Willow stood silently behind Tara as the blonde paid for her groceries, her mind still reeling from all that had happened. 'She's going to have coffee with me! She's going to have coffee with me! Like right now! Oh goddess! She's going to have coffee with...' The redhead looked down, surveying her choice of clothing. 'A complete mess! Here I am in grungy jeans and an old shirt while she looks stunning in,' Willow looked over at the blonde, '...grungy jeans and an old shirt.' She then asked herself, 'Am I making too big a deal over this? Of course I am. It's just coffee... coffee with Tara... coffee with the woman I've been thinking about but haven't said a word to in three weeks... coffee with... the woman of whose chest I had my face buried in not ten minutes ago... ooh, that chest... ok, no, can't think of that right now... have to think of something to talk about... psychology... ooh I can talk about that... no, wait... she won't want to hear about this... probably thinks it's all Pavlov's Dog or something. Maybe I could...'
"Willow? I'm finished."
"Wha-, huh?" The redhead looked toward the voice. "Oh! Tara." She smiled at the blonde. "Hey."
Tara smiled back. "You looked l-like you were d-deep in thought."
"Uh, yeah... kinda." Willow blushed a little, feeling silly for having gotten so lost in her own internal ramblings.
"What w-were you thinking about?" Tara began to walk toward the front doors.
"What happened earlier." The psychology professor moved with the blonde as they headed out.
Just outside the door, Tara stopped, turned around and looked at Willow, a distraught look on her face. "Willow... I'm so s-sorry. I really didn't mean for th-that to happen back there. I d-didn't know you were standing behind me and when you t-tapped my sh-shoulder." Willow looked at Tara's eyes, saw a mix of fear and sadness and realized that the blonde had misunderstood what she said. Tara looked away, still feeling guilty about what happened.
"Oh goddess, no! No, no... I didn't mean it that way, Tara." Willow touched the blonde's arm, hoping she'd look up and meet her eyes again. "Tara, look at me." The other woman nodded and turned her eyes to meet the redheads. "I was thinking about all that has gone on the last three weeks. The fact that we met at that faculty mixer but hadn't even had a chance to talk since then. I'd been meaning to approach you again, but unexpected events kept happening."
Tara smiled slightly and remarked, "You mean like runaway guinea pigs?"
Willow's eyes widened and she blushed. "You saw that?" The blonde professor nodded and placed her hand on top of the one Willow had placed on her arm. "Ok, yes, even runaway guinea pigs." She sighed and continued. "When I saw you in the store, I was determined to talk to you. I took it as a sign from those powers that be that we were in the same place at the same time, for once, and so I mustered my courage, tapped you on the shoulder and started on my journey towards getting to know you. I just didn't think I was going to, well, uh, get to know you 'that' well, um, so quickly."
"Willow, I'm so sorry about that. I'm so embarrassed...for both of us." Tara still expected to see Willow's face change to one of irritation or blame, but it only held the same smile and shining eyes.
"Tara, please don't feel bad about what happened in the supermarket. I don't. Granted, it wasn't the most graceful of sights, and I'm sure your um, butt, would've preferred not to have had the opportunity to develop frostbite, but well, I had a nice soft landing. Anyway..." The blonde blushed at Willow's last comment. "Let's just chalk it up to this whole thing being one hell of a way to break the ice... um, no pun intended. She lightly squeezed Tara's arm. "Okay?" Her eyes searched the gaze she held for any sign of the affirmative.
"Okay," the A&P professor responded. Her hand still on top of Willow's, Tara smiled and briefly intertwined her fingers with the other woman's. The two of them said nothing, standing still, holding each other's gaze. After several seconds, Willow wanted to break the silence, but the sound of 'She Blinded Me with Science' did it for her. "What the...?"
"Oh, dammit! My cell phone." Much to her disappointment, Willow removed her hand from Tara's arm and reached to grab the annoying contraption from her purse. "Hello?!" Willow barked, her irritation clearly recognizable. Her face softened when heard the voice on the other end. "Oz! Hi!"
'Oz? Who's Oz?' Tara didn't recognize the name off the top of her head. 'Another faculty member?' She tried to think other professor's names, but couldn't come up with many besides those from her own department. She focused on Willow again and noticed how animated her face and gestures became as she conversed with 'Oz.' 'Must be someone close.' Tara willed herself not to expand on that thought as she waited for Willow to finish her conversation. Remembering something she left in her car, she waved at Willow and pointed to her car, mouthing that she needed to get something. Willow waved her acknowledgement and the blonde began walking.
Tara was too far away to hear the remainder of Willow's side of the conversation. "Oh Oz, I've got so much to tell you... ugh, you always know, yes, I met someone... no, you don't know her... yes, I've actually talked to her... no, I haven't kissed her yet, but my face was in her chest earlier tonight... Oz, no! Not like that... it was a misunderstanding... look, it's too much to get into over the phone... no, I'm not being a tease, Oz, geez, guttermind much? ...just call me when you get into town. I expect a full rundown of how your tour went. I've heard great things... you take care of yourself, too... say hi to everyone... love you, too... see you when you get back." Willow hit the 'end' button on her cell phone and put it back in her purse. She looked across the parking lot spotting Tara over near her car. "No way... she parked next to me?" Willow looked up at the night sky and envisioned those Powers that Be smirking down at the scenario. "Must be fate."
The Psychology professor quickly covered the distance of the parking lot to where their cars were. She approached quietly, wanting to surprise Tara as she dug through the backseat obviously trying to find something. A devilish thought formed in her mind as Tara found her missing object and backed out of the car. "Want some candy little girl?" Willow spoke in as deep a voice as she could and placed her hands on Tara's shoulders.
Tara jerked violently and growled, "What the hell do you think you're doing?!" Without a thought she bent her elbow and thrust it forward and then back with as much force as her body could generate, the blow landing squarely at her offender's stomach. She felt the unseen attacker's hands leave her shoulders, heard groans of pain, a thump, and then another thump as the attacker fell to the ground hitting against the car next to her, setting off the car's alarm. Tara whipped around to face her attacker, yelling, "That's what you get you ass- Willow?! Oh my God!" She realized the person on the ground wasn't an attacker. She threw her stuff down and knelt next to the redhead. "Willow! I'm so sorry... oh Goddess... I didn't know it was you." She helped her sit up, lightly rubbing her back as Willow tried to catch her breath.
"What," she coughed, "was," she coughed again, "that?" She looked up at the blonde through watery eyes. "Ugh, that felt like a battering ram."
"Uh, well, that would be the self-defense class I took at the University." Tara continued rubbing circles on her back while holding Willow's other hand.
"I," she coughed again, "I think it worked." She tried to laugh, but could only suck air as she grabbed her purse off the ground to find her keychain to shut the alarm off. After silencing the loud squeal, she closed her eyes and tried to focus her breathing. "Hoo, just give me a second. Catch my breath. Then I can attend to the possible internal injuries." Willow smiled slightly at Tara, but to the blonde it looked like an annoyed grimace.
'Oh Goddess... she hates me now. I just know she does! First I knock her down three weeks ago. Then I freak at the grocery store, and, and now this. I should just help her up and get out of her way. Go home, and, oh Goddess, I don't want to!' Tara's internal rambling continued as Willow motioned for her to give her a hand. Willow braced her hand on Tara's shoulder while the blonde grabbed under her shoulders and helped pull her to a standing position. "Willow, are you going to be ok? Goddess I'm sorry. You must hate me."
Willow looked up at Tara and exhaled again. "No, no. Tara, I couldn't hate you. It was so my fault. I shouldn't have snuck up on you. Being a psychology professor I should know what happens when people get scared. I guess I wanted to surprise you. Uh, guess I did."
"I really do apologize for elbowing you. It was a gut reaction learned in the class. If it m-makes you f-feel better, I uh, would've done it to anyone?" Tara still had that concerned look in her eyes, but was at least relieved that the redhead didn't hate her.
Willow laughed a little in between the gulps of air. "I feel a little better knowing that it wasn't just a reaction to me." Willow squeezed Tara's shoulder slightly, wrapping her arm around her neck a little tighter. Despite her discomfort, she liked being so close to the blonde. With her free hand, Willow grabbed her car keys from her purse again. "Can you drive? I don't think the bump on my head will let me."
"O-ok. Which car is yours?" Tara was so concerned about Willow's state that when Willow turned off the car alarm, she didn't realize that was her car.
"Uh, the one we're standing by. The one I hit my head on. The one with the alarm I shut off?" Willow giggled a little, then groaned as her head swam.
Tara's eyes widened. "YOU'RE 'Wild Redhead?' That's your car?!"
"Yep that cranial lump-creator is my beauty. All six speeds of her." Willow made a 'Vanna White' motion with her hand as she looked at her silver sports car.
"Six speeds... as in manual transmission?" Tara blanched as she spoke the words.
"Uh-huh. Stick-shift ahoy. Thar she blows." She looked at Tara and noticed the woman's reaction. "Uh, Tara. Is that a problem? You do know how to drive stick, don'tcha?" She waited for her to respond. "Tara... you do know how to drive a stick, right?" The blonde shook her head. "Really? You never learned?"
Barely registering the remainder of the redhead's words, Tara's memory recalled her one failed attempt at driving stick. She hadn't wanted to do it, knowing how awkward it was to maneuver it. Never knowing when to push forward, or push back, and moving side to side could cause the momentum to collapse, stall and have to start the whole process over again. She thought it was too much work. An automatic transmission did the work for her, so she could concentrate on other, more pleasant things. She just didn't feel like herself in attempting to drive it. But still, because she wasn't one to make waves, she went ahead and tried it once. After five minutes of shimmying, shaking, sputtering and stalling, the guy trying to teach her told her to stop, and he took the stick over himself. Of course, he had no problem, since he'd been driving that car's stick himself for years. It came second nature to him, but not to her. From that point on, she decided 'people be damned' and chose automatics as her method of driving. She never saw him or tried the stick again. "Umm, I tried once. It just wasn't for me," she finally responded.
"I understand. I really am an automatic transmission gal myself. But, when I saw this here, I just had to have it. And, they were out of this model in auto, so I had to take a stick. It was awkward driving it, but well, you know, I got used to it." She gave Tara the keys to her car. "You want to give it another try?"
"Uhh, I don't want to strip your gears." Tara looked at the keys with horror. She didn't know if she wanted to try it again. It had been several years and what little she learned was long gone.
"Oh come on. Just try it," Willow set the puppy-dog look and Tara immediately nodded her head.
'How can I say no, with that look?' She unlocked the car, gingerly helped Willow into the passenger seat, walked around and climbed in the driver's side. Once settled, Tara nervously fumbled with the keys, eventually turning the ignition and starting the automobile. She glanced at Willow, looking for her guidance as to what to do next.
"Ok, Tara... grab the stick. Right, just like that. Now, jiggle it a little and move it to first, stepping on the clutch." Tara movements were a little rough, due to nervousness, and she jammed the stick over to third gear. The motor emitted a harsh, grinding sound, causing Willow to go white as a sheet. "Wait! Stop. Don't move." She placed her hand on top of Tara's and helped Tara try to guide the stick into the proper gear. Once again Tara jammed the stick over to the opposite side, completely missing neutral. The motor again groaned in irritation and Willow again blanched. "Ok. Tara, sweetie, you don't have to learn. Now I know why you're hesitant."
"I'm sorry. I'm just not comfortable d-doing this. It's just not n-natural for me to drive stick." The blonde lowered her head, wishing it could be easier, not wanting to upset the psychology professor.
"Tara. It's not really natural for me either. But, well, some of us who have driven stick did so because we thought we had to. It's only as we grow older do we realize it's ok to drive an automatic. It's completely natural. In fact, I wish I had realized it earlier, like when you did." Tara smiled at Willow's words of comfort. She knew the woman understood her and accepted her.
"How about this? Since I'm still not in condition to drive, plus I don't mind being chauffeured, why don't we take your car, drop your groceries off at your apartment, then head for that coffee. That is, if you don't mind?" Having not removed her hand from on top of the blonde's, she gave it a slight squeeze.
"No, I don't mind at all." She moved her hand to the steering wheel as Willow guided the stick shift into neutral. Tara pressed the parking brake and turned the ignition off. She popped out of the car, ran to the other side and helped lift Willow out of the passenger seat. Walking her over to her car, she then unlocked it and guided Willow into her passenger seat. Climbing into the driver's side, this time Tara felt much more at ease. "Ahh much better." She smiled at the redhead as she started the car and put the shifter into drive. She headed out of the parking lot, turning in the direction of her apartment. "Just like nature intended me to drive... automatic."