sounds of the AM Talk Radio program droned on monotonously from the tiny radio in Tara's small kitchen, as she continued to sip at her coffee. Her mind was working overtime and she couldn't help but continue with the diatribe in her head. It was her way of piecing things together...of making the puzzle fit.

She thought she'd made it clear last night that she would really rather figure the situation with her van out on her own, and was a little saddened that Willow hadn't respected that; not to mention the fact that she'd assumed Tara would even accept such a gift.

Tara didn't need Willow to take care of her; she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself and Spencer. She'd proven that a long time ago when she'd taken their child and walked out on Logan. The last thing she needed was for someone to walk into her life and start making decisions for her. She'd had enough of that with her ex and she would not do that again. No matter how much she liked Willow, she couldn't do that again.

Spencer came into the kitchen just as Tara was pouring the last of her coffee into the kitchen sink. She ran water from the tap, mixing the dark brown color from the grey metal basin. She didn't have a stomach for coffee this morning, her tummy felt all bleh-y.

She switched the radio off and looked at Spencer. He looked pensive and worried. Tara instantly softened the look on her face, not wanting to upset him with her coarse mood. Something about his expression told her that he had already sensed her feelings and was on the brink of being upset himself. Tara mentally hugged her sensitive child.

"What's wrong, Mommy?"

"Nothing, little man. Are you ready to go?" Tara tried to sound happy, but she was too focused on figuring out what she'd say to Willow to put too much heart into it.

"Do we have to give it back?"

Spencer must have picked up on Tara's thoughts. She knew he was referring to the BMW sitting ominously in their driveway. "Yes, I'm afraid so." Tara knelt down so that she was eye-level with her son. She could tell he didn't understand what was happening or why they had to take the car back, but she didn't have the words to explain it to him at that moment. Instead, she kissed him on the forehead and stood up.

"But Willow gave it to us...when someone gives you something, you shouldn't give it back..."

He was half-whining, trailing behind Tara as she made her way to the front door. Spencer's nose crinkled as he tried to understand her decision.

Tara was a little surprised that he was so adamant about keeping the car, he'd never expressed opposition with as much passion as he was now. It made Tara pause and regard him with a curious look. She could tell his argument went beyond simply wanting to keep the car.

Spencer had planted his shoe-clad feet into the middle of the living room carpet, his legs squared and his jaw set.

"I don't want to take it back!"

Tara stood open-mouthed, not knowing what to do. She'd never witnessed Spencer act the way he was acting, not even as a baby. But as Tara watched her son, she saw him transform from simply adamant to full-out tantrum mode.

"I don't want to!" Spencer repeated loudly, his brows drawing downward. He started to cry. He threw himself to the floor and began kicking his legs vehemently. Tears were running down his cheeks, mixing with the snot that had dripped down onto his lips. His face was red and he was screaming.

Tara, finally finding her feet, went to Spencer and knelt down beside him. He was so caught up in being out of control that he didn't react to her. "Oh honey,..." she said, as she put her hand out and grasped his arm gently. He pried her fingers off and rolled away from her, onto his stomach. He'd stopped crying but he was breathing heavily now, and sniffing.

"I want my Lee-Lee..." He said solemnly, but wouldn't look at Tara.

She held the cordless phone in her shaking hands as she dialed Logan's cell phone number. The voice mail kicked on and Tara stood there silent, unable to make any words come out. She hung up without leaving a message. When she returned to the living room, she found Spencer huddled on the couch, his face buried in the tan cushions.

"I'm sorry, Mommy..." He whispered as she sat down next to him.

He still wouldn't look at her. "Come here, little man," she said softly, holding her arms out for Spencer. He covered his eyes with the palms of his hands, but moved into Tara's lap, burying his face in the front of her shirt.

"Why don't you want me to take the car back, sweetie?" Tara asked, after a few minutes of silence. Spencer was still cuddled against her chest, but he'd calmed down significantly and was breathing evenly now. For a minute he didn't answer her, and then she heard him sigh.

"Because if we give it back, maybe Willow wont want to be our friend anymore..." Spencer looked up at Tara for the first time since his outburst that morning. His eyes were a clear blue. Tara realized for the first time that perhaps he'd already begun to become attached to Willow, and would miss her being around if she took offence to Tara‘s rejection of the car.

"Oh sweetie..." She kissed the top of his head. "We can't control how other people feel, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't do the right thing." Tara hesitated before continuing... "I'm sure Willow will still want to be our friend, even if we take the car back." She knew it was wrong to say that to Spencer, but the need to reassure him was stronger than her good sense at that moment.

Hadn't Tara been secretly questioning that herself, all morning? Hadn't she wondered the very same thing? But now, after seeing her own inner drama reflected outwardly in Spencer's tantrum, she had to laugh at herself. Willow was a grown-up she would understand that Tara couldn‘t keep the car.

That realization paved the way for deeper questions to enter her mind, and her heart.

It was obvious that Spencer had latched onto Willow as a friend...and hadn't she herself latched onto Willow as well? Not only as a friend, but as something more...? And wasn't that the real reason that made Willow's seemingly disregard of her words even more disheartening? Tara was beginning to realize just how much she wanted everything to work out with Willow...How much she wanted to find a place for Willow in her life. But she would have to talk to her - explain how she felt, and what she needed.

It was so clear to her then what a mistake she'd made with Logan from the very beginning of their relationship. She'd let the other woman control her for so long...and from Spencer's outburst this morning it became all the more clear the importance of her decisions in the future regarding everything; regarding her son, and even her own heart. She knew if Willow was truly who she wanted in her life - in her son‘s life, then there was no other choice for her but to be completely honest with Willow.

She just wished she knew for sure how Willow felt. The redhead had told her last night that she liked her, and Tara had thought at the time that they were in the same place emotionally, but the car this morning had thrown a giant wrench into that theory. She no longer thought she knew how Willow felt at all. How do you buy someone you just met a car?

Tara was still holding both Spencer and the telephone when it rang, startling her. She looked on the caller Id and saw that it was Logan. She had to admit she was a little surprised that Logan was calling back. Instead of answering the phone herself, Tara pushed talk and handed it directly to her son.

"I miss you, Lee-Lee" Tara heard Spencer say, and by the words that followed, Tara assumed Logan had returned the sentiment. After a few minutes Spencer held the phone out to Tara, and she took it. She didn't feel like talking to Logan at that moment, but she would for Spencer's sake.

Within an hour, Spencer was on his way out the door with the other woman leading the way. The plan was that he would spend the night with Logan and that she would bring him back in the morning. But Tara was weary, and too familiar with Logan not to be skeptical of her promises. She knew how much she could rely on Logan to keep her word - not at all.

Still she felt compelled to give the other woman the benefit of the doubt where her son was concerned. Tara kept hoping that Logan would get her priorities straight and see how much Spencer needed her to be in his life. Calling back, and showing up was a step in the right direction, she thought to herself as she watched them pull away from the curb.

Willow watched Kirkland Jr. on the screen of the security monitor in her office, her stomach turning at the mere sight of him and his cocky holier-than-thou strut. She had the sudden urge to lock her office door and pretend to have stepped out, in the hope that he would go away. Maybe if he went away she could call his office later and leave a message with his secretary, then she wouldn't have to come into contact with him at all.

Willow was mentally composing the message she'd leave with his secretary even as she heard a knock at her office door. Not waiting for a response, Phyllis peaked her head in through the crack in the door.

"That awful man is here, Miss Rosenberg. Do you want me to hit him over the head with my handbag?"

Phyllis was speaking in a loud whisper, which made Willow smile. "No...that won't be necessary. Tempting...but not necessary."

"Okay then deary, but if you change your mind, I have some rolled up pennies in the bottom of my purse that can really crack a good one." Phyllis made a conservative swinging gesture with her arm. "When you're as old as I am you can't take any chances."

"I'll keep that in mind..." Willow grinned. Phyllis had a way of making serious situations seem lighter.

"If that's everything I'm going to take my lunch break downstairs. You want I should leave my purse with Anya, just in case?"

"No really...I'll be fine."

Phyllis nodded her retreat, and moments later an oily Kirkland Jr. slinked through the front entry way, and into the third floor lobby. Willow could see him on the security camera as he made his way toward her office. She tried to control the impulse to look for a slime trail wetting the floor behind him.

Willow didn't dislike many people in the world, but she could say without a shadow of a doubt she was coming in firmly against any fuzzy feelings toward Kirkland Jr. He was too pushy and used to getting his way, which made his pushiness even worse. And he was always coming onto Willow, even though she'd never shown the slightest interest in him. In fact she loathed him - had always loathed him, and suspected she always would. If it wasn't for the contract with his father's company she wouldn't even be meeting with him at all.

And although she disliked his son, Willow had great respect for Kirkland Sr, who'd started his company from a few printed tee-shirts. He'd built his wealth from the ground up...and Willow had always admired that tenacity for business. Their meeting at Le Martinique a few weeks ago was the first opportunity she'd had to meet the man. She liked him, he'd seemed to take a real interest in the suggestions and comments Willow had made, and his offer had been more than generous. She would feel really bad if she couldn't deliver on her promises.

Before meeting Tara, Willow thought it would be easy to go out and find another artist to contract for a one deal opportunity. There was a lot of money to be made; but then she'd met Tara and all her initiative and plans had flown out the window. She was so caught up in the new and wonderful feelings she was having for the blonde that her work had suffered tremendously. She hadn't even gone out to do another search for an artist...nor had she delegated the responsibility to anyone else either, which had been very irresponsible of her.

Now she was going to be forced to either fess up to her lack of substantial effort, or lie and buy herself a few more weeks to come up with somebody. She didn't really care what Kirkland Jr. thought of her, but if Kirkland Sr. thought badly of her, her reputation as one of the up-and-coming best in her field would be tarnished; possibly beyond repair. And it was her drive to be the best that had gotten her this far...if she didn't have that, what did she have?

The meeting with Kirkland Jr. only lasted a few minutes but to Willow, it seemed to drag on endlessly. She'd been able to buy herself a little more time without too much fibbing, but it turned her stomach to think that she might have, in a round-about way, used the fact that he liked her as ammo to get an extension. She didn't really believe that she had, but anything that wasn't throwing him out the door by his Armani suit, felt like dishonesty on her part.

With this morning's crisis behind her, Spencer with Logan, and the rest of her afternoon free, Tara had decided to go to Willow's office and return the car. There was no need to postpone the inevitable just because she was afraid of the reaction she'd get from Willow. She wasn't about to lie to herself and say she wasn't nervous, but her need to remain as honest with Willow as possible overruled the nagging fears in the back of her mind. She'd calmed down since this morning and could now see that Willow had only been trying to help when she'd sent the car to Tara's house. The longer she thought about it, the sweeter the gesture seemed to become.

Tara made her way down the carpeted hallway toward Willow's office. She hoped she wasn't interrupting anything by showing up unannounced...

Willow's back was to the security monitor as she worked on the project at hand. She currently sat, pulling up file after file on the art program's file directory in hopes that there was something she'd missed the first time around; something she hadn't already proposed to the Kirkland group - she was desperate for something she could use. It was a long shot, but she knew she needed to do something so she could start feeling like she was being productive in her working life again. Even as she searched through the files, her thoughts turned to Tara. She was a bit anxious about sending Tara the car; she hoped she hadn't overstepped her bounds.

She'd lain awake most of the night, imagining disastrous situations in which Tara's sole survival would depend on having a car or not. She'd tossed and turned, trying to think of something she could do to help out. She knew Tara wouldn't accept it if she bought a car for her, so that had been out of the question; but a rental was different. A rental said: I care about you. And Willow did care about Tara; she cared about her a whole lot.

Willow was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn't hear the office door open, or hear Tara come in. In fact, she hadn't known anyone was in the office with her until she heard Tara's voice behind her. Willow half thought that she'd fallen asleep at the computer and was just dreaming that Tara was there - but the rational half knew that it was the real Tara that was there.

"Hi" Tara said, coming into the office.

"Tara...?" Willow turned around, and felt an excited rushing in her to see the blonde standing, framed crookedly in the doorway. Against the florescent lighting of the outer lobby, Tara looked absolutely glowing.

"There was no one at the front desk, so I just came up...I hope that's okay?"

"Of course, it's okay. I was just thinking about you." Willow felt a warm rush at the sight of the blonde.

Tara thought it felt good just looking at the redhead again. "You were?"

Willow nodded. "Did you get the car I sent over this morning...?"

"Actually that's why I'm here." Tara took a breath; preparing the speech she had practiced the whole drive over there. However, the actual sight of Willow was making her question her own ability to speak, and the surety she'd felt about her decision to return the car began to waver.

Willow waited nervously for Tara to continue. She could tell Tara had come there to say something in particular, and she hoped she hadn't made the wrong move in sending the rental to Tara's house...

"Willow..." Tara came fully into the room, closing the door behind her. Willow had left the computer chair to meet her in the center of the room. "I really appreciate the thought behind the car...I do. It was very sweet of you to buy it...but it must have been very expensive and I just can't accept it. I don't want you to feel like I expect things like that from you...because I don't." Tara let her eyes pan across Willow's impish nose and lightly freckled cheeks.

"I don't think that Tara..." Willow started to say that she didn't think that and that's why she'd gone with the rental, but she could tell Tara wasn't finished. She reached for Tara's hand, the blonde took it and squeezed lightly and then let go.

"I was actually a little angry this morning..." Tara admitted. She felt like she needed to say everything. "I felt like you dismissed what I had said last night about being able to take care of things myself..." Tara looked down at her hands, "I know I don't have as much money as you do...but that doesn't mean I'm incapable of caring for myself and my son...." Tara felt tears, but pushed them back. She had meant to be honest with Willow, but not that honest. She hadn't meant to cry, but the sudden emotion flooded her, lodging in her throat.

Willow could tell that Tara was very upset and that she had sent Tara the wrong message with the car "Oh no...Tara, I didn't...I mean not that I wouldn't..." Willow stumbled over her words, suddenly realizing why Tara was upset and wanted to make it better. She mentally kicked herself for not having sent a card along with the car. What had she really expected Tara to think? Now Tara was going to cry and it was all her fault.

"But you didn't..." Tara said slowly, understanding and relief mixing together inside her. Tara found it a little funny that she would be so relieved that someone she liked hadn't bought her an expensive car. And then Tara felt silly for having jumped to such a far out conclusion. She'd been upset earlier because she'd thought Willow had assumed things and now she realized that she had done the same thing. She swallowed the lump in her throat and the tears stinging her eyes subsided.

"Nope. It‘s a rental. I didn‘t think you would accept any more than that...but I wanted to do something." Willow paused. "I never meant to hurt you, Tara." Willow brushed a strand of hair from Tara's face. The thought that she'd done something to make Tara upset caused her insides to squeeze and her heartbeat to hurt inside her chest. "I never meant to make you feel like I thought you were incapable of taking care of yourself...I'm so sorry, Tara."

"It was a very kind gesture, Willow...but..." she paused, searching for the right words. Tara really needed Willow to understand that she didn't expect her to do things like that. She needed her to know that she liked her, not because of the money she had, but because of the person she was. Tara didn't need to drive around a fancy car in order to remember any of that. But how could she say all that to Willow?

"It was too much?" Willow finished, knowingly. She smiled a little, hoping Tara would do the same. She did, and Willow's heart melted into a puddle onto the floor.

"Just a little..."

"If you don't have to rush off right could stay...if you wanted...That is, if you‘ve forgiven me, and don‘t feel the urge to pummel me atop my head."

"No pummeling," Tara promised. "I'd love to stay, if I wont be keeping you from anything important."

All thoughts of work fled Willow's mind. She could think of nothing more important than spending time with Tara.

They sat close together on the leather couch in Willow's office, pouring over the brochures that would form Willow's trip to Japan. Buffy had sent them along with her when she'd refused to make a decision about anything.

Tara had been there the whole day, and after calling Spencer to make sure he was okay, they'd sat down to a dinner of Chinese takeout. Because she never ordered take-out, Tara didn't know that they would bring it up three floors and right to the office. But Willow had taken care of everything and soon they were eating egg rolls and pouring over glossy 3x7s of everything in Japan - from water gardens to boat tours.

"I like this one..." Tara pointed to a simple yet elegant looking hotel, surrounded by gardens and pink blossoming flowers. She thought the landscape was beautiful, but not as beautiful as Willow looked with the setting sun hitting the side of her face from the large picture window in the office.

"Yeah...but it doesn't have as much style as The Windmill." Willow laughed at the inside joke, and smiled when Tara looked at her curiously. "It's a joke...'cos The Windmill at the local miniature golf course is the one I chose this morning...I was a little preoccupied during the meeting with my travel agent," she explained.

"Preoccupied?" Tara lifted a brow at the redhead and was greeted with a grin, but Willow wouldn't elaborate.

"Listen, I feel really bad about making you all with the angry...earlier." Willow brought Tara's hand to her lips. "Let me make it up to you," she said demurely.

"Okay..." Tara beamed. She wasn't upset with Willow...but if the woman wanted to make amends she wasn't going to turn her down. "But no more cars," Tara warned. "I don't want to wake up tomorrow with an RV parked in my driveway..."

"I promise. No more cars...or RVs." Willow thought for a moment. "I know what I'll do." She brightened and turned her body so that she was all the way facing Tara on the couch. They were both cross-legged and their knees touched, lighting sparks along Willow's thighs. "You and Spencer could come to my place...I'll cook you dinner and after, we could watch a movie or something..."

Tara lifted a brow at the woman playfully; there was something about Willow that didn't lend credibility to her cooking prowess. But the idea of being at Willow's apartment amidst her smell and belongings was an opportunity she was not going to let slip by, just because she didn't think Willow knew the first thing about cooking. It wasn't the meal that was important anyway; it was simply being with Willow that made her heart beat faster. "That sounds perfect." It really did sound perfect, perhaps too perfect.

"Good then, we're all set. Tell Spencer that I said he can chose any movie he wants, uh...if that's alright with you," Willow added, acknowledging that of course Tara would have the final say.

"Of course it‘s alright." Tara was overcome with emotion that Willow continued to include Spencer in their plans. She knew the redhead could have easily wanted it to be just them...but her understanding that Spencer was a part of Tara was heart-warming. "You know...Spencer thought you weren't going to want to be our friend anymore if I brought the car back," Tara confided, leaning in closer to Willow.

Willow was quiet for a minute. "What about you...? Did you think that too?" She could feel Tara's warmth surrounding her as they subconsciously moved toward each other.

"Sort of...for a minute. But then I realized...." Tara's voice trailed off. The way Willow was looking at her made her knees go weak, and if she hadn't been already sitting, she might have had to lean against something for support.

"What?" Willow's lips were aching to close the distance separating her mouth from Tara's.

"I realized that you're not like that..." Tara said, breathily, finding her words again. She knew they were going to kiss and the anticipation was almost unbearable.

Willow blushed. "Officially..." She leaned in closer to Tara, breathing in the rich scent that was becoming so familiar to her. "It's going to take a lot more than a bruised ego to keep me away." Her lips were almost touching Tara's. "That is...if you'll have me."

Tara answered with a kiss, bringing her lips the rest of the way to meet Willow's.

Continue to You Make Me Smile Chapter Eleven

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