The ambient sounds from outside dissipated as soon as the door clicked shut. The quick snap of the light switch cut into the charged atmosphere that had hummed between them since Tara silently led Willow deeper inside the bowels of the club. The overhead lights blinked, then settled into a dull red glow that permeated deep into the shadows of the room.
"Where are we?"
"In one of the private rooms."
"What's this room called?"
"The Garden of Eden."
"How many gardens of Eden are there?"
"Gardens are supposed to have flowers. I don't see any flowers."
"The customers don't come here to look at those types of flowers."
"Do you show them yours? Your, flower?"
"I'm not answering that."
"Do I need to pay you?"
It was natural that Willow would sit at the soft curved couch in the center of the room, where one would expect the client to be sitting. Tara had automatically stood in front of her, as if on display, for Willow's inspection. She could see the appreciation in Willow's expression, and desperately wanted to believe that it was for the costume rather than her body. When Willow blinked and sat deeper into the couch, she finally relaxed enough to join Willow, finding a spot at the edge of the couch.
"I'm almost afraid to ask, what goes on in these rooms?"
"You remember what the show tonight is called?"
"There's your answer."
"Have you - do you, do this often?"
"Take a client to one of the gardens of Eden. Do you give them a taste of the forbidden fruit too?"
"I'm sorry, I keep prying. I just can't believe you-"
"We had this conversation three weeks ago. I didn't bring you here to rehash that."
"Then why am I here?"
"I want to tell you something. I don't need to justify myself to you, and god knows I've tried my best to forget it all. Yet I feel ... compelled. Seeing you again, you compel me."
"You don't need to justify anything, Tara."
"I haven't told this to anyone. One minute I was working in the law firm and then the next I was working for the mayor. He offered me a job, a future, a way out. I was so flattered. Only the job was in New York and I had to leave immediately."
"Not even time to say good-bye?"
"The only person I wanted to see was you, Willow. But do you remember how far apart we'd become? We were hardly on speaking terms."
"A note, a voicemail. Just to know you were safe."
"If I had to turn back time, I don't know if I'd do it any differently."
"Did you know what you were getting yourself into in New York?"
"Did I have a choice?"
"Yes! There are plenty of other jobs! You're smart, you didn't have to degrade yourself like this."
"When I left Sunnydale I had $73 in my pocket, a shoebox containing my Mom's things and a few photos. That was it. I had nothing to lose. Mr Wilkins and Faith, they took care of me."
"Is that what it's called it now, taking care?"
"This is what I am now. I'm not ashamed of who I am. I want for nothing, I am financially secure, I'm even taking a law degree on the side. You, on the other hand, can't seem to get past your prejudices. Why are you hanging around the club? What do you want from me?"
"Sometimes I ask myself the same question."
"Go home, Willow. Go back to your banker friends and penthouses on Park Avenue and dinner party talk of stock option gains. You don't belong here, you've never belonged to the underbelly of society that I live in."
"God, Tara. What happened to you?"
"Nothing! Haven't you heard a single word I've been saying? Nothing happened to me. I didn't fall into some godforsaken hole, I've always been in that hole!"
Tara was shouting, and she found herself panting with emotion and had moved within inches of Willow. The air around them crackled with anger, and bitterness, and a spark of something long forgotten. It would have been so easy to close the distance and crash their lips and tongues together in a brutal kiss that had everything to do with pent-up frustrations and nothing to do with passion. Tara knew Willow couldn't resist her. The tension was so raw they were both trembling.
Willow's hand reached out unsteadily, and her brief, electrifying touch on Tara's arm caused the blonde to jump back in shock. The moment passed.
"We're not allowed to touch."
"What do you mean, not allowed to touch?"
"The clients can watch, but they can't touch. It's the rules."
"I thought anything goes in this room, when did the rules change?"
"Rules change all the time."
"And are meant to be broken. So what would happen if I touched you now?"
"I'm supposed to push the button at the back of the couch, and security will come in and escort you off the premises with as little commotion as possible."
"Would I what?"
"Trigger the pimp alarm if I touched you?"
"There hasn't been anyone."
"Please, don't make this harder than it already is."
"Did you think I'd forget you just because you left? I mean, of course there were others. Casual others. But they were never you."
"You were gone, in my mind you walked out on me. And guess what? I started wanting you. Desperately. I didn't understand it, wanting someone who wasn't even there, who told me she wanted nothing from me. I was so confused."
"I know it's hard for you to understand, but I've been dead since you've been gone."
"I couldn't stay."
"Are you going to leave me again?"
"I have nothing to give you."
"Let me be the judge of that."
This time when Willow took Tara's hand, turned it over and softly trailed her fingertips on Tara's wrist, Tara didn't pull away. They sat in silence for heartbeats.
The energy shifted.
"I want to touch you. Feel you close around my fingers. Later."
"I'm not a whore."
"I won't be paying."
"Why are we having such a surreal conversation?"
"I don't know. Can I touch you? Later?"
"I don't know. Dance with me."
Tara pushed herself up and went to a control panel by the wall. A few keystrokes later light jazz washed over the room just as the lights dimmed to a more ambient hue. She turned around and regarded Willow expectantly. Willow thought she looked almost serene until she noticed Tara's hands shaking involuntarily. She stood up and took the two necessary steps that brought them within arm's length of each other.
They had not touched this way before. As teenagers they held hands constantly and had even slept in the same bed, but never before had their senses been so sensitive to the proximity of the other. They were a jumble of nerves until Willow reached out, hooked one arm around Tara's neck and relaxed into Tara. Tara hesitated once, then wrapped her arms around Willow's slim waist and pulled them together.
They hardly moved, content with gentle swaying against the quiet rhythm of the music. Eyes closed and skin humming with an oddly familiar closeness, they could almost feel their bodies, their thoughts, their heartbeats struggling to slot into place.
"Who are you, to hold my heart so?"
"I don't know."
The song stopped but another started; more soulful and melancholy than the previous one.
"Are you real?"
"I don't know."
"Can I see you again?"
There were no windows in the room purporting to be a slice of heaven. It was an artificial, emotionally decrepit cavern where people came to forget. Or to seek temporary release from the demons they were fighting within and without. It was not a place to reconnect with one's lost true love, with so much still unspoken; yet it was precisely what they were trying to do.
"Remember our house with the big yard and cats and dogs and horses and fish, and big bedrooms and a big kitchen that will always have flowers and a fireplace in the living room where we can toast marshmallows?"
"That was a million years ago."
"What happened to us?"
There wasn't an answer to that. Sometime during the last six years, they each made their fortune. But in that process they had lost their souls.