Author: MissKittys Ball O Yarn
Tara followed along behind Willow, down the trail towards their campsite. Ginny and Ellen were pretty far ahead of them by that time, and were virtually out of sight around the next bend.
The trail, itself, was pretty narrow, which made it impossible for all three of them to walk side by side together. Tara held Spencer's hand, and he trailed along behind her, and Willow had taken the lead. On either side of them the forest stretched into the distance, and the sound of the river could be heard.
Tara could hear other sounds as well; the nearly distant clanging of the pots and pans that dangled from Ginny and Ellen's backpacks had paired together with the sound of the Fall birds that had made their nests in the sparse part of the forest. Their footsteps broke brittle twigs, and they crunched orange leaves under their feet. All of those sounds were sounds of the forest, and reminded Tara of nature and how even the tiniest spec can be in harmony with it.
Where they were headed the foliage was more dense, but where they walked now, Tara could look out and see blue-gray sky through the branches of the thin trees that surrounded them. The rushing sound of the river was getting louder. From somewhere overhead a bird called out.
They approached the bend in the trail, and were more than half way around it before Tara was greeted by her worst nightmare.
A part of the mountainside had given way, at some point that season, to a ruddy-made cliff, and high up view of the river. The trail was still there and passable, and looked as sturdy as ever, it was just the unexpected view that made Tara feel queasy and her stomach ball into a knot of fear. She had to consciously keep herself from squeezing Spencer's hand too hard.
Tara looked down at her son, but he seemed fine, and more concerned with the fact that they'd slowed down than anything else. She was grateful that he didn't seem frightened, because there was no reason to be. There was plenty of distance between them and the edge of the cliff, It was just her own stupid irrational phobia, and she didn't want that to rub off onto Spencer.
Even though Tara knew that they were not in any real danger of falling off the mountainside she couldn't keep herself from freezing up. She looked toward Willow, who'd stopped walking and had started back toward them.
Willow had turned around and was making her way back to where Tara and Spencer were when she saw the look on Tara's face. She knew what was wrong. Tara was afraid of heights. In her mind she flashed back to that night on the balcony at her place. Tara had gotten sick. Willow knew she had to keep her expression light and her disposition cheery as she walked back toward them. She needed Tara to remain calm and she didn't want to scare Spencer. He was watching them intently as if for cues on how he should react to the unexpected situation.
Willow reached out and took Tara's hand, smiling reassuringly into the blonde's deep blue eyes. She wanted Tara to know that she wouldn't let anything happen to her or Spencer. Willow wasn't afraid of heights so that part was not a problem, she was more concerned about Tara and Spencer and making sure that they were safe above anything else.
Willow let go of Tara's hand and reached around to Spencer, leading him past Tara and settling him in between them on the trail. She reached out and briefly touched Tara's hand, to find that it was now trembling a fair amount. "It's okay, baby." Willow mouthed to the blonde, and Tara smiled shakily back at her.
"Ready?" Willow said assuredly. Tara nodded and the three of them began, once again, down the trail. Below them, the sound of the rushing river filled their ears. It crashed wetly against the side of the mountain.
When they cleared the bend the trail broadened significantly, and the high-up sounds of the water grew softer and further away, Tara stopped and kissed Willow fully on the mouth. She'd never been so scared in her life, and Willow had eased her fears and had taken the lead and had gotten her through it. Tara was overcome with emotion and gratefulness. She was filled with it. Over flowing with the warmth of the love she felt for Willow in that moment. Relief washed over her and the fear she'd felt rushed out of her, leaving an unsteady feeling in her legs.
"Are you okay?"
"I-I think so." Tara pulled back a little, resting her head on Willow's shoulder.
Spencer, who'd been silent while everything was going on, was, now eyeing them curiously. Tara reluctantly pulled out of Willow's arms. She could almost see Spencer's thought process, and she knew that it was time to sit down with him and have a talk about Willow and answer any of the questions he might have. And she knew it would have to be soon, because Tara knew her son and she knew that once he started thinking about something, he wasn't likely to let it go until he had it figured out, and she didn't want him forming the wrong impression before she could instill the right one.
Of course she wanted to talk with Willow first, too, and see what her thoughts were. Tara realized in that moment that she had some questions of her own about their relationship. She needed to know what they were to each other--she thought she knew, but she also knew she shouldn't assume anything either, after all they hadn't exactly carved anything in stone. They hadn't even said I love you, yet...
Tara started to say something, but was cut short by Ellen and Ginny heading back up the trail toward them. Ellen was behind Ginny, carrying Maddy, and at the same time, holding Tyler's hand.
"Where were you guys? we were beginning to wonder if you'd fallen off the face of the earth," Ginny said, tossing the branch she'd been using as a hiking stick into the bushes to the left of her.
"No, we're fine," Tara said. Her confidence had returned, and with it the color to her cheeks. "Just a little slow going around that bend back there," Tara said, sweeping her hair into a ponytail, and securing it with the hair-band she'd pulled from the pocket of her jeans.
"Yeah, I think we'll have to consider an alternate path on the way back," Ellen agreed. "I mean, Gin's all for that kind of adventure, but I'd rather live, thank you," Ellen said, setting Maddy on her feet.
The little girl pouted for a second or two, recovered amicably, and then went to join Spencer and Tyler in their inspection of an overturned log.
"Living is good," Willow agreed. She took Tara's hand and they smiled at each other.
"Uh huh," Tara said, swinging their arms a little.
"You all have no sense of adventure, you know that?" Ginny said good-naturedly.
When they got down to the campsite the group began setting up camp right away.
Ellen and Tara paired together to pack the food they'd brought along with them into a tree a safe distance from the actual campsite and far enough off the ground to be out of range of a hungry bears olfactory sense. Black bears were a common site in that particular wooded area and it was a well known fact that they could smell food from a great distance away. Securing the food into garbage bags and slinging the bags over a tree branch was the only way to make sure the bears didn't smell it.
Spencer helped Willow put together the tent that Ginny had dragged down from the SUV after a return trip to the car to get the last of the supplies that they'd left behind. Willow read the instructions aloud, and Spencer scoured the pile of disassembled tent pieces to find the right one.
When the tent was finally set together, the pair of them stood side-by-side with their heads tilted. It wasn't the finest work Willow had ever seen. The tent was crooked, yet, it didn't seem to bother either of them. They spent the next few minutes patting themselves on the back for a job well done, and then Spencer ran off to play with Tyler, and Willow retired to a log for a well earned rest.
Tara, who'd been watching Willow and Spencer hard at work over the crooked tent, motioned for Willow to come and join her. When she did, Tara handed her a mug of hot chocolate that they'd heated on the gas stove, and eased herself onto the ground in front of Willow, sliding her body in between Willow's jean-clad thighs.
The redhead began to play with Tara's hair, braiding it and unbraiding it as they listened to Ginny and Ellen regale them with stories from the "Ex-files"-- an exotic, and hilarious mix of mishaps, and marital woes from the ruins of past relationships.
The kids were, with the expectation of Maddy, who was asleep in Ginny's lap, playing a few yards away.
After dinner Willow volunteered to wash the dishes. Ginny volunteered along with her, so they both carried the pot and cooking utensils down to the river. On the way down, Ginny kept glancing over at Willow pensively, as if there was something she wanted to get off her chest.
"I'm having a really nice time," Willow offered, greasing the wheels of conversation. But the other woman didn't seem in the mood for idle chit-chat, and completely ignored Willow's attempt to break the ice.
This was the first one-on-one moment she'd had with Ginny and Willow worried that she was making the wrong impression. She wanted Ginny to like her, because she knew that Ginny was important to Tara, but Willow was starting to wonder if something was going on. The way Ginny kept looking at her without saying anything was creeping her out just a little. If normal chatting wasn't going to work then maybe she'd try a little humor. Perhaps, Ginny was a laughing sort of gal, Willow reasoned.
"So, you didn't bring me out here to tell me that you're in love with Tara did you?" Ginny looked struck, and Willow fought to keep a straight face. She normally wasn't this cheeky, but she couldn't see where else to go with it. She had to do something to relieve the tension that had sprouted between them.
"What?! NO." Ginny looked pleadingly around for escape but found none. "I mean. I love her. Yes. But in a purely friend-like platonic fashion..."Ginny was taken aback, when she realized that the smirk on Willow's face was a playful one. "I guess I can ask you the same question...Shall I play the Jeopardy music, or do you think you can field this one on your own?"
"Yes. I love her," Willow said without even a hint of hesitation. She wasn't joking now. She was shocked by the ease with which it slipped from her lips. "And seriously, I understand. You're a good friend to Tara, and you only want what's best for her." Willow looked across at the woman, "I just... it just felt like there was something you wanted to tell me... and you kept looking at me and not saying anything... so I thought, you know... accuse her of being in love with your girlfriend... that should break the ice." Willow laughed a little.
"Actually, there is something I want to talk to you about... Look. I... I worry about Tara sometimes; We've been through a lot together, over the years, and I just want to be sure that whoever she chooses isn't going to go all Ike Turner and hurt her more than she's already been hurt."
Ginny leaned against a stump by the edge of the river and Willow sat the pot down. She was going to give Tara's friend her full attention.
There was a silence which lasted for a few minutes, and then Ginny began to speak.
"She beat her once...she doesn't like to talk about it..." Ginny looked out across the river toward the forest of trees on the other side. "She made me promise that I'd forget about it... but there are just some things a person cant forget no matter how hard they try."
Willow felt like a fist had rammed into her stomach. She'd expected Ginny had something important to say, but she hadn't expected it would be something like that. All Willow's breath seemed to disappear, and she had to consciously keep herself from panting. She could tell that Ginny was watching her reaction closely.
"I didn't know that...," Willow said after she'd found her voice. Tara had never told her that Logan had done anything like that. And she hadn't suspected it either. Of course, she knew that Tara's ex was a jerk and that she didn't take proper care of Spencer, but she had no idea that Logan had ever been violent toward Tara.
Willow felt a flare of anger toward Logan when she thought about the kind of pain that must have caused Tara. Willow had never been hit by anyone so she couldn't claim to understand what that was like, but she knew she hated the thought of someone putting their hands on her Tara. Anger and something else--something more powerful--hit her like a fist in the stomach.
Along with that newfound anger, Willow felt the urge to run away from the impromptu conversation. She felt like a traitor; a sneak; with information Tara obviously hadn't been ready to share with her. She felt as if she'd invaded Tara's trust, and that feeling was the hardest to swallow. But Ginny was saying something else, and Willow had to stop her own inner diatribe for the moment so that she could hear what the other woman was saying over the loud rushing sound of her own blood.
"Look. If you hurt her, I'll take you out."
The statement had been just that; a statement. It wasn't a threat or anything personal against Willow, she could tell that that had not been Ginny's intent, so she took it with respect. Ginny hadn't said it with malice or with an attitude. She'd simply stated it with calm assurance. And Willow could tell that the other woman meant business.
Willow watched Ginny walk off, back toward camp.
When everyone one else had gone to bed Willow and Tara sat by themselves out side by the campfire. They both sat on the ground, Willow with her back against the log they'd fashioned into a bench and Tara between Willow's warm thighs with her back pressed against the redhead's chest. Willow's chin rested against the side of Tara's head, and Tara sighed snuggling backward into Willow's embrace.
They stared at the campfire, into the lapping flames that had only died down slightly since that evening. Willow had been trying hard to put what Ginny had divulged to her out of her mind without much success, and somehow everything that they'd talked about that evening while sitting alone beside the campfire had revolved around their pasts. Willow wondered if that wasn't because, subconsciously, she'd been trying to get Tara to tell her about Logan and about what Ginny had told her. Except that they seemed to be talking about everything else but that. The current subject was Spencer's sperm donor.
"What about Spencer's father? Do you ever wonder what he is like?"
"Sometimes..." Tara turned her head so that she could see Willow. "Sometimes he gets this look on his face that is so unequivocally his own, and I think to myself: I wonder if his biological father gets that same look...or how much like him Spencer really is." Tara stared into the fire while absently picking imaginary fuzzies from the sleeve of Willow's sweatshirt.
"How did you choose? I mean, what was the process like?" Willow was curious, she wondered what a choice like that must have been like for Tara.
"Well... Logan and I had talked about it," she explained "and we had decided that we wanted to chose someone with Logan's basic characteristics," Tara paused, "but we couldn't find lazy, selfish and narrow-minded on the list, so we went with a tall music lover instead," Tara said playfully. She liked that she could joke about it now. She felt safe with Willow and it was easy to be herself around the redhead.
"Willow...," she said, turning in Willow's arms to face the other woman. The firelight cast Willow's red hair in orange light and made it look like tamed flames. Tara wanted to reach up and run her fingers through it, but there were things she had to say first.
"I think it's time I told Spencer about us," Tara was serious now. Sitting down with her son and telling him that she planned to have a relationship with this other woman that had come into their lives only a few months ago was a big step. She wanted to know that Willow was as serious about her as she was about Willow.
Willow sat up a little straighter "That's great. I mean... that's great if that's what you want...it is what you want... right?" Suddenly Willow wasn't sure what Tara was actually saying.
Tara nodded. "It is what I want. I just..." She kept her expression hooded; she was feeling very vulnerable at that moment and a tiny, infinitesimal part of her was assuming a crash position-- preparing for rejection. "I just want to know that it's what you want, too." She dropped her eyes. "I-I don't want you to feel like I'm rushing you into anything you're not ready for...I-I would never want that."
Willow interrupted. "Tara...I don't feel rushed." She brushed her fingers along Tara's cheek. It was warm because of the campfire. "Tare... I'm not sure I'm following you," she said gently. She didn't want there to be any mistake about what Tara was really saying.
Tara swallowed the lump in her throat. "I-I guess what I'm trying to say is...How do you feel about me?"
Willow threaded her fingers through Tara's, and brought their joined hands up to her lips. She kissed the back of Tara's hand and looked into her clear blue eyes. "Tara, before you I was with a lot of women.. I was with a lot of women and none of them ever came close to mattering to me the way you do." Now it was Willow who was searching for the right words, but all she really needed to do was look into Tara's eyes. "I'm completely and hopelessly and utterly, and all those other words that end in "ly" in love with you." It was so easy to say, and all that worrying she'd done about those three little words evaporated when she saw the look on Tara's face.
Tara felt tears sting the back of her eyes and she felt like laughing and crying all at the same time. "That's good. It's good because I love you, too," she whispered softly, and in one fluid motion she brought her lips to meet Willow's.
Willow opened her sleeping bag and Tara climbed in. The stars were bright that night and shone down on them, twinkling secret messages from the cosmos which danced onto the paleness of their exposed skin. Out there the sky was clearer than Willow had ever seen it before, and it was almost like she was really seeing it for the very first time. And perhaps she was.
The faint smell of smoke still lingered in the air from the doused campfire and the tang of it permeated the air inside their tent where the two women lay together.
For all its clearness, the air was more crisp at this altitude than it was in the city, and Willow felt the bite of it on the skin of her nose and ears. But the air was clean and she could breathe better out there than she had ever breathed under the fog of the city. An owl hooted somewhere in the trees, but she couldn't pinpoint from which direction it had come.
"You were great today, by the way," Tara said, stifling a yawn. It had really warmed her the way Willow had taken charge and made her feel safe that afternoon.
"It was nothing..."
"No...it was... it was something. You didn't have to do what you did."
"I didn't--" Willow had been about to say that she hadn't done anything she didn't want to do, but Tara, sensing her meaning, cut her off before she could get the words out.
"I know. Thank you." Tara said warmly. The feeling she felt looking at Willow in the dark was beyond anything she could fit into a neat little package of words, and she didn't even try.
"I love the stars... did I tell you that before?" Willow changed the subject. And Tara moved closer into Willow's slim body.
"N-no.." Tara nestled her head against Willow's shoulder. Grateful for the closeness of this woman. It had been so long since she'd felt that with anyone...if ever.
"They make me feel so small...I don't know if that makes sense..." Willow let her gaze stay on the stars in the sky above them. "Here..." Willow pressed in close to Tara so that their heads were together and they could both easily see the night sky through the hatch at the top of the tent. She felt Tara's hand slip into her hand, their palms touching sent a warm tingling sensation throughout Willow's body. Willow lifted Tara's hand and together they traced the outline of the Big Dipper, ending at Polaris at the very edge of the constellation.
"The north star..." Tara whispered against Willow's ear, barely suppressing an urge to place her lips on that same delicate part of Willow's anatomy. "And, it does...m-make sense...what you said before about the stars making you feel little. I get that." "You know, when I was little me and my brother used to lay out on the grass in the field behind our house and try to count the stars. We never got past one thousand though...we used to make up funny names for the constellations, too, b-because the real names were always so hard to remember." Tara's voice drifted into silence.
Willow turned in the darkness to look at Tara, their eyes and lips centimeters apart. "Thank you for asking me to come camping with you and your friends, Tara," she whispered suddenly, turning more fully onto her side so that she was face to face with the other woman.
"Actually it was Ginny that suggested it...At first I-I didn't think you would be into it." Tara confessed, snuggling closer into Willow's body.
"Well, you have to admit, sleeping outside in a tent, under the stars is a far cry from a cozy high-rise apartment building. I-I just thought you wouldn't be comfortable...with the nature part of all this. I-I didn't want to push you into anything and--and make you f-feel uncomfortable or something."
"I've never been camping before, Tara." Willow now would be a good time to confess the obvious.
"Really? By the way you got the tent up this afternoon, I would never have guessed."
"Well I had good help." Willow smiled when she remembered how Spencer had stuck by her side that afternoon
"So, you've never been camping before. That makes you a virgin," Tara teased.
"Yep." Willow grinned. "You're my first." Willow nudged Tara affectionately. "Am I your first...?" Willow said half-seriously, taking the opportunity to steal a small kiss from Tara's silky soft lips.
"Hardly. I've done it with a few people." Tara groaned. "Oh...that sounded so wrong."
"Well, you're my first...and I like it that way." Willow brought Tara's fingers up to her lips and brushed her lips across Tara's knuckles. Tara's fingers were cold. "Hmm... your hands are cold." Willow nuzzled the blonde's fingers against her cheek.
"You could warm them for me..." Tara said quietly, not daring to say more than that. Her heart was in her stomach and she could feel all her senses tingling as if on the end of electrical wires just underneath her skin.
"Anything..." Willow placed Tara's hand against her heart and covered it with her other hand. She could feel her heart pounding just under Tara's soft palm and a feeling she'd never felt before flooded her and made her want to cry. She loved Tara so much and the realness of that knowledge tightened her insides and took her breath away. But Tara was drifting, and at any moment she'd be a sleep, so Willow remained quiet, not wanting to disturb such a beautiful moment.
"Mmmm... I can feel your heart beating...," Tara said sleepily. She yawned, unable to keep her eyes open a minute longer. She hadn't meant to be sleepy, but it had been a long day and Willow's shoulder was oh so comfortable. It was nice to be close to someone again--not just anyone...it was nice to be close to Willow, snuggled against the redhead's body. That was what made that moment perfect. Tara felt a contented sigh escape her lips but didn't put too much thought into it other than noting that the sound had come from her.
Willow didn't answer, she was simply content to feel Tara's fingers flexing against her chest while her body drown in the depth of the love that she felt for Tara and her heart beat a steady rhythm just below the surface.
She wanted to bring up what Ginny had told her that afternoon, but she didn't. She wanted Tara to tell her herself whenever she felt safe enough to do so.
Even when she felt Tara's breathing deepen, and the blonde slip off to sleep Willow laid awake watching the starts. This was the most perfect moment she'd ever experienced.
The next day Willow found herself out of the edge of a fast moving river with Spencer geared up at her side, dressed in old jeans, black rubber boots and a worn blue sweatshirt that looked as if it had seen better days. Most of his left sleeve was wet and in his hand was the new fishing pole they'd bought him on the way out there.
He'd spared no time in teaching Willow how to bait a hook and where to cast it so that it didn't snag on an of the large rocks all around them. For being such a small kid, Willow could tell that he'd had a lot of experience with the sport.
"What is your middle name?" Spencer said after a while of silence.
"What's your middle name?" Willow returned playfully.
"Uh-uh. I asked you first."
"I asked you second," she retorted, unsuccessfully casting her line into the moving water. The line snagged on a rock a few feet from her, pulling her line taunt and causing a wrinkle of frustration on her brow.
"Okay. I'll tell you mine and then you tell me yours," Spencer said, eyeing Willow thoughtfully.
Spencer took the fishing pole from her and cast the line smoothly into the body of the river. He made it look effortless. And then he handed the pole back to her and Willow thought he seemed a lot older in that moment than she'd ever seen him look before.
"Spencer Gavin Maclay. Mommy named me that. Well, actually mommy named me Spencer, and Lee-Lee named me Gavin after her brother that died when he was little," he said matter-of-factly.
He didn't looked up from the hook he was baiting. And Willow quietly wondered what had prompted him to ask about her middle name.
"Your turn." Spencer said, looking at her for the first time in what seemed like a long time.
"Danielle. Willow Danielle Rosenberg."
"That's a pretty name."
"Did your Mommy name you that?"
"Nope. My dad did. I was named after my father's grandmother. My great great-grandmother. She passed away when I was very little," Willow explained, and found that her voice had naturally taken on the same tone her mother used to use with her when explaining something.
"Did you ever meet her?"
"I think I did. Once, when I was a baby. But I was too little to remember very much about her." Willow's eyes tracked the twitching fishing line as it moved with the current.
"Did your daddy ever take you camping?"
"Lee-Lee used to take me camping all the time...but not anymore." Spencer looked out across the river and then back to Willow. "I like camping with you more."
Willow watched a pensive expression darken the little boy's angelic features, and new instinctually that they little boy was hurting over the loss of his other parent, and was trying with all the might of a child to understand the grown-ups around him. Willow felt sadness for this little man and the upheaval he'd experienced in his short life... she wished she could do something to ease that hurt for him-- say something ingenious and insightful that would take all the uncertainty he was feeling away... but there were no magic words, so she looked out across the rippling water-- which sparkled in the early morning sunlight. "You do?"
"Uhhuh." Spencer stepped with all the carefulness a six-year-old could muster to a rock near the one he'd been standing on and tugged on his line slightly. " 'cos you like to do fun things. And being with you never makes me feel sad."
Willow smiled and looked out at the rippling water. They were sharing a moment together and Willow could feel it was significant. And then Spencer turned to her suddenly with a questioning look in his eyes. The sun had come out and warmed the top of their heads.
"Are you going to marry my mommy?"
Startled by the unexpectedness of Spencer's question, Willow lost her footing, and with an unceremonious plop, fell into the water. She yelped when she hit the freezing cold water.
"Didn't anyone ever tell you that it's not a good idea to go swimming in the river in the middle of Autumn...?" Tara towel-dried Willow's hair, her half-amused expression, she hoped, concealed the sharp pinprick of worry that was still in her chest from when she'd first heard the scream coming from the river.
"I slipped," Willow admitted, her voice squeaking from underneath the towel.
"Yes, I can see that, sweetie." Tara wrapped the towel around Willow's shoulders, and rummaged through the redhead's duffle bag for a dry pair of jeans and a warm sweatshirt. Willow looked very much like a drowned rat--a cute drowned rat, and in spite of residual worry, Tara had to smile.
"Off with this," Tara said, adopting a motherly tone. She grasped the edge of Willow's wet sweatshirt and began to pull upward, as if it was no big deal, as if she was a nurse and all this was a part of her job.
"You're dressing me, now?" Willow said with a raised brow. She was amused and surprised by Tara's casual attitude in regard to her impending nakedness. Sure they had admitted their mutual love but this was nakedness, and neither of them had seen the other unclothed yet.
"S-sorry... I didn't think..."
"No... I don't mind. I like when you take care of me." Willow smiled warmly, catching Tara's retreating hand and bringing it back to her body. "It's not every day a woman gets pampered like a six-year-old." She lifted her arms so that Tara could slip the shirt up and over her head.
"Believe me... this isn't the same," Tara said.
The sight of Willow's partially naked upper body, warmed her. Willow wasn't wearing a bra, just a camisole underneath -- a camisole which was, for the most part, practically dry. No need to remove that, Tara thought to herself with a flash of disappointment. She would have been lying if she'd told herself that the thought of seeing Willow's breasts without clothing wasn't the most attractive thing in her world at that moment. Willow must have been feeling the same way, because she looked down at her undershirt with crinkled brow, and then back up at Tara, almost apologetically.
"Hmm... dry," Willow said, pouting cutely.
Their eyes met, and Tara's fingers paused at the hem of Willow's pinkish purple undershirt.