Stocking Stuffers
Love Comes to Long Lick

Author: Jes Skep It
Feedback: Shorley. Kyindly be leavin' yer feedback on th' Stocking Stuffers thread on that thar Kitten Board.
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: Well, I don't own no Willow nor Tara nor the Buffyverse in general nor Emms either none. And I ain't likely to start neither. One thing I do have and a whole bunch of 'em is these words. They're mine.
Distribution: Chris and Susan are more'n welcome. Everybody else might ought to ask me 'bout it.
Notes: Howdy and thanks to the whole durn RKT team. Thanks to Diane for all the help thinkin' this thing through and advice on apostrophes. Thanks to Rachel always. Happy Holidays to everyone.

Well, Tara give me this blank journal that she said I might want to write down my thoughts or feelings or just little notes to myself. It's really sweet of her cause I tole her how Pops and I always exchanged our presents a little before and we followed a different calendar that he had laid out for the next hundred years. We lit some candles and said some prayers thankin' G-d for his efforts on our lives and then exchanged gifts. Tara said I should keep that tradition and she give me this journal and I'll give her a present in a few days. I hope she likes it. I don't have much to give her but I swear everything I do, it's all hers. I wanted to buy her a fancy saddle like she wanted but it's more money than I could save in the last few months. I hope she ain't too disappointed on that.

I guess though, that if I'm going to write down my thoughts, they gotta start with my thoughts on Tara. Cause she's pretty much what I think about most of the time. Ever since that first day I seen her.

Well, the town's growin' for sure and not a month blows by that we don't have some new family come through, usually stirring up some dust behind their wagon and stopping at the general store for a while before headin' on. Some'um we see not too much later and they stop in to tell me where their place is. I got a big map on the wall and a bunch of little flags that I whittled a thin piece of stick and stuck on a piece of paper with their names. No one's askin' me but I expect there's nearly a hundred families bout here. O'course sometimes the newcomers isn't families but a single man and they stop in at the saloon before the general store. Xander sees me shakin' my head at 'em and says they spend money in the town just the same.

"That money goes inta Anya's pocket and I don't want to know bout what else goes where, Xander," I tole him last time he said something about it. He just took his boots off the desk, slapped his hat back on his head and headed out the door and across the way whistling to hisself.

Still, with all a these newfolks, I coulda spotted the new school teacher right off. She got off the Wednesday coach lookin' all prim and proper with her satchel and some books tied with a string and was met by Mayor Wilkins. He's been all hot to get the school opened up proper now's the boys all raised it and figures we might get some notice about Sunnydale with schoolin'. He says any town that can boast a bank and school through 6th grade is goin be something to notice. So she stepped off the coach and set down her bag on the planks, lookin' around and he's right there to try and shake her hand. She gave one of these curtsies like I'm reading about and he kind of blinked but then bowed to her and picked up her bag.

Now I don't want to give you the impression that I was watchin' them but it didn't take no fancy city folk to figure out how that conversation went. First he was talking fast like he does and waving his hand at the store and over here and the Saloon and down the street toward the school house building. Then she started asking something and he patted her shoulder and pointed toward the Saloon again and he started talking really fast.

Well, I had to get back to my chair pretty durn quick when she turned and started walkin' this way, him hot on her heels and his mouth runnin' faster'n his feet. I had my nose buried in King Lear, cause I gotta send it along tomorrow morning when Parker comes through and they didn't seem to think I been watchin' 'em. "Now Mrs. Maclay," the Mayor's sayin' as they come in the door, "I can promise you it's a very respectable establishment."

Well her face was all flushed and I don't know if that's from the heat or the wind or from her bein' upset at him about the suggestion. "Mr. Wilkins." She set her books on a nearby shelf and put her hands on her hips. "I have been on a train for many days and I have in my hand," she pulled an envelope from one of the books and with a flourish unfurled a letter. I don't doubt it looks familiar seeins I wrote it for him not a month ago, what with he can't write more'n his name. "Dear Mrs. Maclay, We are so very happy to receive word of your interest in the teaching position in our town. You will find this a thriving town with..." she looked up at him and tapped the paper, "a store, post office, telegraph office, church, bank, part-time doctor, blacksmith, and two roominghouses." She folded the letter and stuck it back in her book. "A Saloon is not the same as a roominghouse."

He looked about as defeated as he ever looks and tried to convince her but I'm wonderin' if he could see he was out of his depth there. He told me stories bout goin to St. Louis but I guess St. Louis and Philadelphia, where this Mrs. Maclay hails ain't the same at all. "Well, it has rooms to rent and they serve regular meals and the great city of Sunnydale will be payin' that all as parta your stipend. "

I kept my head down as they kept on this arguin' and finally he took a deep breath. "I'm very sorry Mrs. Maclay. Willow here can send that telegram for you."

"I would appreciate that." She turned away from him and he kinda stood there before heading out the door calling to me that he'd be over at the bank or his house which you can't miss. It's a huge white thing with big pillars and stands up at one end of Main street.

Once he left I looked up at her and she looked like she was gonna cry so I offered her my handkerchief and Xander's chair. "Willow?" I nodded my head since she already knew my name and she asked for a piece of paper and a pencil which I handed her.

While she was writin' I got a chance to look at her a spell without her noticin' so much. Her dress was a real nice light blue with some kinda ruffling on the skirt and a tight waist. And my upper half aint never gonna look like hers with bein' kind of pushed up but not like Anya's girls wear theirs. I just ain't destined to grow like that Xander says but I tole him that's not any of his never mind. She got a dark ribbon on one sleeve which I think I heard is a way to show respect of the dead without wearin' black all the time. Her eyes were real pretty and matched her dress and her hair was pulled back kinda tight considerin' she been on a train for all this time till she got on the coach that brung her down here. She was a right proper girl like we don't see round here too much. Her headin' out, I guess I'll be back to showin' them kids letters and numbers.

She handed me the piece of paper and I looked it over for a few minutes. "Would you like me to r-read it to you, Willow?"

I guess she didn't see me readin' when she came in or maybe she thought I was playin' possum and can only make the letters for the telegraph. I laughed. "Oh, I can read, Mrs. Maclay. I was just tryin' to figure if we can cut out letters and save the charge."

She made a kind of funny sound and motioned toward the door. "Oh Mayor Wilkins can pay for the telegram." She certainly had her back up over his lyin' about where to stay.

I shrugged. "Well he likes to save on letters too. I read off the address and then "How's this: 'Arrived S-dale. Stop. No accommodations. Stop. Returning soonest. Stop."

She said it was fine and I tapped it out real quick, her watchin' my hand kind of curiously. I looked up and felt a blush risin' in my cheeks. "What?"

She smiled kind of warmly at me. "I've just never seen a telegraph sent. Back home, we write it out and pass it into a window and pay the fee and the teller takes the sheet in back and comes out again to say it's sent."

"A teller and a telegraph operator? There must be a lota telegraphs sent there."

She smiled again. "Actually there are four telegraph operators and when you walk in the station you hear this tap-tap-tappety tapping pretty much every moment. It's like I always thought woodpeckers would sound if I saw one."

"Oh, you won't be that excited about no woodpeckers first time you try to sleep near one, Mrs. Maclay. They don't observe no regular hours like you and me."

"If you don't mind my asking, how did you get to be a telegraph operator, Willow? At home only men are telegraph operators." She finally set down on Xander's chair.

I motioned toward his chair. "By the way, the Sheriff's gone out to check on some new homesteads, kind of make himself and his badge known. You're welcome to stay here and sit'n his chair all day."

"Thank you kindly."

I'm not quite so sure about the why but the way she said that kind of made me feel fuzzy so I figured I better get talking and end the fuzzies. "My father was telegraph operator and a bunch a other stuff too. And my mama died when I wasnt but little Lukie Wilkinses age so he always brought me in. I liked the tip-ety-tap-tap too like you said and used to do it on the wall up in my loft when I was trying to fall asleep, like I was writing a song or spelling out stories." I looked away for a moment. "Pop and I used to play a game telling stories like that at night with me startin' and him taking over and me and then him and somea those stories went on a month or more."

She leaned over and touched my chin gently which surprised me but I weren't scared by it. "What happened, Willow?"

She pulled out her handkerchief and handed it t me which is kinda funny seein' as I was did the same just a little before. I wiped my eyes real quick. "He was out plantin' this spring and he left out the house like always with his lunch and the team but he din't come on up by it was getting dark. I foun him lyin' there still holdin' his lunch and he was all cold. I took him inta see Doc Giles anyway but he said maybe it was pop's heart and there wasn't nothing I coulda done no how."

She said she was sorry for my loss kind of all formal-like and took the handkerchief from my hand to wipe my eyes for me which I never seen done before. After a minute or two I took a deep breath and looked up and saw how she was lookin' at me and for just a second there, I don't think I coulda tole you nothing about Sunnydale or my Pops or King Lear or any of it. And I felt torn between wanting to stay in that very feeling and what I actually did which is turn my head real quick and grab an apple off the desk and offer it to her.

She took it with a polite thank you and just then Emms come runnin' through the door and straight into my lap for a big hug. Dawn come slouchin' through a second later. She leaned against the doorframe with a pout on her face which is pretty near her specialty. "Y'all here bout your mail?"

Dawn just kinda nodded but Emms put out her hands palms up and scrunched her eyes all shut like she wanted a present or at least their mail. Well they didn't have any mail which I told 'em but I did reach into the bag I keep there and put a few little carved letters into Emms's hands. I'm workin' on a whole set and right now I got A-G which she likes to play with. She's right smart and learnin' her letters. She ain't even five years old and small at that. Round about the time the Summers moved here and then Mr. Summers done run off with some lady from Nebraska, Emms folks got sick and sicker. Once they died, there wasn't no one to take care of her and I guess some ladies thought Mrs. Summers could replace bein' sad about her husband run off with a new baby so they handed Emms over. She's pretty near my favorite little kid around and that's sayin' some.

Well Dawn was disappointed when I said there wasn't no mail and she got to her usual speechin:
"Of course not, nothing interesting ever happens around here. I'll grow up and get old and die here, stupid and hick." She wandered over and plucked a book off the shelf and then started readin' it, strugglin' over a few words and asking me for some help.

Well, Mrs. Maclay kind of sat up straighter and watched all us and tried to help Dawn over a few of the bigger words. This Mrs. Maclay was real polite interruptin' us to explain a couple words to both of us too.

"Who are you?" Dawn ain't never been big on manners that anyone around here noticed.

Mrs. Maclay, on the other hand was the very picture of manners. "I'm Mrs. Maclay, nice to meet you." She did stick out her hand unlike the curtsey she tossed at the Mayor but maybe that's some kinda rule.

"She's gonna be the new teacher."

"Good luck with these stupid hicks." Dawn looked up as she spoke and saw her mama comin' toward the door, and Mrs. Summers don't like bein' kept waitin' so she put away the book real quick and took Emms hand and out they went.

"I was going to be the new teacher. Now I'm going to be returning home." She didn't sound like she wanted me to argue and I was tryin' to figure out what to say when a telegram came in so I took that down and posted off the received, meanwhile she stood up and started looking around the office.

I finished up that telegram and put it aside in an envelope. More'n likely when Xander comes back he'll volunteer to take it out there anyway. Then I went back to my readin' while she took her little tour of the place. I noticed that she didn't spend long lookin' at the cell. Maybe it's not considered ladylike to be spending time in a Sheriff's office and jail cell but she needed a telegram sent. Then she walked over and looked at the bookshelf for a spell and then the map on the wall.

When she came back over she was smilin' real pretty. "I like the map and the books."

"Oh. Well ma'am, you see, my pop made that map back when he and his daddy first got here. He wanted to know where everything was and he went out and drew it all down. And he made little changes to it over and over. That one," I motioned with my pencil, "is the last version. And folks always come in to tell me who they are so I can take in their mail and I put a little flag in their spot. That map's got over a hundret flags in it now." I pointed out the flag for my place and the jail here and a few other spots. She was smiling full-on now which I kind of liked so I kept right on. "And the books ain't no regular library but when someone dies or leaves out without and leaves one behind it comes here or sometimes Mayor Wilkins or Mr. Rayne, owns the general store, buy one or two for us when they're in the city. And we trade on down and up the mail route. I pulled out a few slips of paper from my desk drawer. See these say who's got what and they got the same down there. Like I gotta return this one when Parker come through tomorrow morning." I held up my King Lear.

"So you're the town librarian, census taker, telegraph officer, and post office?" I nodded. "Why does the map say 'Long Lick' across the top?"

I laughed at her question. "Oh well, ma'am. You see when Mayor Wilkins's great-granddaddy and his brothers came out here, they had ridden a long bit. They come down from San Francisco and I always thought maybe they had a little trouble up'n there. The come up on the water and got down from their horses and the horses started drinkin' it up. And one'um says, 'Well this place is worth a Long Lick, ain't it?' So that was the name round here. But then Mayor wanted us to sound more modern and less like them hicks Dawn's complaining of so he changed it up bout ten years ago. My pops liked the old name so he didn't change in on his map." I shrugged my shoulders like always makes Mrs. Summers narrow her eyebrow at me and give me a lecture about my posture but I guess Mrs. Maclay wasn't from the same school of Missus because she let it go.

"It's a name with promise. That's for sure." I wasn't quite sure what she might have meant and I didn't want her to think me one-a them hicks Dawn was mentionin' so I nodded my head.

"You could come stay out at my place if you want. I mean... it's not the Grand Hotel or something that I heard about but it's better'n that ... I don't want to insult you, Mrs. Maclay, but I don't think you're gonna like stayin' in that Saloon until your return gets straightened."

She bit at her lip for a moment and I wondered if maybe my outburst was really not a great idea. It just sorta popped into my head which thoughts have a tendency to do. It was the first time I seen her not look like she knew exactly what she was goin' do or say. She took a few minutes like she was really thinkin' it over but I don't know what else she could do. She could stay with Mayor Wilkins or run after Mrs. Summers or head back to the Saloon but it seemed to me that I'd be the best choice. Finally she smiled just a little bit. "Only on the condition that you let Mayor Wilkins pay you what he would have to pay the Saloon for my room and board."

I don't know why but her answer made me right happy. "Well that's a deal, Mrs. Maclay but I gotta warn you about a couple stuff."

"Warn away, Willow, and please call me Tara."

"Tara." I liked the sound of it on my tongue when I let it slide along there. "Well first off, I can't claim I'm a great cook. Probably some rabbit stew and biscuits but I got a peach pie that I made last night and forgot to bring into Xander this mornin'."

"Duly warned, what's the second?"

I held up my book. "I gotta finish this by mornin' so I don't know I'm gonna be great company."

She smiled again and said that would be fine before yawning a bit.

"I don't mean to insult you but there's a nice cot back there if you want to go rest in one'em cells. I can wake you up in a few hours and I won't shut up the door or anything."

I didn't never get to hear her answer because in comes Cordelia, a pie perched all flat across the palm of her hand and every piece of her dress and bonnet in place and about shiny as a new nickel. She's always been that-a-way since we was little kids, wantin' to dress up me in some fancyness or even Xander when she could catch him. But now that she's Mrs. Mr. Mayor Wilkins, she's just even more so like she was before. She hardly said hello to me before she was all greetin' Tara and obviously Mayor sent her but she was all smiles and here's a pie I just made (if Cordelia made a pie, I'll eat both my shoes). Well, to hear it told, you'd think the Mayor'll be sleepin' in the barn tonight for even thinkin' that a lady like Mrs. Maclay could stay at the Saloon and she can come and have dinner over at their place and stay there while everything gets figured out on where she's goin' to stay. Well, there went my chance at some company for the evening but she'd be more in her element with their fancy plates and no rabbit stew but Tara done surprised everyone in the room when she explained how I already invited her and even had a pie. I thought Cordelia might kind of cough herself out the front door tryin' to be both polite and insult my pie once at the same time but she managed not.

It seemed like Cordelia thought she had a issue to bring up about was Tara goin' walk out to my place with me but I said that I was gonna walk out and get the wagon and come back for her, which about started a row between me and her cause she said she could certainly walk two miles and I argued that she had to carry her bag and her shoes didn't look like two-mile-walkin' shoes. Cordy solved that one, insisting that she drive us both out to my home which had the advantage of savin' me time but it also meant that I wouldn't get no chance to do a little cleanin' before Tara arrivin' at my house. And also, the 45 minutes walkin' was goin' be a good chance to get the actual rabbit for the actual rabbit stew, not that I was going to mention anything of that case to Mrs. Cordelia Wilkins. So she insisted that she'd be back at 4:00 to pick us up and run "our charming selves" home.

"She seems... nice," Tara said as she watched her leavin'.

I can't say my response showed a lot of enthusiasm for that idea but at least Cordy was doin' the right thing by offering a place for Tara to stay. Can't say either why that thought made me feel kind of sad. Probably just been a while since Xander or Clem or even Buffy come out to the house for any dinner company. Like Cordy was a little too kind to say outright, I can't claim any great culinaryness. Pop and me was more like eatin' fast and then tellin' stories or playin' checkers or reading a book if we had one.

One thing my house got over Cordelia's big white mansion. I never been in there but I heard that they drink alcohol in every meal. I can't see where a woman can stand her husband drinkin' every day. Danny never hardly drank a drop and I get his letters, don't mention no drinkin' to go with his music. I wasn't quite sure if I should give Tara a warning about it but she seemed pretty able to take care of herself. By the time I finished my pondering on the subject, Cordelia had pulled up out front. Tara hefted her bag and her books and tied her bonnet back on and I picked up King Lear and my satchel and rifle and left the telegram sittin' on Xander's desk in case he wants to run it out to the Walsh place. If not, I'll walk out there or ride out there tomorrow.

I didn't have to say more'n three words the way out there with Cordelia telling Tara every wonderful thing about our town. Cordelia come up the path right next to the door where she could turn the wagon around real easy and resaid her invitation about how Tara's gotta come over for some tea and talk tomorrow afternoon and also that if she wasn't comfortable out here, how very welcome she'd be at the Mayor's house as long as she wants to stay. Well, Tara was real polite about the offer and I thanked Mrs. Mayor for the ride out and she took her cue to leave out of there.

I seen Tara kind of lookin' around the place from the outside and figured on showin' her around some later on. The sun's still goin' down late so we got a few hours at least. "Why don't I show you where's you can set down your things and lay down if you want." We went inside and I kind of cringed at the state of the place and kicked a few pieces of clothing under the table and Pop's bed, plus grabbed the quilt and tried to smooth it out real subtle. And she was real polite, like I woulda expected, pretendin' to get really interested in a little drawing my Pops made of my mama back when they first met and not watchin' me try to straighten the place up. "That was my mama back when Pops first met her. He said she was a looker but that picture don't' look none as pretty as you." I don't know why the last popped out of my mouth like Xander always says my mouth works faster'n my head. My cheeks was burnin' and I didn't give her no chance to answer. "You can stay in Pop's bed and here's a basin with water pitcher and the privey's out back. I gotta go feed the animals so if you want to take a rest you can just do it howsever you want." I grabbed my rifle real quick and headed outa there before I could say somethin' else stupid.

I got the cow and horses fed real quick but did stay a few minutes with the horses to give em some carrots I pulled from the garden on the way by. When I was little I didn't like horses none but I got over it as I realized how much faster I could get anyplace and how much more work I could get done with some help. Now they's my friends and I like to visit with them a bit every day. The oldest, Angel, moves kind of slow now but he's a good animal. His offspring, Willie, is more spirited but kind of foolish sometimes, and Drew is a good worker but wanders off if you don't put a halter on her or close the barn door. I learned me that one the hard way.

I took my rifle and went for a slow walk for that rabbit which didn't take but maybe 30 minutes but I got a look at the trees'n pulled down a few apples. I stopped back and fed some to the horses and put the others in my pockets for later, then tossed down the feed for the chickens. Damn those things. I know they give me eggs and they sure are tasty but they peck at my feet when I go in there with the basin and I don't think they got a lick of brains between all their 30 heads. People say a chicken will drown in the rain from opening its mouth while lookin' up and I wouldn't doubt it. I guess Tara could tell me cause her bein' a teacher she probably knows all kinds of facts like that.

I took care of the rabbit out behind the barn because Tara didn't strike me as the type girl who enjoys the sight of entrails and such in the middle of the kitchen. The pelt come off real easy so I put it out with some others, intending to use it in some slippers later this year. I come in real quiet in case Tara would be sleepin' but she was actually sitting up reading King Lear. She jumped up real quick and said she hoped it was ok but she hadn't read it in a while and always liked it and thanks for the rest.

I pulled down the big stewpot and started to cleaning and cutting the potatoes and carrots and green onions and rabbit meat and tossing it with some water and a little flour and she offered to help but she was supposed to be a guest and I tole her so. She pulled up a chair into the kitchen and talked to me while I worked and I gotta say, she looked even prettier than before now that she washed up a bit and pulled down her hair. I got everything set to cookin' on the stove and put some biscuits in the back where they could stay warm and asked did she want to take a walk around since we had some time afore dinner.

She said certainly and for a minute I thought she was going to take my arm once we got out the door but she didn't. I probably talked way too quick once we got outside but it was my element. I was born on that farm and I spent 'bout every night of my life there. No one knows the place like I do. I showed her the barn, pointin' out places to avoid stepping and introduced her to the horses and cow and even the stupid chickens and I guess she likes horses because she spent a while petting them and whisperin' in their ears. I asked her about ridin' and she said she likes it and did I have a side-saddle which I heard of but never actually seen. And I said maybe I could get her into my britches and she can ride that way and she blushed so maybe it wasn't as good an idea as it seemed in my head. Then I walked her around the garden, with berries and potatoes and carrots and pumpkins growin' bigger that I figure to win the prize third year runnin' for biggest and zucchini and ever other thing I got there.

We walked way out toward the orchard, me talkin' the entire way of course, tellin' her every little thing about the farm and the trees and every other thing I could. . I got nearly every kind of fruit tree I could ever want with pear and peach and cheery and fig and pecan and three different apple that I liked trying out new ones since Pop showed me how when I was little and some come out good and some not. I always been a person who felt better talkin' than listening and I guess she had me even more so than usual that way. Once we got out to them trees, she started bein' kind of impressed with askin' what kind every one was and I told her all about how my mama loved fruit and Pops planted all these and then how I can't use 'em all and people come by and pick 'em if they want and that's ok with me. She kind of looked at me sideways like she was testin' me and pulled down a handful of cherries and looked at me that way again before takin' a bite. Thing is, and I can't explain it, but I got this feelin' in my stomach I ain't never had before when she did that and I had to kind of look away and talk some more about the trees. I seen her lookin' at me kind of funny when I started unlacing my shoes and I tried to explain to her about how the ground always felt so perfect on 'em and can't nothin' be wrong when you can feel your own land in your toes. Pops taught me young to always walk our ground in bare feet when I needed to think and it ain't never failed me yet. I guess she didn't understand, either she was too much a lady to be takin' off her shoes and stockings in some field. She finished up her fruit and we walked back in to check on the stew, me carryin' my shoes over my shoulder.

Once I checked the stew, I brung out a blanket I keep by the door and asked her would she like to set on the porch and she said of course. We set on that swing that my Pops put in not long after he built the house and porch with it and I wrapped that blanket over our laps, makin' us warm enough I guess and said just wait for the sunset cause it's the best thing I ever seen. I started to say it's the prettiest thing but that didn't seem so true and I said best. Seemed like every time I said something like that she looked over at me and her blue eyes and flickin' eyelashes and I coulda just forgotten a bunch of words.

"Have you ever been out of Sunnydale, Willow?"

"I been up to Laster and Trumbow for shoppin' but never farther than that and never overnight. I slept ever night my life right here in this house. Well, except a few whisperin' nights at Buffy's."

She looked at me funny and I thought maybe she was gonna take my hand but she didn't. She watched that sun settin, the rays makin' her hair look all like fire. "Did you ever want to leave?"

I stopped to think for a minute before answerin, that being a change for me. "I don't know why I'd want to. I mean I got milk every mornin' and fruit grows all around my house and every person I ever knew by name lives right here." I thought about it for another minute. "Except if you go on, then I'll know one person, don't live here no more. But I'm still holdin' hope on you."

We watched the sunset finish up without talkin' no more and then went inside. She ate the stew and biscuits and even some of the pie and didn't complain about none of it. I bet it wasn't the kind of food she was used to but she was polite. I tried to kind of apologize again about my not bein' no expert on cooking but she said it was the best meal she'd had in days. When we finished up dinner and washin' the dishes, we set down and started reading King Lear back and forth out loud, taking breaks about every few pages to tell more stories on our lives.

I told her more about Pops and about how he grew roses on mama's grave. I told her about when Xander and me was kids and runnin' around everywhere and how he got Sherrif from throwin' a good right hand and people voted him up even though he ain't hardly 20 years old. And about Danny and how he's a good man but one's gotta go conquer the demon of wanderin' and music before he's ready for coming back to stay.

And she told me all about her daddy works in a bank and he wanted her educated to marry a good man. And her brother's startin' workin' in the bank too. She told me about balls and plays she's been to and a library with thousands of books and everyone in the whole state can check out a book or sit there all day readin' it. I said maybe that would be worth leavin' the farm if only over night. Her mama died when she was young like mine but she had a housekeeper lived with her and then governess to teach her how to dress and talk and eat. To hear her tell it, sounds like a big part of being a lady and livin' in a city is using more forks at dinner and wearin' more kinds of drawers under your dress. I guess some ladies have whole other ladies help them get dressed every mornin' and I don't know what they do if they need to visit the privy.

Well, by the time we finished up our book, I bet it was after midnight. We both made our trips out back and got into our nightdresses and for a minute she argued she should sleep in the loft but I couldn't have no guest up there. I said I insisted and that was that and she stopped arguin'. Right before I clumb up that ladder, I had to confess cause it was just eatin' me up. "Tara, I gotta tell you somethin'." She just looked at me so I went on. "I wrote that letter about the boardinghouses. I coulda told Mayor that I wouldn't but he maybe would have got someone else to do it. That ain't no excuse though and I'm sorry."

She tilted her head a little and then reached out and took my hand, turning it over in hers and rubbin' her fingertips softly over the palms. Mine ain't soft like hers from workin' around here but they ain't rough like Clem or Riley or even Xander. "I know, Willow."


"I saw your writing on the map and when you were making notes about the telegraph."

"You ain't mad?"

She smiled a little crooked smile and held my hand a little longer. "I need to figure out what I'm going to do but I'm not mad at you, Willow." She seemed to hesitate a minute but then she told me. "I think you're about the sweetest person I've ever met. I don't know that I could be mad at you."

She dropped my hand again and I stood there with it kind of hangin' for a minute. "Ok, well that's good because I felt bad and wanted you to know. Which you do." I felt like my cheeks were gettin' hot so I turned and clumb on up and into my loft that I hadn't slept for a few months. "Good night, Tara."

"Good night, Willow." She was quiet for a few minutes, then adding on. "Willow, would you tap me a story to fall asleep to?"

"But you won't understand it none."

"That's ok." She sounded all quiet and a little lonesome so I started on a story I made up right then and there, all about this new mouse that comes to town and don't know anyone but she's real sweet and pretty and everyone likes her. Somewhere about when she was lovin' the town too, I could tell Tara was asleep so I let off and fell asleep myself.

Next day, I woke early and slid down that ladder all quick and quiet. I grabbed my clothes and dressed out back which was a bit chilly but not too bad. Then I headed out to do my chores with feedin' and milkin' and picked a basket of fruit of all kinds. Heck, if Tara likes fruit so much, maybe I can bribe her into stayin' longer for the fruit. I came back and opened the door real quiet so as to not wake her and and kind of startled because she was awake already and had made her bed and dressed. She looked real pretty too in a different dress from yesterday and her hair pulled back.

"Good morning, Willow." She sure was bright and chipper in the morning for a city person. I always thought they slept late and got a maid to bring them in some tea. I guess not though because she said she hoped it was ok, she made some coffee from what she found in a tin and warmed up the biscuits a little. I sure was grateful that I brung in all them fruit too and I set them on the table just grinnin' like a fool. She took a glass of milk outa the pail and I did too and we set there and had breakfast together. Maybe it's like in a roominhouse but I never stayed in one or hotel neither. I asked her if it was like stayin' in a hotel and she said the hotel has more fancy pictures on the wall but the company is better here. I guess she was actin' kinda funny, sayin' that and then lookin' away right off.

"I need to set off for town in a few minutes and I wondered if you wanted to head in and see the school and store and all around? I could hitch up the wagon so's you don't have to walk in your pretty shoes."

She said that would be very nice and we finished up our eatin' and I went out to get the wagon hitched. She came out and fed Willie and Drew each a few apples and talked real sweet to them both before I helped her climbin' up. On the way I told her a little about the town and how the school's so new and books and everythin' and she asked about how many kids is around here and I told her that too. I said that she could go over to the store and say hi around there and if she needs anything, Mr. Rayne will get it for her but he ain't the friendliest to me even though him and my mama was kin. My Pops said Mr. Rayne always felt like the post office oughta be in the store but Pops filled out the paperwork on the post office in the town and he didn't want to be so close in office to his brother-in-law so he set up at the Sherriff.

And I wasn't quite sure how to say the other thing about him but I needed to try. "Tara?"

"Yes, Willow?"

"He's my uncle but Mr. Rayne?" She nodded and I knew she was listenin'. "Even though you bein' married and a widow and all that, you don't want to be ... standin' in any tight aisles nearby him. If someone's in the store with you, better that. I don't got no trouble with him but Buffy and Cordelia before she become Cordelia Wilkins and even Anya before she ...? You know what I'm tryin' to say?"

She smiled a little at me and nodded her head. "Thanks for the warning, Willow." We got into town and I unhitched the horses from the wagon and tied them onto the railing with her givin' them some more pets and sweetness. I said I was sorry I wouldn't have no time to walk out to the schoolhouse with her but it's open and she said that was ok. As she was walkin' off, I worried about her lunch but she reminded me that she's supposed to eat with Cordy, sorry, Mrs. Wilkins.

Well, the telegrams was bout piled back that wire and I spent half the morning takin' them down and then Parker come through with the mail and took in ours and traded some books and talk. He tole how somea the towns along been and asked after our new school teacher, everyone knowin' she was comin' in yesterday and I didn't say nothin' about that Saloon-nota-bordinghouse row, just that she seemed nice. He said he'd be back this weekend for the raisin and I said see him there. He's got a thing on pretty girls and he talks real smooth but I seen through him and I bet Tara can too. I didn't know whether to lay another warnin' on her or she's gonna think ain't nothing but no goods around here.

Well, I didn't have to worry so much about that cause next time I saw her was she was sitting at my desk talkin' with Xander when I come back from runnin' them telegrams around the county. I was really glad I brung Willie into town this morning by the time I was done but a few of them folks gave a tip which is pretty unusual and I bet I nearly got enough for a book in all. I walked in the door and they stopped talkin' real quick which made me worried that they were talkin' about me but she was looking at me all sweet and come over and asked did I think I could handle a guest another couple days.

I felt about like as happy as ever at the thought and said so real quiet cause Xander would argue that I need to move into town and live nearer other folks if he heard me. I ain't lonely out there and I don't want to leave my place but I liked Tara's company and her smile is awful nice for goin' to bed and wakin' in the morning. Mayor Wilkins had come by in the mornin' all like he's running for office some more and how sweet I am and could she stay out my place a little longer and raised the amount he'll pay. I bet they laid it on Tara too while she was at lunch about stayin' cause maybe finding a school teacher is about like a fish and once you get one on the line, it's easier to get it up on the bank than to start all over on a new fish.

Shortly after the two of 'em headed out so he could introduce her around the bank and store and it sounded like he was tryin' to convince her to visit the Saloon. She don't seem like the Saloon type which we already established but somea those girls do want to do some readin' and I know Anya's wantin' to get the teacher to come over there a bit and work with some 'em on their letters.

She come back while I was hitchin' up the horses and he was all gentleman with her. I ended up invitin' him to come join us for dinner, him not been out to the house this week and he come along. We ate more of the rabbit stew again and I hope she don't get tired of the same dinner but it's one of them ones I know how to make. He left after we were done eatin' and said see me tomorrow and then both us this weekend.

Well, I don't know but maybe havin' a houseguest ain't no good on sleeping cause we talked and talked and talked until I don't think we coulda had nothing more to talk on but I guess we did because we finally looked at my watch near ta midnight and yawning around our words. I was just about to climb up that ladder and she took my hand lookin' all scared. I wanted to just hug her and make her not scared no more but she was just trembling and I waited. She said she had something to tell me like I told her yesterday and she was afraid I'd be very upset about it.

I reached my fingertip up and ran it along her cheek, real gentle. "I don't think I could be very upset with you, Tara."

She swallowed real hard and then said kind of fast like afraid to not get it out about how she wasn't really married and didn't really have no run-down husband. She said that she didn't want to get married and her father was pretty open on her life but he was worried for her coming out here, her adventure she called it, and insisted on the widow story for her bein' safe. And she said real quiet how she knew she didn't want no husband which I never heard of but I said that don't everyone have to marry. She seemed happier on that and I was glad and I guess she was really scared cause I never heard her voice kind of tremble and skip around like that little speech.

I was tempted to give her a little hug but she kind of wrapped her arms around her and I said well ok, good night and clumb up my ladder and she asked me to tell her another story so I started up where I ended that last mouse story on now the mouse was settlin' in and actin' like she was going to stay in that town and the other town mice was real happy about that.

Well next mornin' she seemed all over that nervousness and kept looking at me real sweet over the coffee and breakfast. I'd picked a specially big bunch of cherries cause it seemed like they was her favorite. While eatin' she asked about could she stay out at the house today cause she wanted to write a letter to her old governess, named Miss Calendar, and do some washin'. I said sure and showed her about where I keep the soap and all and she remembered about the crick although she giggled that she thought it was a creek. She was special giggly this mornin' and maybe that's a city girl thing too. I tole her I was gonna walk into town and I could hook up the wagon if she thought she wanted to go anywhere but she said she was content so I got my book and lunch and headed off. It was right nice too, when I looked back she was standin' on the porch waving and I had the strangest thoughts about goin' back and hugging her somethin' fierce.

Them thoughts just kept themselves goin' all day so's I almost mistook a telegram and finally just gave up on reading my book, just sat lookin' out the door and finally set on the step watchin' people goin' up and down the road for a long time, sayin' hi to everyone and the like. Much as it felt like I was in a fog, it was a good day too and I felt all happy inside. A few times I had a scare like if Tara weren't at home when I got there but my sense told me she was goin' be there and we could have dinner and more talking too. And I guess she musta give Mayor Wilkins some kind of maybe answer on stayin' on cause he come by all happy at my efforts and he knew that made the difference. As the afternoon wore on, I just kept bein' more eager to see her like I never felt like I was with plans with Buffy or Xander and I left out of the office ten minutes early, so eager to see her.

I was practically runnin' on the way down the road and barely even noddin' my head at other folks as I passed them and had to keep tellin' myself to stop and just walk. I wasn't sure whether I should shoot something for our dinner and I didn't even know if Tara liked rabbit or if she was just bein' nice with eatin' it two days in a row so I held out on a few that hopped across my path. I stopped out at the end of the path and kind of tried to use my hand to smooth down my hair, not wanting to look like a hooligan when Tara was always lookin' so pretty. I swear my heart was just poundin' away in my chest, goin' boom, boom, boom like I run all the way home for no good reason.

I eased open the door real quiet thinkin' that in case Tara was restin' or readin' or something, I didn't want to startle her. But I was the one that got startled. She was readin' but she turned around real slow and just smiled at me and put down her book and I felt all funny inside again. Then I noticed the smell in the room. There was a big pot of flowers on the table and I could smell chicken roastin'. "Tara?"

She stood up and walked slowly across the room and took my hands in hers. "I made dinner."

I swallowed hard, both because the smell was makin' my mouth water and because I felt all funny from the pounding and sweatin' and just general dizziness. "I ... I could smell that. It smells about as good as anythin' I ever been near."

She smiled broadly and I could see a whole bunch of her teeth and I just wanted to hug her so I did. She probably thought it was strange plus which her bein' in a pretty dress and me in my clothes that I walked to town and back and did my mornin' chores but when I pulled back she had a real sweet smile on her face. "Come sit, Willow." She walked backwards and I walked forward and she kind of waved me into a chair .

"I need to go do the feedin, Tara." Well, she shocked me like nothin' when she said that she already done it. I didn't want to not trust her but I don't know a city girl knows what chores to do so I kind of asked real lightly what she did and she actually did it all, plus which brushed out the horses today too. Well, she started servin' up dinner and I was about to pass out from it all. Chicken and bread and potatoes and carrots and beans and for dessert she made a cherry pie that didn't taste nothin' like mine which is a real compliment on it. I probably ate too fast and a few times I saw her lookin' at me funny so I tried to make myself slow down. Not like I want her to think I ain't got no manners. Finally I asked her why she been doin' my chores and makin' this amazing meal for me and she said that she was just so happy to know me and to stay at my place while settlin' in.

"I'm just as happy to know you, Tara." I about stammered out my words but I don't think she was understandin' what I was trying to say. By that point we'd both filled our stomachs and I'd had two pieces of pie besides and she suggested that we head out and swing a bit and watch what she called "one of your sunsets."

We set there and the sky got a little darker and then a lot pinker and redder and then more darker and finally real dark and we could hear all these little sounds all around like crickets and one woodpecker and the hootin' of an owl and I started pointing it all out to her and she kind of leaned over and took my hand in hers and if she didn't mind the way they felt, I didn't either and I tucked both hands under that blanket.

"Tara?" She looked over at me and then back out at the trees and I kept on, being afraid of loosin' my speakin' nerve. "I know that you're a school teacher and all and probably want to live in town and have more fancy things. But I ... well, I just wish you'd stay here as long as you want. I, kinda, really like havin' you here and I don't know when I've been so happy just eatin' and readin' and talkin' with you every evening." She didn't answer for a few minutes so I plunged right on in again. "And it ain't just because I'm lonely out here or cause Mayor Wilkins been payin' me for your room and board. I just ... I feel all special inside just knowin' you're here with me and all day long today I kept thinkin' about you bein' here when I got home. I mean do you get it at all?"

Well, didn't she just do the darndest thing that I never thought of before. She turned toward me and still holdin' my hand under that blanket. She took her other hand and touched my cheek real gentle, kind of running the tip of her finger along my jaw and then she just leaned in and kissed me right full on the lips. Well, I didn't know whether to fall over from shock or just kiss her back but I chose the latter cause it felt so good. Well, I ain't but eighteen years old and I know I never been out of Sunnydale for more'n a few hours but I didn't know nothin' could ever feel like that. It was like every New Year, when me and Pop take a quick drink of whiskey that he said will burn out all your sins and cleanse your soul for the year to come and the heat starts at your belly and kind of shoots out from there. That heat was shootin' but it was kind of shootin' in every direction all at once and I wanted to just go on kissin' and bein' kissed like that but I was startin' to feel like I was going to faint dead away like in old novels so I had to pull off. And Tara looked ... I can't even describe it. She opened her eyes a second after me and she was all breathless, just like I felt and her lips were kind of fuller and pinker than before and she looked scared for an instant and I didn't ever want to see that look again. And I can't claim I was thinking through every possibility for makin' her not be scared but the first one popped into my hick brain was go right back to that kissin' and I did.

And that kissin? It ain't what I thought from the few times Danny gave me little pecks on the lips. I never felt nothin' off those but knowin' I was supposed to like kissin' my feller and I didn't dislike it none but I wasn't goin' huntin' him down none neither.

But kissing Tara was not like kissin' Danny at all. I dropped her hand and kind of put mine behind her head, pulling her closer like I realized I just couldn't get her closer enough and I just wanted to pull her into me or me into her or us into the each other. It all felt so good that I just didn't want it to end and she knew a fancy trick where she used her tongue to get me to open my mouth and touched my tongue with hers and boy did I take it from there. When we finally stopped all that kissin' and I don't know how much time gone by then, I kind of pulled away and looked at her and smiled and she smiled at me and then she blushed that blush she gets.

I didn't know what to say and I guess she didn't either and finally one of us suggested that it was time to be gettin' to bed. I'd told her during the evening about how busy tomorrow would be with our goin' to the raisin and then the dance so we knew we needed to be gettin' some shut-eye but it was so hard to pull away from that swing. Even so, I found myself couldn't let go of one of her hands and we walked inside still holdin' like that and shared some more of those kisses that seemed to take all my good thinkin' right away. It took quite a bit longer than usual for both of us to get dressed into our bedclothes and use the privy and all that seein' as we took a break every few seconds or minutes to be close again.

It was well after 1:00 in the morning by the time I was up in my loft and heard her askin' me for another story. I started tappin' it out, all about that mouse who found herself another little mouse and how happy they were gonna be together and all that and while I was doin' it, I kinda let my mind wander. And wander it did. I couldn't believe what had happened. Tara kissed me. A lot. And I kissed her back. It was nice and I guess maybe she was feelin' a lot like I was with wantin' to be close and not be apart and I started to thinkin' about that and then thinking about all the books I ever read and plays too. Well, I set right up and banged my head on the ceiling when it struck me. I was in love. With Tara. With another girl. And I don't think I minded one little bit. I never actually heard of such a thing but it sure seemed to be true.

"Tara?" I didn't want to wake her up if she was sleepin' but I hoped she wasn't because she would know.

Her voice was sleepy when she answered, "Yes, sweetie."

Sweetie. I liked it. "Can a girl be in love with another girl?"

There was a long pause and I started to worry that maybe I was scarin her with my question. Finally I heard her very quiet answer. "Yes, Willow. Very much yes."

"Ok. I was just wonderin'. Good night, Tara."

She said good night too and I went back to tappin' the story and I guess we both fell right off to sleep.

Well I was up early that next day with the chores but I stopped a few seconds at the base of the ladder and looked at her all asleep on her pillow lookin' like an angel. I wanted to kiss her again, right there but I didn't want to wake her and I was a little afraid that I'd never get that cow milked and animals fed so I headed out and dressed out back again. I got the animals done lickety split and then picked off a few bushel baskets of fruit to take out to the barn raisin today. By the time I got five big baskets loaded up in the wagon, I was sweatin' like crazy and she'd come out back to look for me, holdin' her hand over her eyes to shield them from the sun. I put that last basket of apples in the wagon and run over there real quick but I got worried just as I arrived that maybe that kissin' was a last night kinda thing or a Friday night thing or a one time only kinda thing. I stopped and just looked at her for a minute, my mind repeatin' over and over how I was so in love with her and I bet I had a real silly look on my face but she did too. I took her hand in mine and she lifted my fingers, that was real dirty from my morning's work, and put small kisses on each fingertip sayin' how I work so hard all the time and how lucky she's feelin'. Well, I tried to assure her that I was the lucky one and then I give her a little soft kiss on her pretty red lips and she kissed me right back which made me think it wasn't any Friday only thing.

Once we finished up that particular kiss she smiled at me again. "I've never been to a house raising before, Willow."

I took her hand and we started walkin' toward the house cause we needed to eat a big breakfast. As we went I told her about how it's kind of funny cause Riley needs a house built out on the corner of his daddy's land where his daddy gave him 20 acres to start on and Mrs. Summers been so clear he ain't marryin' Buffy until he got a real house. But at the same time, while the men's buildin' the house, women gonna be workin' on Buffy's wedding quilt so even though no one sayin' they're getting married, everyone knows they're getting married. And I said about how Riley's always loved Buffy even when we was all kids and he was a few years older just like how Xander's always loved Anya but now she's in business and she ain't never gonna marry him and have no kids. Tara said she'll help on the quilt but she didn't bring her stitchin' needles but I said I bet Mrs. Summers got some for her or one'm other ladies and she asked me what I'll be doin'. Well, I was kind of embarrassed to tell her how my stitchin' is so bad cause Pops could never teach me right so I'll take the kids down to the creek to catch fish for the fry later on. I think everyone's always so happy about the fruit, I could drop it off and lay down under a tree and they'd think I earned my dinner anyway but I like takin' the kids and I don't mind if they get muddy or swim neither.

I picked up the eggs and we went in and had a huge breakfast and then she got dressed in one of her regular day dresses that's still nicer than any dress I ever wear. And we hitched up the wagon and headed out to Riley's daddy's place. It ain't far from here and Buffy won't be too far from me once she's married but I guess once she has a bunch of kids she'll be all busy anyway. I stopped that wagon where the others were and Clem helped us down so I introduced the two of them. I watched Tara a little careful-like cause some people don't know how to react when they first see Clem. He was in an accident when he was a little baby and his face didn't never get recovered from it. She didn't blink an eye, greeting him and smilin' like she would to about anyone. I grabbed a basket off the back of the wagon and a few other men that were out there unloadin' grabbed some too and we got them all took over to the tables, me introducin' Tara the whole way. Everyone was just as friendly as I knew they'd be and I hope that's still convincin' her on stayin' on. I just don't know what I'd do if she went back to her city now.

I was just settin' down that basket and up runs Emms, practically knockin' me over jumpin' into my arms and Tara recognized her from the other day. I give her a bunch of hassle about how she knocked out one'a my ribs and broke me besides but she laughed and jumped down to take my hand and pull me off toward them other kids, all lined up by their fishin' poles. I could barely even give Tara a nod and seein' Mrs. Mr. Mayor closin' in on her. Probably she's the better person for introducin' Tara round all them women anyway cause sometimes look at me a little funny. Dawn and her friend Janice were lookin' all bored like with all the kids and their poles and I begged them all let me go and say some hello to Buffy before we tromped all the way over to the creek. Well, Emms wanted to go with and I picked her up again and swung her onto my shoulders like Pop did when I was little and found Buffy and her mom all welcomin' folks and organizin' the event. She didn't have but about 12 seconds for when you comin' round? And then she was back to her organizin'.

I seen Tara one time standin' in the middle of a whole bunch of women when I went past with all them kids plus Dawn and Janice. My mind was pretty much thinkin' about Tara and everything happened in the last couple days so I just managed to keep a reasonable eye on them kids and help them puttin' worms on hooks and takin' fish off and grabbin' up this one and that one that fell into the creek, more likely got pushed by each other. Ain't no one servin' any lunch so I pulled some apples out of my pockets and most of them kids got somethin' too and we had the bestest time down there at the creek. Me and little kids just got a way and I ended up carryin' about two or three of 'em hangin' off my arms and shoulders once it was time to come on back. Dawn and Janice slouched in with that load of fish and handed it off for the fryin'.

I didn't know whether I ought to go and look up Tara or not but I seen her standin' there talkin' to Buffy and laughin'. I guess they were gettin' along pretty fine. I wasn't sure whether I ought to interrupt them but I kinda been thinkin' on Tara all day and missin' her smile and she looked up and seen me and give me a right big one. Well, I might as well-a been a fish and she put me on her hook and pulled cause next thing I know I'm standin' there talking with her and Buffy and blushin' every so often. Not too much longer Mrs. Summers started bangin' on a big pot to let everyone know the fish was ready and we all gone over there to get some food. The men got in line first which no one complains on cause buildin' a house is some hard work but me and Tara still managed a pretty good sized plate of fish and potatoes and green beans and some of my fruit been made into a cobbler or two.

Well everyone near wolfed down that food and then cleared the tables and chairs real quick. Round here we got a right band with a fiddle player and harmonica and even Doc Giles playin' guitar pretty good. Danny was better but he ain't been around for a while so people stopped askin' when he's gonna be back a few months ago. I knew Tara got her some dancin' trainin' in all her school but I didn't know if she was gonna know how we dance out here. She done just fine though and near never took a break in the night. Every time I spun past her she was all breathless and hair comin' loose every which way and skirts twirlin, as beautiful as I seen her yet. I danced a few turns with her and Buffy both cause we long been used to dancin' with each other when the boys was busy or we outnumbered them and didn't want to set still. I seen Faith dancin' with Tara a time or two as well and hoped she wasn't sayin' nothing embarrassin' cause that's about her specialty like poutin' is Dawn's. I danced one with Faith and a few with Xander and even one with Mayor Wilkins and Mr. Rayne and Doctor Giles. Clem wasn't dancin' cause he always feels too strange dancin' although I can't even count the times I seen Xander or Faith lay a good right hand on someone sayin' something about Clem's face.

The moon was good and high by the time we'd clumb into our wagon and called out a few giddyups. For a while there was real traffic, everyone headin' the same way but the other wagons started to turn off and head in their directions soon enough and we were pretty alone. Tara said somethin' about the chill in the air and then she was leanin' right up against my side, her hand in mine again and all I could think about was feelin' her lips on mine once again so I hardly could keep the wagon on the dirt and away from a tree somewhere and I said so and she breathed should she move and I said "hell no" which I then apologized that I hope it didn't offend her. She laughed about that and said speakin' offending, she danced with Faith.

My hand tightened on the reins but I relaxed a bit and tole her how Faith done grew up with the rest of us except her folks was no good drunks and dumped her off on Mrs. Summers anytime they could and then one time never come back at all. And how Mrs. Summers had thoughts on how a young lady ought to talk and not fight and Faith dumped herself off on Anya's porch one day and didn't go back to the Summers. Well, we all though Faith gonna be one a Anya's girls and I guess she thought so too until a cowboy tried to make due on that thought and he left the Saloon missin' some teeth and a big patch of hair and holdin' his side beside. Well, Anya and Faith always been close so Anya just pushed Faith toward the bar with some sort of comment like Faith should damn sure know how to poor whiskey which sayin' woulda got about anyone else the treatment like that cowboy but Faith laughed and jumped right over the thing. Ever' once in a while she has to pick up some drunk and toss him out the door and into the dirt but mostly it's just pourin'. I watched to see how Tara was takin' it all cause I know Faith's really set on Tara's gonna teach her readin' and writin' and I said I would but she says she can't let me cause she don't want me teachin' wrong. I think she just don't want to admit there's one thing in the entire world I do better. I kinda tossed the idea toward Tara about Faith and she murmured that poor girl and phrases like that and said she'd "call on her" which made a funny picture in my mind. Come to think of it with all these thoughts in my head lately on me and Tara, I'm startin' to have some wonderin' about Faith and somea Anya's girls.

By the time we got home I barely thought I was gonna be able to stay on my feet to stable the horses and I insisted on droppin' Tara at the door to the house although she was pleadin that she should come with me. I gave her a quick kiss and she teased that the faster I got them horses taken care of, there was gonna be more like that. I felt like that hot liquid in my body again and bout broke a record on gettin' them horses unhitched and wiped down and fed. I stopped out back and then practically run into the house. Tara had lit some candles so it looked real nice and she was already in her nightshirt so I got washed up and got into mine right quick.

Tara averted her eyes while I was dressin' but the rest of the time had this just dreamy look on me so I could hardly keep from throwin' myself at her. It seemed like forever but I bet didn't take me no sixty seconds to get ready for bed and then I was kissin' her and kissin' her and I didn't want it to end even though we was both about to drop and yawnin' and sayin' "sorry" every other moment. Finally we both yawned at the same moment and started laughin' somethin' fierce. I was about to climb back up into that loft and Tara suggested that there was plenty of room in the bed, which there was. I didn't hesitate none on takin' her up on that one. All I know is that I wanted to feel her body against mine as I slept and she certainly seemed to have the same thoughts. My only regret is that I was so plumb tired I fell off dead to sleep and didn't even enjoy none of that body against mine time.

Tara was awake when I opened my eyes and I guess she'd been up a little while, cause she done made biscuits already. And I was shocked when she said she'd fed the horses and milked the cows and happy when she crawled back onto the bed to give me a few quick kisses. I looked at the watch and told her how we had just enough time to take baths before goin' in to church. Then it occurred to me maybe she's onea those folks I heard who don't go to church. Well she laughed and said she would go but was I goin' and I told her how I like the music and there's lunch after. Pop always said just cause our G-d ain't got exactly the same name, don't make it no different G-d.

She looked like she was gonna giggle when I said that Sunday and Wednesday was my bathin' days and picked up the soap and towel and dress and underthings and all. It occurred to me that maybe she never took no bath outside so I tole her hat I was pretty sure Cordelia would allow her to take her bath up at the Wilkins house whenever she wanted but she declared it an experience worth tryin'. I wasn't too sure what she was gonna think about the idea worth tryin' round Christmas time but for now, she thought it sounded "fun." We was real playful stolling down to the water hole and I showed her where I always put my things up in the crook of a tree and then stripped right down and dived in. I guess maybe that made her nervous but I didn't think nothin' about it. Pop and I always took our bath on different sides around this big boulder but Tara was a girl. About half-way through getting skinned I wondered if people went takin' off clothes in the city and maybe not but she smiled and then started joinin' me. And again, I'll say this. I ain't gonna look the way she looks but her body sure fits her good. I started havin' those funny thoughts again and had to duck my head under where I know a cool spring runs. We tossed the soap back and forth and got good and clean and then brushed out our hair. She said that sometime she would braid mine if I wanted which I would definitely appreciate. Buffy used to do it when we had our nights together but Pops couldn't get it down and then I been out here alone a while so I just let it hang down my back or tie it with a few pieces of leather. I overheard Mrs. Summers and my Pops yellin' once cause she said I wasn't learnin' to be no lady and he said that he didn't think not knowin' how to make braids made him no bad parent.

Which ain't to say Mrs. Summers and Pops didn't get along no good. I always thought they was pretty close friends and I guess Pops trusted Mrs. Summers good enough for raisin' me up like a girl. One time I remember he run me over there to spend the afternoon with Buffy only once I got there Buffy and Dawn was somewhere else and Mrs. Summers said she needed help with some cannin'. Well, funny how she decided in her head to tell me all about my female time and what it meant and how to handle it and when Pops come back to pick me up he was all embarrassed askin' if I had a good visit.

Well, I was talkin' about Tara and I been writin' on this story more'n a week now and ain't never gonna finish if I don't writer faster or say less. Cause mostly I want to tell about how I met Tara and what she means to me and what I give her for Christmas and what it all means.

Anyway, Tara and I finished gettin' ready for church and we rode on into town while I tole her all about how Doc. Giles is also the preacher cause he got called by The Lord he said and we ain't got no one else wantin' to be a preacher. Pops always said havin' a preacher that's also the doctor cuts down on how far his hand sticks out when he's askin' for money at least. Until a few weeks ago we always had church in the Saloon which Parker said is funny but I never seen it no other place so I don't know. Now we been havin' church up in the school and I found it an easy time to slip in how much we're just dependin' on having that school held as a school to Tara which she whispered back that it seemed more and more likely all the time. I hoped that she meant she'd stay cause of me but truth is I don't care why she stays as long as she stays.

Well, the moment we parked our wagon, there was Mayor and Mrs. Mayor Wilkins helpin' us both down from the wagon and didn't we look so pretty and such. Some the other money folks that didn't come to the raisin' yesterday was there too and all so happy to meet Tara. I don't guess they much cared to meet me again but they was nice and acted like they did know I was there. Tara had her real pretty bible that she told me was her mama's back when her folks got married. Once we got done greetin' all those folks we headed in and sat down in the middle nearby Xander and Anya and Buffy and Riley and Faith. I guess most churches wouldn't be so happy on Anya comin' in but she ain't never asked no one that I know and no one says she ain't welcome. Doc. Giles don't make no bones about the kind of G-d he's talkin' about welcomes everyone through the door.

Speakin' of, I guess Doc. Giles wants a school teacher pretty bad too cause it seemed like his whole sermon was about neighborness and bein' friendly and welcomin' and the like. At the end he asked did everyone have a chance to meet our new school teacher like he didn't even know there was no question on was she stayin' and what an asset she was gonna be to Sunnydale. Well, I ended up eatin' my lunch with Xander and Buffy and all them while Tara got trailed around here and there by every person that wanted to seem important in the whole town. I glanced up ever' few minutes and didn't see Parker or none of them slick guys talkin' her up so I just let the fancy folks go at their convincin'. This week Cordelia had provided lunch which really means the girls that work up at her house cooked half the night so I was concentratin' on that good food and Xander was as well. Faith slipped into the end of the bench kind of late mutterin' something about oversleeping which is just bunk. She ain't sat through a sermon since we was all too little to reach the benches but she shows up for a meal and usually one of Anya's girls will come in a little while later and set down with all them.

A couple times I seen Tara across the room and we both give a smile. Faith was arguin' with Riley about something which I don't even listen to the two of them no more. And Buffy was tellin' me something about her linens and the like. Also that Riley was just so manly and didn't I think he was the manliest man around and such. I didn't tell her that I was pretty sure Faith could knock him out with one good punch. Riley's ok and a good farmer but he ain't as friendly to some folks, including Clem, as I woulda liked. Anyway, all this conversating was goin on as it always does and Emms run over and clumb up between me and Buffy and asked if she could have my cookie which I give her and then started using my green beans to spell out cat and pig and the like. Well, Faith glanced over at what we was doin and then she looked at Tara. I'm not sure that I liked the way she was lookin' at Tara none and I guess she could tell off my look cause she leaned over and whispered, "I just want her to teach me to read, Wilbur," (which she been callin' me for years cause she knows it makes me all mad). "I can see anything else is a lost cause already."

Well I wasn't quite sure what she meant by that but she smiled when she said it and it seemed like a nice smile so I said darn right. Pops never liked me swearin' but I thought it fit in this case.

She laughed and said there you go and kind of punched me on the arm which I guess was supposed to be friendly but getting' punched by Faith, even friendly-like, ain't never fun for the person attached on that arm. I also tole her that if Tara left town I'd still teach her to read but Faith patted me and said Tara wasn't goin' nowhere. I hope she's right because even though she works in a Saloon, she usually is.

We headed out after lunch and by the time we got back to the house, I was near crazy from the beatin' of my heart. Or maybe I done developed another heart since we left out from the church. Tara was sittin' right up next to me, her hand restin' on my leg since she couldn't hold onto my hand while I was holdin' the reins. We had the whole afternoon in front of us with no obligations and no chores. I needed to head out and feed later on but that was it. No one in Sunnydale went out visitin' on Sunday afternoons by our town tradition. Folks either went home with someone else after church to visit or stayed at home themselves. Some towns I guess men went around settin' on the porch with pretty girls but we just never got that tradition and I always felt ok on that.

Tara insisted on headin' out to the barn with me to put off the horses in spite of we was both wearin' our best dresses. I said I didn't want her getting no mess on her pretty dress which she said the same back too and again blushin' on likin' the way I looked in a dress. I always felt kinda out of place in a dress but I wasn't goin' wear no britches to church.

We went in holding hands and, well honestly, stoppin' for a lot of kissin. I felt dizzy from it all and can't say I was thinkin' too good. Tara said a few sweet things on me and I tried on her but mostly all I could think was that I was in love with her and did she know it and did she love me just a little. And more than that, was she goin' stay. That coach was leavin' out Tuesday and for all I knew she was goin' be right on it and takin my heart along with her. She asked what I usually do on Sunday afternoons. I told her about my Pops and I used to play some checkers or read to each other or sometimes just set and swung on the porch. Or I would walk out in the trees and he would go down to mama's grave and tend the roses.

Tara took my hand. "I'd really like to see them if you'd like to show me."

I couldn't hardly talk to walk her on out there and I was pretty shocked when she stooped down next to me and untied her shoes right next to me and set them by the door. She smiled, real playful, "I'd like to feel the ground under my feet. See what it's like."

I took her hand and walked her on down to where my folks was restin'. Their place was still in the orchard but nearer the creek and I picked up some small stones as we walked and handed two to her. I set my stones on each headstone and Tara did the same and then I kneeled down and started carin' on them roses and weeds for a little while. When I finished, I seen that Tara had tears in her eyes. She give each stone a little kiss and whispered somethin' I didn't hear toward them as we started walkin back to the house.

We washed up and went inside and I just looked at her and ... I don't know what happened. Somethin' just all welled up inside me. I took a few steps forward and started kissin' Tara. I didn't want to scare her but I didn't want to stop neither. We was standin' up and I could feel that dizzy comin' back and maybe she did too cause she started pushing me backwards toward the bed and the back of my legs hit it and I sat down. Well, Tara kind of hiked her skirt up a little and set down on my lap.

We kept on kissin' and she started brushin' her hand over my arms and then to my hips and up my sides. I wasn't so sure what she had in mind but every place she touched felt like fire. I was about as happy as a dog when you scratch behind his ears. I wanted to have her feelin' the same and started runnin' my hands over her just the same. I brushed across her bottom and kind of started away when I realized but she took my hands and put them back there. She pushed me backwards onto the bed and leaned in so she was on top of me.

Well, I was feelin' stuff I didn't recognize at all. I could hardly breathe and I was startin' to feel ... funny in my female places. Somehow we was both gettin' less dressed all the time and I seen a patch of skin on her chest and thought I was goin' start cryin'. "Can I... touch...?"

"Oh yes, Willow. Everything."

Everything. I didn't quite know what to do and I probably embarrassed myself a few times on not knowin' what was goin' on. I touched Tara's breast and later was ... well... kissin' one and she made this sort of whine. "Did I hurt you, Tara?"

She almost laughed. "No, sweetie. It's a good sound." I took her word on it and a few minutes later noticed I was makin' the same without really meanin'. It wasn't somethin' I could stop and I didn't think I wanted to.

"I wanna be so close to you, Tara." I didn't say that I just didn't know how but I wanted her closer and closer.

And then she looked at me all sweet and run her hand along my cheek. She didn't say anything and I gulped when I realized she was naked. I guess we had been makin' more progress on them clothes than I noticed but then I was a bit interested in everythin' else going on. We kept rollin' over and over so first one and then the other of us was laying on the bed and the other on top but never very far apart cause I guess she felt about the same way on closeness.

The other thing is... well, it's embarrassin' to write down but I felt kind of funny. I been out of diapers a good lot of years and I knew it wasn't my female time but it was like I sprung a leak or somethin' I didn't know whether to kind of scoot under the covers so Tara wouldn't know or maybe say I needed a trip to the privy and try to wash up or what. I bet I was red as a beet cause Tara pulled back and asked me what was wrong and I turned redder even. I could feel my ears just burnin'. Finally I said I would only whisper in her ear and she said ok. "I think there's somethin' wrong with my female parts."

She looked at me kind of sad and asked what and I told her and she smiled. She was holdin' my eyes with hers and took my hand in hers and ... well she moved it so that my fingertips touched her and she was just as wet as I was. I almost pulled back but she held my hand there and whispered in my ear. "Does it feel nice, Willow?"

I didn't think I could speak so I nodded. I moved my fingertips a little and noticed that when I did she made that wonderful sound again. I ran them along her ... well I don't know what to call it but she was so soft and warm and wet and she made these amazing sounds. Somehow my fingers just kind of slid inside her body and it was about the very best thing I ever felt before. She grasped my arm and closed her eyes and let out this big long moan and G-d if I didn't just ... Well, I stopped thinkin' all together and just did whatever made her squeeze my arm more and make that sound again. Pretty soon she was kind of thrashin' against my hand like when you're breakin' a mustang and then her body kind of squeezed down on my fingers so hard. G-d. It was...

Before her breathin' returned to any normalness she had grabbed me and was kissin me and saying she loved me which kind of caught me off guard and surprised me cause I knew just how much I love her but I didn't really think she was feelin' the same way. "G-d, Tara. I love you too. I just... I love you so much and I don't know what I'd do if you head on out of town on Tuesday." I'd started cryin' which wasn't all that romantic but she just pulled me in close and stroked my hair and whispered about how she wasn't goin' anywhere and she'd be here, in my home and my bed as long as I wanted and I said how about forever.

And then she kind of stopped strokin' my hair like she was trying to make me stop cryin' and started strokin' my skin different. And my funny feelinness was comin' back but now I knew it was ok and she ... well you remember how she had a trick on usin' her tongue when she was kissin'? Well, I guess she knew some other tricks cause I ain't never felt anything like that kissin' and where she was kissin' and her hand on me and in me too, makin' me hers forever if I wasn't already. I didn't know what to do but I didn't have to think none, just feel what she was doin' and try not to break her wrist off when my world exploded. She tole me a bit about that explosion business since then and showed me a few more of her tricks not to mention lettin' me try some out on her.

I just don't know how much more I can say. My face is about to burn off and I'm wishin' she was ready to head home just now cause ... I got that feelin' again and I just want to lay her down and go slow as anyone could ever go slow or maybe slower'n that.

Well, it's taken me one big bunch of words to tell all about how we come to this Christmas, our first together. I think it maybe took me a few weeks to really believe that Tara wasn't goin' climb on some coach some day and head back to Philadelphia with her family and a girl to help her dress and books piled on books at a library. But she convinced me pretty good with her bein' so happy and startin' the school on up plus which quite a bit more of that Sunday afternoon business. And I feel like after startin' out such a bumpkin, I got a good handle on that business after all and Tara says she reckons I got it about down but that ain't no reason we can't both still be workin' at it. Not that it seems like work at all.

Well, like I said I wanted to get Tara one'a them side-saddles but they're more money than you'd think. I maybe should have enough about March time and I can surprise her good then. Till then, I got Tara a book called Shakespeare's Sonnets that Uncle Rayne got for me while he was up in San Francisco and I give him the money before he left cause he says he ain't givin' credit to no family which really just means me cause I still won't give over the Post Office to him. And I turned out to take them pelts and put them into a set of slippers for Tara so her feet can stay warm in the house. And I got a bunch of little things I made or found for Buffy and Xander and Dawnie and Emms. I finished up that set of letters finally and bet she'll just be tickled when I get her the whole set.

So Christmas Eve Tara and I finished about the best and biggest meal I ever had in my entire life and that includes the spread at Buffy and Riley's wedding a few months back. Tomorrow we'll go out runnin' around and visit folks and I sent off a telegram for her earlier today to her family in Philadelphia to say Merry Christmas that she sprung for the extra letters instead of Xmas like some people started. We do ok with my salary for the telegram and post office and the whole farm feeds us and her salary on teachin' and Mayor Wilkins still payin' me rent for her to live here which I would want for free. So she had enough money for the extra letters and she teased me about watchin' me send the message and how she fell in love with me that first day when I sent off that first message and my fingertips moved so fast but I don't believe that's true. She just likes to tease sometimes and turn my cheeks red.

Well we grabbed the quilt off the bed that folks made for my mom and pop when they got married and that I guess no ones gonna make us one and we went out on the porch and wrapped up. The sun set early cause of it bein' so late in the year but we could watch the stars brighter than anything in the world. I'm teachin' Tara all the constellations but I think she knows them and is teasin' me on names and such. On the way out, I grabbed a few items on the sly and I think she did too and for a few minutes we kissed and snuggled and then I said about presents. She loved the slippers and the book too. And she'd gotten me a different Shakespeare As You like It and also a pretty new book called Moby Dick and she was her usual teasin' self sayin' that it ain't about what you'd think at all. And then she kissed me real long and real deep and said that there was nothing left for her to give me because she's mine and mine completely. It made me even happier about the gift I made for her. And I bet I got a silly grin on my face before I pulled out that last box.

"I wanted to get you a fancy saddle like you wanted but it didn't work out none, Tara." I handed her the box and kind of waited all nervous.

"It's light." I nodded. She unwrapped the ribbon and opened the lid and I think maybe it took her a second to realize what I done give her. Then she was smilin' when she pulled that little stick that I whittled out of the box and slowly read the flag on it. "Rosenberg-Maclay." I meant it too. That flag ain't got no reason to just say Rosenberg no more cause she belongs here as long as she'll stay. She kissed me somethin' fierce then and then whispered could we go and put it on the map right away. Well, I hadn't been thinkin' we'd leave the comfort of our porch or bed this night but seein as I'd do about anything she asked, I give her a kiss or two or three and hopped up and hitched the horses to the wagon while she went on inside and got a big rock we keep by the fire to wrap up in a blanket and take with us for warmin' our feet and by the time she come out with it, I had brung the wagon around the porch.

Now ridin' in the wagon together is always a real joy and we get to cuddle up in the cold which we did. We come in past the Wilkins house where about every window showed lights up and I wonder if them kids was sleepin' at all. Then up past the Saloon where things was extra hoppity. I guess I'm getting' to know that place better now that Tara goes over there every week to meet with Faith and somea them other girls too. Faith's been out to our place for dinner more too although usually she's gettin' ready for workin' bout dinnertime. She's one person I think sees our love for just what it is and ain't shy about it at all. On occasion she says somethin' that really makes me or Tara blush but mostly she just acts like she knows and doesn't care. Of course that don't keep her from sayin' sweet things to my Tara ever so often that make me feel like I need to go over there and get her to punch me in the nose. I'd say go teach her a lesson but I ain't never gonna get a good punch in with Faith and I know that one. I bet she could beat Xander but he ain't never made her try.

Anyway, we come up to the jail and went inside which it was open of course. No one's gonna steal nothin' out of a jail house even if Xander's home asleep (or at the Saloon more likely) and I locked down the telegram so no one can send no sly messages or nothing. Unless someone comes along and desperately needs a book and steals one, I ain't worried for the stuff there. Sometimes drunks wander over from the Saloon and sleep their drunk off in the cells and some days I come in and knock around loud and wait for someone to come out shielding their eyes from the sun and makin' me wonder again why they drink so much. I lit up the lamp and held it in one hand and Tara's in the other and we went over to Pops map. She looked at me all sweet again before pullin' out the old flag and then asked was I sure before stickin' the new one in there. After, we both took a few steps back and just gazed, first at the new flag and then at the whole map.

"See, I tole you you belong here with me, Tara Maclay."

She leaned closer and put a soft kiss on my neck, tellin' me that she had known that since that first afternoon.

My eyes wandered up to the top of the map where Pops put our town name. And her joke finally hit me. "Long Lick? It's a name with potential?"

She laughed long and hard and deep and then whispered in my ear. "Come home, Willow Rosenberg, and I'll show you what I meant that afternoon."

Well, I couldn't deny her and why would I? I bout broke a record gettin' us home and the horses put up and us put to bed where we could both demonstrate that potential and truly celebrate the Holidays.


Continue to Stocking Stuffers story two: Willow & Tara Save Christmas

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