Tara stood, waiting to be called "on stage" with a nervousness she couldn't quite shake. She had become used to readings, mostly thanks to Anya dragging her to open mic after open mic. For years, Anya had patiently listened as Tara read her work again and again, a different inflection or tone used each time. She served as critic, support system, and general pain in the ass. Tara smiled. Thinking about Anya and all the work it took to make it here, to this moment, it calmed her down. Now, if only she didn't know about Willow...
Willow felt her heart leap out of her chest and shoot back in, thumping loudly in the midst of the crowd. Her face was beet red, her breathing coming in short gasps, she stared unable to move her eyes away from her. Tara Maclay. How many times had she considered the woman's last name? Too many to count. Simple, American names: Tara Simpson. Tara Jones. Tara Smith. Tara Johnson. Irish? Tara Riley. Tara Connor. Tara Duffy. Italian. Tara Lombardi. Tara Espisito... none of them had ever sounded right to her ear. Tara Maclay, of course. How perfect, how simple. How beautiful. The picture outside had done her no justice. Even after eight years, not one detail of her face had left Willow's mind, she could see the changes, the newer laugh lines, the tired look around the eyes that Willow knew was mirrored in her own. And yet still, there she was, the woman who she had been searching for with her heart everyday for eight years.
Her voice sounded over the crowd, but spoke directly to the heart of her, to the Willow who existed nowhere else but for Tara, with Tara. She looked so confident, so gorgeous, her blue eyes shimmering in the light, dancing around in their mischeviousness. Her words flowed from her, cocooning the audience in their warm, sensual glow. She tried to pay attention, tried to hear. So much love in her voice, as she read to the crowd. Each one of them could have been her lover, the one she spoke to in such soft tones. Willow watched her read, poem after poem, imagining how many moments she had missed with this beautiful creature.
Finally, there was a lull, a collective whimper as the goddess stopped speaking, letting her eyes search the crowd. Who is she looking for? Willow's mind demanded, aching with the idea of someone else in the crowd the poet was speaking of. She searched the faces of the audience, a game of hide and seek as they caught her eye and dropped their eyes to their laps blushing. Finally, her eyes seemed to stop at Willow's, and even with the distance, and the lights shining on her face, a spark of recognition seemed to float across her face. Her blue eyes widened, glimpsing those green that she had seen time and again in her dreams. They stared so long that the audience began to turn in their seats, trying to find the face they saw her staring at. She shook her head, ripping her eyes away from the redheaded woman, and laughed softly, drawing the attention of the crowd back to her.
"I'm going to read my final poem for the night, but first I'd like to tell you a little about how it came to be. When I was younger and wild..." She trailed off as the audience began to titter. She waited for them to settle again. "I met this girl. I knew her for only twelve hours, and she changed my whole life. Everything I write is in some way or another about her. I've never seen her face to face again, but I've always wanted to. What I remember most about her is the way she smelled..." For a moment, Tara lost herself to a memory. "This is the poem I wrote for her." She sought out Willow's eyes in the audience once more. "I've never read it for any audience before." With her eyes locked on Willow's, she began to speak.
if i close my eyes i can still smell you
alone in my room just yesterday
your form pressed against me
i am tension, the high wire
you are a blur in my fantasy
all I have now in desire and need is
Anya grabbed a hold of Tara and pulled her towards the door of the bar. "You're never going to have sex if you don't even meet lesbians!" Anya shouted, before turning to face the bouncer with an ID in her hands. The woman leered forward towards her, clearly taking the chance to look down Anya's shirt. Her eyes took a slow trip back up from her breasts to rest on her lips. "I'm a lesbian."
Anya rolled her eyes. "Of course you are." She shot a beaming smile back towards Tara who returned the look with a shake of the head and huge eyes. "So's she." Anya pointed, deliberately avoiding the petrified look in her friend's eye.
"Nice to meet you, honey." The bouncer eyed Tara up and down as well. "You are one hell of a woman."
"Thank you." She answered softly, the corners of her lips turning up into the slightest hint of a smile. She pushed her ID into the bouncer's waiting hands.
"Don't be nervous. You'll knock ‘em dead." The woman offered Tara a wink, and opened her hand to usher them both inside. Anya grinned, and Tara offered the woman a true smile before ducking into the bar.
Tara felt her mouth drop open in wonder as she stared at the small stage from her table with Anya. Performing karaoke to a Disturbed song were two young women, obviously not much past twenty-one if at all, Tara thought, allowing it to bring the smirk to her lips. Anya was beside herself in the next seat, truly tickled by the performance. "Lesbian karaoke is amazing."
"Well, it's certainly different." Tara replied, unable to rip her eyes away from the women. As the song ended, and the girls fell over laughing, Tara allowed her eyes to wander over the bar. The bartender was laughing, her head thrown back, obviously truly enjoying whatever had just been said by a brunette in tight jeans and a white tank top.
The brunette seemed to realize the performance was over a few seconds after Tara caught sight of her. She climbed onto the stage, stealing the microphone back from the girls, and casting a look out at the audience. "Alright you drunkards..." At the sound of the voice, Tara's eyes flew to the woman's face as she flashed a sexy smile out at the crowd. "Next we have Kate and Darla performing Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow's Picture." Faith.
Faith stood on stage, a hand buried in her pocket, the other with the microphone extended to two blushing blond women headed towards her. Tara's eyes took in her face, which looked the same as it had six years before. Faith was beautiful. She slowly let her eyes travel the other girl's form. Not too thin, anymore. Faith rocked back and forth on her feet, as the first woman reached out to grab the mic. She looks... sort of nervous. Tara laughed at the idea, seeing so many and so few changes in her old friend. Faith stepped off the stage as the song began, heading back towards the bar. Tara felt herself stand and begin to move towards her without thought.
"Hi." The word was out of her mouth before she could even begin to berate herself for its absurdity.
Faith stopped and a beat passed before she turned towards the voice. "Tara." She said the name mostly to herself before she let her eyes take the other girl in. She swallowed. "Good to see ya, T."
"It's good to see you, Faith." Her voice was soft, her hand reaching out to touch the other girl's wrist. Her fingers dropped around her arm, closing around the skin. "How are you?"
Faith stared at the touch before raising her eyes. "Good." She took a deep breath. "Better."
"Good." Tara's voice filled with genuine warmth before she smiled at the girl. "That's really good."
Faith nodded. "It is good."
"How long have you been working here?"
Tara felt Faith start to relax, and she let her hold on the other girl begin to slip. Faith caught her hand with her own, and laced their fingers together for a moment before squeezing her hand gently and dropping away. "A year or so." She pointed at the bartender with a smile. "My partner."
"That's great." Tara gave the girl a half grin. "That's really, really great."
"It is." Faith smiled back at Tara, letting the warmth of the girl wash over her. "I'm..."
She forced a sigh out, looking away for a moment as her features formed into a wince. In an instant it was gone, replaced with a gaze straight back at her old friend. "I'm sorry. I didn't..." She trailed off again. "Things changed after... after you left."
Tara nodded. "I'm glad."
From behind the bar, the bartender's voice sounded. "Faith?" She called, her eyes taking in the two women a little suspiciously.
"I should go. But you should come back. Maybe we can... talk some more." Faith's voice betrayed the fear that she felt.
"I will." Tara smiled. "Good to see you." She grabbed Faith's hand and squeezed it again. "Go tell your girl not to worry about me."
Faith flashed her a grin before nodding and pushing herself off in the direction of the bar, a private smile flashing in the direction of her lover as she scurried off to calm her doubts.
"Open mine!" Dawn jumped about excitedly, her party hat falling back behind her head.
Willow grinned as she watched Dawn's excitement, and turned to look at Xander. "What do you say? Just for my birthday, a little Snoopy dance?"
"Aww, c'mon, Will, I don't want to ruin the Christmas magic." Xander grinned knowingly, and ruffled Willow's hair with his hand.
"Alright, alright, fine. But my present had better be excellent." She answered him, grabbing the small wrapped package from Dawn. She began to pull the paper apart, quickly realizing that Dawn's idea of wrapping also included covering every spare inch of paper in tape.
"I was at the mall, and I saw this, and I thought, perfect for Willow!" Dawn grinned, moving to sit down next to the redhead. "Open it!" She demanded.
"I'm trying, Dawnie, but you certainly don't make it easy." She began a new tactic of pulling with all of her might.
"Demon wrapper Dawn strikes again!" Buffy called as she came in from the kitchen carrying sodas and popcorn.
"Finally..." Willow muttered to herself as she got the item within the packaging. She pulled out a small hardcover book, the cover immediately drawing her eye as her quick mind made work of the black and white photograph of a woman's torso. Her green eyes opened wide in surprise as she looked up at Dawn. "Dawn, I..."
Buffy and Xander leaned forward to get a glimpse of the gift, as Dawn began to explain. "It's not what you think!" Buffy and Xander followed Willow's example in shooting an open mouthed look at Dawn, struggling for words. "Really! Well, not really, it's this book of poetry, and I remember that Willow really liked her feminist poetry class, and this new book came out by this new author, and I thought maybe she'd like it! Plus, lesbian!" She flipped over the book to reveal the author's bio on the back.
"She lives in Portland..." Willow said softly to herself, missing the look that Xander and Buffy exchanged. "Well, thank you Dawnie." She smiled, looking back up at the girl. "Really, it's very thoughtful, thank you so much."
Dawn grinned, swelling her chest out and standing up to her full height. "And, ooo, it fits with Xander's present!" Willow and Buffy both shot a withering look at Xander, and he raised up his hands for protection.
"It's not like that, really!" He offered before disappearing into the dining room and bringing out a beautifully carved bookcase. "See? Book fits in book case." He and Dawn looked quite proud of themselves as Willow stood with tears in her eyes. "Xander, it's beautiful!"
"Really beautiful, Xand." Buffy smiled, glancing at the chest he had made for her earlier that year.
"It will fit in your room under your window, y'know, the one you wanted something for? And you can put plants on top of it, so they'll get light. And each of our initials are carved into the trimmings..." He began to point them out as Willow ran her hand along the wood.
"Thank you so much. I love you guys!"
She pulled Dawn and Xander into hug before Buffy pushed her way in on the other side, smiling as she said "Group hug."
"Happy birthday, Willow." Dawn chirped happily, her head trapped in the crook of Xander's arm. Buffy and Xander followed suit in repeating Dawn.
"This is the best birthday ever." Willow whispered, and the hug got tighter.