The loud crash of plates clattering to the floor distracted her, spinning her head away from the conversation. She turned back slowly, catching the eyes of her friend. One eyebrow cocked at her, impatiently awaiting her next statement. Dawn sighed and leaned back into the stool, stared forlornly into her cup. "It's just..." Her friend impatiently drummed her fingers against the counter. "I just..."
Rona threw her hands in the air. "I have to work here, Dawn. Spit it out already."
"Don't you ever feel like love is just completely doomed?" Dawn crossed her arms in front of her on the counter and dropped her head down. "I mean, my family is kind of cursed. My sister, Xander... my Mom! And Willow... well..." She sighed again, shaking her head.
Rona couldn't help rolling her eyes. "Dawn, c'mon, I've heard all about your supposed curse. You've only been hanging out for a few months. I mean, he's a nice guy, sometimes the message just doesn't get through."
"Short of me throwing myself at him, what else can I do?" Dawn whined.
"I don't know, Dawn, but I'm going to have to go make a drink, so hold that thought." Rona turned on her heel and spinned away from her friend. Dawn's eyes followed her, but she disappeared out of view.
Dawn sighed into her arms again, before feeling a gentle hand on her shoulder. Glancing up, she caught sight of a warm half smile. The stranger spoke to her. "Boy trouble?" The woman asked, her voice completely comforting.
"How did you know?" Dawn's voice held a touch of awe and amazement.
The woman could barely contain her chuckle, tossing her hair back over her shoulders. "Well, you have that look." She grinned. "And I was standing here trying to grab some napkins." She pointed over Dawn to the napkin dispenser.
"Oh, I'm so sorry! I'm completely in the way! I'm all the sitting here and not moving. That's completely inconsiderate! I'm the worst person in the entire world."
Tara's eyebrows shot up, her face contorted into an amused look. "That's quite the babble."
"Runs in the family." Dawn said with a smile. "Here." She handed the woman a stack of napkins. "Thanks for being nice about it."
"Welcome to the Pacific Northwest." Tara placed a reassuring hand on the girl's back. "Good luck with your boy. If he's smart, he'll see what's in front of him."
"Thanks." Dawn grinned, catching Rona approaching out of the corner of her eye.
"Hey Tara, still breaking hearts?" Rona grinned, her eyes playing with mischief.
Tara winced before sticking her tongue out. "Don't tease, Rone, I still feel awful about that." Tara craned her neck glancing around. "Is she here?"
"Vi makes it a point not to work on the nights you read." Rona couldn't help but chuckle. "You're a heart breaker, Tara Adams."
Dawn's eyes lit up, putting. "You're the Tara Adams? The Tara Adams?" Her eyes shot back to Rona. "This is your friend -- 'the best poet in Portland'? TARA ADAMS?" Her voice got louder and louder as her excitement grew.
Rona's eyes got wide, and she shot Dawn a look that told her unequivocally to shut up. Tara laughed. "Good to hear you're single handedly making me famous, Rona." She extended a hand towards Dawn. "Hi, I'm Tara. It's an absolute please to meet you."
"She never told me your name! But I've been reading your work for years!" Dawn bounced happily in her seat. "Oh my God, I'm meeting the Tara Adams."
Tara couldn't hold back her grin. "Oh, so you're the one." She laughed. "I don't think I've ever met such a rabid fan before."
"Please don't think I'm weird, I just..." Dawn took several deep breaths, before attempting to continue. "My friend, well, she's more like an older sister, but my friend took a poetry class in college, and got me into poetry too, and I bought her your first book for her birthday and we've both been fans ever since! We missed you when you came to Sunnydale, unfortunately, but... oh my god! Here you are! This is just the most amazing thing in the whole world. Wait till I tell her!"
"Well, please allow me to introduce myself properly to my number one fan. My name is Tara Maclay, and I'm a poet. And you are?" Tara extended a hand playfully towards the younger girl.
Dawn nearly smacked herself in the head before reaching out to shake Tara's hand. "I'm sorry, you must think I'm totally bizarre. I'm Dawn Summers, and I'm a student, I go to college with Rona... Wait a second, did you say Tara Maclay?"
"Pen name." She said to Dawn. She shrugged, "Publisher's thing."
"Oh..." Dawn said, nodding as if she understood. "Cool."
"Not really, but you've got to pay the bills, right?" She smiled, slightly exasperated. "Well, a friend of Rona's is a friend of mine." Tara smiled towards the girl who was watching the exchange with a bemused expression, and shrugged her shoulders under Tara's gaze as if to say 'I had no idea'. "And you say you're from Sunnydale?" Tara asked.
"Born and raised." Dawn smiled.
"Cool place. I like the architecture quite a bit. And the coffee shop there... what's the name of it?"
"The Espresso Pump?" Dawn asked, her eyes dancing excitedly.
"That's it." Tara smiled in recollection. "I liked that place."
"Well, it's one of the very few places to go in Sunnydale."
Tara nodded. "Admittedly, I've only been the once, but I liked it. So, are you staying to hear the reading? It's always good to see some friendly faces in the crowd." Tara threw a beautiful smile at Dawn, who found herself a little weak at the sight of it.
"Absolutely. I can't wait. I was excited before I knew it was you. Rona has been talking you up for months. I didn't know she was talking about Tara... well, you."
Rona's face flushed, but both Dawn and Tara ignored her, casting mischevious glances at each other before breaking into chuckles. Tara hummed under her breath for just a moment, turning something over in her head. "And it took you this long to take her up on her recommendation?"
Dawn laughed. "No, I've only been here a few months, and you haven't read in awhile. Or, so I hear."
"Well, I guess that gets you both off the hook, I actually haven't read in a few months, I've been working on something else."
"Really?" Rona asked, her voice edged with barely contained excitement. "Is it a new book?"
Tara smiled indulgently. "It is, just not a book of poems. It's a novel. I'm praying I'm not completely out of my depth."
"Not possible." Rona looked at Dawn and then back at Tara. "I just mean... okay, fine, you're my favorite poet. You're just amazing with words. Okay? I said it."
Tara's face registered genuine surprise. "That's incredibly sweet, Rona, thank you."
"I just didn't want you to think it was hero worship, or anything." Rona sighed. "Thank you, Dawn, for this completely awkward conversation."
"No, really." Tara smiled, touching Rona's arm to get her attention. "It's very sweet. I'm glad you like my work. You have great taste, so I'm truly flattered. Thank you."
"You're welcome." A call from the other end of the bar caught her attention, and she gave a little sigh before turning back to her friends. "I have to go help. I'll be right back." She hurried away.
"I can't wait to tell Willow that I met you, she's just going to die." Dawn said, sitting back in her chair, smiling at the thought.
Tara stopped moving. The color drained completely from her face. Willow? Did she just say Willow? "I'm sorry, what did you just say?"
"Oh. My friend Willow? I was talking about her earlier. She's my older sister's best friend. She's incredible. She's like my older sister, y'know? She lives with us. Well, she lived with me and Buffy before I moved here. We're like a family. Willow, Buffy, Xander and I - my Mom died a few years ago, and we've all been taking care of each other since. Well, whatever, in any case, Willow and I are your biggest fans."
Tara nodded, feeling numb. "Willow." She whispered softly to herself. It can't be. There has to be more than one Willow in this world. Can't be the same Willow. Sunnydale. She said she was from Sunnydale. Sunnydale is in California. Willow was from California. I thought I saw her there, didn't I? It can't be. It just can't be.
Dawn watched the emotions flood across Tara's face, and she blinked in confusion. Wait. Tara. Her name is Tara. She's certainly pretty. Not the same person, right? No. It couldn't be. But I'm in Portland. I'm here, and here's a girl named Tara looking freaked out by the name Willow. "Tara?" She asked, her voice quiet. She reached out her hand and touched Tara's arm, trying to gain her attention.
Tara blinked, her eyes roaming over Dawn's face. "I'm sorry, Dawn. I... Can I ask you a weird question?"
"Of course." She nodded dumbly, feeling swept away in a world of circumstance.
"Your friend Willow...?" Tara asked, her body almost shrinking away from Dawn.
"Yes?" Dawn's heart pounded in her chest, the air surrounding her seemed to grow heavy with intent.
"Does she have red hair?"
"Yes." Dawn nodded.
Tara bit her lip. "Green eyes?"
"Yes." Dawn nodded again.
Tara felt faint. "She's stunning?"
"Absolutely." Dawn nodded. Her eyes swept Tara's form. The woman looked ashen, and Dawn worried she might pass out. Using her hand on Tara's arm, she guided her to sit on the stool next to her.
Tara sat heavily on the stool, not realizing she'd even put her weight down. Her mind swam with thousands of questions, but the most important one sprang to her lips. "Dawn, has Willow ever been to Portland?"
"Yes, she has. Eight years ago." Dawn searched Tara's face before continuing, but couldn't read the emotions that swelled. "She came with her parents. One night, she was out by herself and ran into a group of kids. She kissed a girl named Tara." Tara's eyes met Dawn's. "And she hasn't stopped thinking about her since. Not for one minute." Tara stared dumbly ahead, and Dawn wasn't sure she was even still listening. Still, she said the one thing that was on her mind. "And I think you're that girl."
Tara emitted a squeak just before she pitched forward and the world dissolved to black. As Dawn caught Tara's limp form in her arms, she thought, Maybe love isn't doomed afterall.