Tara sat in her car, and once again eyed the time on her dashboard. 11:57. Jesus, Tara, any normal person would have gotten out of their car and walked to the door already. She tucked her hands back underneath her, feeling her the warmth of her bottom chase away the cold in her fingertips.
Okay. At noon, we will step out of the car, and into the nice warm building.
She watched as parents exited the large brick structure with their children scurrying behind them, bursting with sugar-laden energy. It was the last day of pre-school before winter break, and Tara was certain that fudge and brownies were involved. The children paraded in front of her car, holding up their latest creations for everyone to see. A reindeer with one antler, a misshapen Santa, unidentifiable clay ornaments . . . decorations only a mother could love.
A few of the children recognized Tara and waved at her eagerly. Tara smiled and waved back. She hadn't expected to be so involved in her niece's class. Donny and Faith had their hands full with a newborn baby boy, so Tara had volunteered to chauffer her niece to and from school. Initially it had been strictly a drop-off/pick-up situation, but that all changed when she met her niece's teacher.
Tara wasn't prone to instantaneous attraction, let alone love at first sight, but there was something about the woman that sparkled and glowed on that first day of school. Maybe it was the excitement of a new batch of kids, maybe it was her love of children, but whatever it was, it was genuine.
She had introduced herself as Teacher Willow, which Tara couldn't help but smile at. Whatever jitters her niece had when they arrived vanished when she took Teacher Willow's hand and joined the rest of the class. Tara had watched from the doorway, amazed at the woman's ability to command the attention of a room full of 4 year olds.
Over the next few weeks, casual hellos turned into small talk, which led to friendly conversations, and before she knew it, Tara became Tuesday's parent helper (though technically not a parent). The only thing that matched her excitement for Tuesday morning was her growing attraction to the redheaded schoolteacher. Willow was the like the Pied Piper of children. Wherever she went, they followed. Whatever she asked, they did. Tara was beginning to think there was magic afoot; there was no logical reason for such a well-behaved class. And the more she thought about, the more she knew she was under Teacher Willow's spell as well.
Which is why she was freezing in the car, instead of warming up in the classroom. With a little help from her niece, Tara discovered Teacher Willow's love of mochas from the Dolores Park Cafe. Her personal Magnum PI also informed her that Teacher Willow was Jewish, so in addition to the two piping hot coffee cups, she brought along a little gift she helped her niece make, since Hanukah had begun two days ago.
Tara's nerves were keeping her rooted in her spot, and she knew she needed to get a move on before the coffees turned into frozen delights. The clock flashed 12:00, and with the warm cups in tow and the present safe in her bag, Tara got out of her car and walked to the building.
Willow surveyed the classroom. Surprisingly, it wasn't in shambles, considering the multitude of holiday delights her students had eaten in celebration of the last day of school before winter break. The few children who hadn't been picked up were playing quietly near the balance beam, and Willow took advantage of the moment by helping herself to a little homemade fudge.
Willow turned and watched a dark haired little girl with glasses burn rubber towards a woman standing in the doorway. A smile crept to her lips, like it always did, whenever Tara entered the room. In the beginning, Willow had waved it off as a silly little crush, but the more she got to know her, the more that crush turned into something deeper.
They had hit it off instantly and became fast friends. Willow knew she had it bad when she found herself stuck in front of her closet on Tuesday mornings. Trying to find clothes that were flattering yet school teacher-y was challenging, but trying to find an outfit that didn't have finger paint stains or clumps of glue was damn near impossible.
She appreciated that Tara was very hands on with the children, unlike most parents, who stuck with their own kids. Willow would observe Tara leading a group activity, only to find herself observing Tara more closely. Occasionally they would lock eyes and Willow would smile and quickly turn away, hoping that the humongous blush on her face wasn't obvious. Sometimes it was she who caught Tara looking at her, and the blonde would do the same, though Willow couldn't tell if the blush was mutual.
Tara bent down and gave her niece a peck on the cheek before handing her a white cup. Willow watched as Tara turned to rummage in her bad and retrieve a small gift, which she also handed to her niece before whispering in her ear and pointing directly at Willow. Her niece nodded excitedly and half ran, half walked to her teacher.
"Teacher Willow, Teacher Willow! Look! For you!" Willow kneeled in front of the little girl and graciously accepted her gifts.
"For me? Thank you, Rachel!" she said, and promptly found herself on the receiving end of a giant hug and a sloppy kiss.
"Happy Hanukah, Teacher Willow," Tara said with a half smile as her niece released Willow from her death grip.
"Thank you, Aunt Tara," Willow replied. The two women regarded each other for a minute, nervously clutching their coffee cups.
"I hope you like mochas. I p-passed by the Dolores Park Cafe, and since it was cold out . . ."
"Oh, no, I love mochas. That's actually my favorite cafe, so, gold star for you." Willow took a sip from the cup, and relished the velvet chocolately flavor. "Mmm . . . this stuff is sinful."
"Aunt Tara! Aunt Tara look!" Rachel had since ran to her to her cubby and returned with her most recent masterpiece. She held it up for her aunt to see.
"Wow, Rachel! Did you draw this? That's the most awesome reindeer I've ever seen!" Tara gushed. She beamed at her niece and was surprised to see a frown lining her young face. Tara glanced at Willow with questioning eyebrows, and the school teacher replied by clearing her throat, and whispering something loud enough so only Tara could hear.
"Oh, wait a minute!" Tara backtracked, gathering the artwork from her niece, whose pout was threatening to take over her face. "Silly me, I forgot to put on my glasses!" She reached into her bag and pulled out a pair of dark sunglasses. Willow giggled as Tara put them on, and watched Rachel's demeanor change as Tara observed the drawing more closely. "Oh my, I'm blinder than a bat! Rachel, I love your armadillo. It's fantastic!" The little girl laughed in delight and clapped her hands, content with her aunt's observation.
Tara removed her glasses and handed back the drawing. She looked up at Willow and gave her a sly wink. "Works every time."
"Smooth. Very smooth, Aunt Tara." Willow could feel the heat in her cheeks as the blonde smiled at her. She quickly took another swig of her coffee.
"So a holiday armadillo?" Tara questioned. "I'm beginning to wonder what else you're teaching my niece."
"Hey, in my defense, she got the letter A for the holiday pictures. She couldn't think of what to draw that was Christmasy and started with 'A,' so I told her she could draw whatever she wanted. The armadillo was all her."
Tara laughed, and Willow was certain that there wasn't anything that sounded more beautiful.
"You ready to go, Grasshopper?" Tara affectionately asked her niece.
"Not yet Aunt Tara. I have to make a poopies first!" Tara rolled her eyes as her niece ran to the bathroom. Willow suppressed a snicker.
"That little girl has a obsession with bodily functions," Tara explained. "I swear we're working on it. She's got this whole TMI thing going, I don't know where she gets it from."
"She has gotten better, though," Willow replied. "She used to announce it everyday, but she's cut back to once a week."
More parents appeared at the door, and Willow excused herself to greet them as the entered. She hugged and kissed her students good bye, all the while keeping an eye on Tara, who was now circling the treat table, examining its wares. She watched as Tara settled on the same homemade fudge.
"Watch out, those things are deadly," Willow joked after she waved the last of her students goodbye. Tara nodded in agreement.
"There should be a law against stuff this good." Willow placed her coffee cup on the table, and began gathering the empty plates and cups.
"So," Tara began as she helped clear the table, "any plans for the holidays? Spending it with family? Friends?" The blonde paused and Willow could sense her hesitation. "A boyfriend, maybe?"
"Um, no, no, and no," Willow replied evenly. She felt a tinge of sadness at the thought of spending the holidays alone. Her parents were away at an academic conference in Europe, she explained, and friends had flown to the four corners of the country to be with family.
"And there hasn't been a boyfriend since sophomore year of college, so it'll be me, Miss Kitty, and Grandma's old menorah." She cringed at how pathetic that sounded, and hoped that Tara had not sensed her disappointment.
She felt the blonde's eyes on her, and looked up to see Tara with her hands on her hips.
"Seriously? You're spending it alone?" Willow shrugged her shoulders in response. "No. I absolutely cannot abide by this." Tara ripped off a piece of butcher paper and began writing something in yellow crayon.
"You come and spend it with us," Tara said, taking Willow's hand and placing the paper in her palm. The redhead's heart leapt at invitation, but her modesty immediately kicked in and the "No, it's okay" flew out of her mouth before she could stop it.
"Willow, c'mon. No one should be alone during the holidays," Tara pushed gently.
"No, really, it's okay. I don't want to impose," she replied. She bit the urge to say yes, knowing that she had no place in their family gathering. But wouldn't it be nice? she thought.
"Really Willow, it won't be a problem. Donny and Faith love you, and I'm sure Rachel wouldn't mind either. Isn't that right Rachel?" she asked her niece as she appeared from the bathroom.
"Right!" the little girl replied with gusto, despite not knowing exactly what she was agreeing with.
"See?" Tara smiled. "You wouldn't want to disappoint a child on Christmas, would you?"
"But she doesn't even know what we're talking about!" Willow exclaimed incredulously.
"Doesn't matter. The Rach has spoken." Tara scooped up her niece and tousled her hair. "So what do you say?" Tara continued as she playfully manhandled her giggling niece. For a moment, Willow let herself imagine a Christmas with Tara and her family . . . A Christmas with Tara, snuggled up near the fire place, touching, holding, maybe a little kissing -
"I could use a new partner for Christmas Pictionary." Tara's voice snapped her out of her warm daydream. "I'm tired of losing every year." The blonde smiled at her warmly, and Willow felt the butterflies stir in her stomach. It's easy. Just say yes.
She felt the gentle grasp of a hand, and looked down to see Tara's fingers entwined with hers. The butterflies in her belly exploded.
"Listen, " Tara said softly, "It's totally not a problem. If you don't want to, I respect that. But if there is any part of you that even remotely wants to go, you have our address, and we'd love to have you. Okay?"
Tara's blue eyes were full of sincerity, and Willow felt a sense of calm settle her spazzing nerves.
"Okay," was all the redhead could muster.
Tara smiled knowingly, and Willow felt a slight squeeze before the blonde relinquished her hand. Aunt and niece bade her good bye, leaving Willow alone in her classroom with the possibility of a not so lonely Christmas.
"You think she'll come?" Rachel asked her aunt for the billionth time as they sat in the kitchen.
Tara sighed. "I hope so Grasshopper, cause these cookies aren't going to eat themselves." She gestured at the three batches of cookies cooling on the granite countertop. "I don't think we made enough, do you?" Tara asked jokingly.
"You're silly Aunt Tara," her niece giggled. "I hope Teacher Willow visits us tonight," Rachel mused as she deftly wielded her favorite cookie cutter. "I like her really a lot."
"Me too, kiddo," Tara breathed. "Me too."
"I'll bet you do," chimed a voice from the pantry. "And you know she's a lesbian because why?"
"Faith," Tara spoke in exasperation, "I never said she was a lesbian. I just said she hasn't had a boyfriend since college."
Faith stopped rummaging through the pantry shelves and grinned at her sister-in-law. "Yup," she nodded. "She's a lesbian."
"Who's a lesbian?" Donny poked his head into the kitchen and helped himself to a cookie. "Mmm," he mumbled in between bites as he grabbed a few more. "So good."
"Your sister here has the hots for Teacher Willow," Faith explained as she tended to the pots on the stove,
"What's a lesbian?"
All three adults stopped what they were doing and looked at Rachel, who was unaware that she was the center of their attention. Tara glanced at Donny first, who shrugged his shoulders, and then to Faith, who rolled her eyes.
"Seriously. You guys look like she just dropped the F-bomb or something," Faith admonished. "Sweetie, a lesbian is a woman who likes to kiss girls instead of boys," she explained calmly to her daughter, who was still engrossed in her cookie cutting.
"Oh," she replied nonchalantly. She gathered her cookies and placed them on an empty baking sheet. "Aunt Tara, are you a lesbian?" she asked. She stopped her cookie making and looked at her aunt.
Faith chuckled at her daughter's curiosity, and shot Tara a pointed look. The blonde maintained her composure, however, and answered her niece. "Yes Rachel. I am a lesbian."
"Okay," was the little girl's response, and Tara was relieved to see her interest return to the unbaked cookie dough. She looked sternly at her niece's mother.
"What?" Faith responded.
"I know it's hard to resist, but please, try not to embarrass me tonight? If she comes?" Tara pleaded. Her sister-in-law's laughter was not reassuring. She looked at her brother, who proved his uselessness by shrugging yet again.
Great, Tara thought. It's going to be a long night.
On the other side of town, Willow sat in her small studio, accompanied by Miss Kitty and a hot mug of peppermint tea. She inhaled the sweet scent of her beverage, and wondered again if she had made the right decision. The slip of paper with Tara's neat handwriting laid on her lap, daring her to Mapquest the address and be on her way already.
Miss Kitty appeared by her side, purring and licking at her hair. As the cat maneuvered across the side table, she knocked over the remote control, which clattered loudly onto the floor. Willow bent to pick it up, and noticed an unwrapped present hidden under the couch.
"Miss Kitty, did you put that there?" she asked her cat as she lovingly rubbed her behind the ears. The cat purred in response. Willow reached under the couch and grabbed the forgotten gift.
To Teacher Willow From Rachel, the tag said, in the same neat script as the piece of paper on her lap. Willow carefully unwrapped the square object, and revealed a popsicle stick picture frame, decorated with various beads, strings, and pompoms. In it was a picture of her, Rachel . . . and Tara. She remembered that picture; Tara had offered to take a picture of the two of them, and Rachel had insisted that her aunt be in the picture. She stared at the picture for a moment, taking in Tara's dazzling smile and Rachel's infectious grin, before placing it on her side table.
From her perch on the couch, Miss Kitty watched her owner put on her shoes and pick up her keys. Willow kissed her cat good bye and donned her resolve face as she headed towards the door.
Tara looked out the window as she arranged each place setting. She wondered if she was setting herself up for disappointment, since there was no indication that Willow would be joining them this evening. The hope she had awoken with this morning was slowly dwindling down to nothing, and she was tempted to put the extra place setting back in the china cabinet where it belonged.
"Tara, is everything all right?" Tara turned to see her mother enter the dining room, carrying a casserole dish. Her parents had arrived earlier in the afternoon, and though she hadn't seen her mother in months, Tara knew her mother could still read her like a book. "You look a bit . . . disappointed."
Her mother approached her and gathered her in her arms. "It's nothing Mom," Tara began, enjoying the warmth of her mother's embrace. "I invited someone over tonight, but it doesn't look like she's coming."
"Is she the flavor of the month?" her mom teased, and Tara responded by wriggling out of her grasp.
"Mom! You've been hanging out with Faith to long," she giggled.
"Hey T!" came a voice from the kitchen. "Donny'll be out front in a minute, can you help him bring in the firewood?" Faith appeared, laden with yet another casserole dish. "And yes Mom, that 'she' is most definitely the flavor of the month," she continued. Tara frowned. "But we're not supposed to tease T over here. It's her Christmas wish," Faith finished with an air of sarcasm. Tara rolled her eyes at their laughter, and left the dining room before she could be the butt of more jokes. From the window of the front room, she saw Donny's pick-up pull into the empty space in front of the house. She quickly grabbed her jacket and yanked open the front door, revealing a very startled schoolteacher on her doorstep.
"H-hey," the redhead chattered nervously. "I . . . I hope I'm not too late." She extended her hands and produced a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine. The blonde's happiness was bursting at the seams, and before she knew it she had engulfed the woman in a giant hug.
"I'm glad you made it," she whispered softly. The redhead shyly returned Tara's smile, and for a moment they were lost in each other's gaze.
"Ahem." The sound of a throat clearing yanked Tara back to reality. "Nice to see you, Willow," Donny mumbled under the weight of a box of firewood. "You think you can grab a couple of logs off the top and help a man out?"
"Of course," Willow obliged, and the trio entered the house.
"Are you sure I can't help?" Willow asked as Tara removed the empty dishes from her hands and shooed her out of the kitchen. They had just finished dinner, and Willow had insisted on helping with the clean up, to which Tara had responded with a firm no.
"We've got it covered. Don't you worry about a thing." Tara winked at the schoolteacher and carried the rest of the plates in the kitchen. "Hey Rachel! Why don't you keep Teacher Willow company and show her how you decorated the Christmas tree?"
"Okay!" Rachel replied excitedly, and promptly whisked her teacher away to the front room.
"She's a cute one, Tara," her mom commented as she loaded the dishwasher. "And very charming. Think she's a keeper?" She waggled her eyes at her daughter.
"Mom," Tara sighed.
"I'm just saying. It's about time you had someone in your life. You deserve it." She leaned over and gave her daughter a kiss. "Besides, I think she likes you. She made googly eyes at you all during dinner."
"Googly eyes? What?" Tara quickly glanced at her mother, who dissolved into a fit of laughter when she saw the look on her daughter's face.
"Go on inside, I'll finish up here," she said, as she caught her breath. "I think your Dad's monopolizing her and boring her to tears." She nodded to the front room, where sure enough, Willow was engaged in a lively conversation with Tara's father. "Go save your damsel in distress," she urged with a smile. Tara wiped her hands dry and returned her mother's kiss before exiting the kitchen.
"Hey Dad," Tara interrupted gently as she approached the two. "Did you bring the easel?"
"Yes! It's in the car, let me get it out." His eyes twinkled as he looked back at Willow. "Christmas Pictionary. A holiday tradition," he beamed. "Hope you brought your A game tonight, Willow."
"Sorry about that," Tara apologized, as her father left to retrieve the easel. She plopped down on floor in front of the redhead. "He loves chatting up new people."
"Nah, it's okay," Willow responded with a smile. "He was just telling me all the famous Jewish people he knew."
"Oh god," Tara said in embarrassment, covering her mouth with her hand.
"Harrison Ford's a quarter Jewish," Willow shared, "not too shabby, eh?"
Both women laughed. Soon, the rest of the family joined them in the front room. Tara's father returned with the easel, and everyone split into teams. The battle for the title of Supreme Christmas Pictionary Champ had commenced.
Half an hour later, Tara found herself in front of the easel, and saddled with the task of breaking the tie. If Willow guessed the answer, their team would reign supreme.
A hush filled the room as Tara picked a card and read its contents. Donny and Faith watched her with trepidation, while Tara's parents relaxed, knowing that they were completely out of the running.
Tara bit her lip and thought for a moment. She glanced at her partner, who eagerly awaited the chance to win the game. Nodding at her niece, who readied the timer, Tara picked up the marker. At the sound of the word 'go,' Tara's hand flew across the paper.
Willow watched the flurry of lines and panicked a little when her guesses missed the mark. Tara's drawings were becoming more emphatic, and Willow tried her best to put them together. Time was slowly running out . . .
"Frankincense?" she guessed out loud.
Tara screamed in triumph, and pumped her fist in the air.
"What? Wait a minute!" Faith exclaimed, standing up and grabbing the card out of Tara's hand. "How the hell did you get frankincense from that?" She gestured at the menagerie of drawings on the easel. Willow responded with a shrug. "Unbelievable," Faith muttered with a shake of her head.
"Woo hoo!" Tara bellowed, and exchanged a big high five with her partner. "How do you like them apples, Donny?" She swaggered in front of her brother with glee.
"Next year, I get the school teacher on my team," Donny replied playfully, to which Faith responded with a smack on his arm. "What? You're a horrible artist!"
"And last time I checked you were no Picasso either!"
Tara laughed as the couple continued to bicker. She turned to Willow, who had gotten up and was stretching out her limbs.
"I'm not even going to ask how you knew," Tara said with a smile.
"Just a lucky guess. Something about you gesticulating wildly just screamed out 'frankincense.'" Tara giggled at the redhead's response.
The grandfather clock chimed in the hallway, and Willow quickly glanced at her watch. "Wow, I didn't realize how late was." To Tara's dismay, she began gathering her belongings.
"Are you leaving us so soon?" asked Tara's father. "We're just about to pop in 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas.'"
"No, no, I really should get going. But thank you. Thank all of you," she gestured to the rest of the family. "I had a great time tonight. Really."
Tara watched as Willow bid her family goodbye. The evening had turned out better than she expected, and though she wanted Willow to stay longer, she knew better than to push.
"I'll walk you out," she offered, and followed Willow to the front door.
"Daddy look!" Tara turned to see her niece pointing above her head. "They're standing under the mistletoe!" Both women looked up, and sure enough, there was a twig dangling from the doorway. "You have to kiss now!" Rachel exclaimed, and Tara felt the blush creep across her face. She stole a glance at Willow, who was laughing at Rachel's comment. "It's okay, Teacher Willow, Aunt Tara told me she likes to kiss girls instead of boys. She's a les-"
"Okay, let's go watch that movie!" Donny interrupted as he clamped a hand on his daughter's mouth. "You have a nice evening Willow," he said as he dragged his squiggling daughter away. Faith suppressed a giggle, and gave Tara a wink before following her husband.
Tara stood the doorway, frozen in embarrassment. "Wow," she said flatly. She looked at Willow, who was beet red. "Feel free to run out of the house screaming," Tara joked, and it was enough to break the awkward silence between them. Willow opened the door, and the two stepped into the cold winter air.
"Well, to say that was horribly embarrassing would be an understatement," Tara said as the pair walked down the street to Willow's car.
"I don't know, it was kinda cute," Willow replied. "It's not everyday you're outed by your five year old niece."
Tara cringed. "Damn, I was hoping you weren't paying attention." The redhead laughed, then gestured to a gray Honda Accord parked on the street.
"That's me," she said, and the two stopped next to the vehicle. Willow leaned up against the car, while Tara stood in front of her, hands deep in her jacket pockets. "Besides, it's nothing to be embarrassed about," Willow reassured, playfully kicking Tara in the shin. The blonde watched as Willow's hand reached out and tugged on her jacket. "I . . ." Willow began, and Tara could sense the hesitation in her voice. "I prefer kissing girls too," she murmured.
Tara could scarcely believe what she was hearing. She swallowed the lump in her throat, and looked up to see a pair of green eyes beckoning her closer. The tug on her jacket was a little more insistent, and Tara found herself toe to toe with the redhead. There was but a whisper between them, and then nothing, as their lips met in a delicate kiss.
Tara felt Willow's arms encircle her waist as they parted, and she did the same, gathering the petite woman's body into her arms.
"So, good Hanukah?" the blonde asked with a peck on the cheek.
"Best Hanukah," Willow replied with a smile.