The two women broke apart quickly in shock. Dawn simply smiled and left the room. Willow and Tara exchanged sheepish looks before Willow stood and turned to go. Tara, in a moment of boldness, grabbed Willow's hand and effectively stopped her from leaving. Willow turned and gripped Tara's hand in hers, smiling down at the radiant blonde goddess in front of her.
"Get dressed. I'll be downstairs." Willow said gently before squeezing Tara's hand and leaving the room. Tara flopped back onto her pillow and let out a happy sigh.Willow left the room and practically skipped down the stairs back to the kitchen. She had a smile plastered on her face that the rest of the day wouldn't remove. She couldn't believe Tara felt the same way about her, and that they had kissed. Tara had willingly kissed her. It almost made Willow feel guilty about kissing her when she was asleep earlier. Almost. When Willow entered the kitchen, she spied Dawn going about her chores with a bright smile on her face. They had agreed to never tell anyone about Willow's preference for girls, as most people were not tolerant to that type of lifestyle. Willow didn't really care what everyone else thought but she and Dawn had heard frightening news about a man in another town who was dragged from his home in the middle of the night and hung because he preferred men to women. They had said he was impure. It was that day that they vowed to keep Willow's sexuality a secret.
Willow looked around the kitchen and discovered that Elizabeth was gone.
"Where did Elizabeth go?" She inquired of Dawn.
"Oh she went back upstairs to change." Willow's face lost it's smile.
"She didn't see, did she?" She whispered to her sister.
"No, she came up after me. Besides, she would have no reason to pass your room. Tara's room is on the other end of the hall."
"Okay." Willow walked over the fire and began to make a plate of food. They heard footsteps echoing down the stairs and Tara entered the kitchen, a sweet smile gracing her lips. She went to Dawn and kissed her on top of the head.
"Good morning Dawnie." She smiled at the teen.
"Morning Tara. I trust you slept well?"
"Indeed I did." Was all Tara said, but the smile on her face grew as she turned to Willow. Willow gave her a gentle smile and handed her the plate of food. Tara suddenly became shy and took the food almost timidly from Willow. Their fingertips brushed and a slight blush crept up on Tara's face. Willow smiled again and turned back to the fire to make another plate of food for herself. Tara took a seat at the table and began to eat. Willow slid in across the table from her and Dawn poured them both a cup of coffee.
"Tara I thought you could help me in the garden today, if you are well rested enough from your travels." Dawn suggested.
"That would be lovely Dawn. I loved to work in the garden back home with my mother." Tara's voice wavered as she said the last, and her eyes shone with brief tears as she remembered the special times she had with her mother. Willow saw this and reached across the table, covering one of Tara's delicate hands with her own calloused one. She squeezed lightly and smiled tenderly at the blonde. Tara smiled sadly back and mouthed the word 'later' to Willow. Willow nodded and removed her hand to her own side of the table. They finished breakfast in relative silence and then Tara helped Dawn do the dishes. Willow put on her hat and ventured outside to the stables. William was hard at work cleaning the stables.
"You don't have to do that." Willow told him.
"Just think of it as payment for the lodgings last night for the ladies and myself." He continued to spread hay in the bottom of the stall. Willow nodded nad grabbed a pitchfork to help. They had the stables done in a matter of minutes and the horses brushed and fed .
"Well that's one less chore I have to do today." She took William's hand and shook it firmly. "Thank you. You're a good man."
"Well I think you're very brave, taking in strangers and the like. Not many people'll do that."
"I won't usually turn someone down. No one should have to sleep on the ground when I have an extra bed."
"Well then I say you're a good woman."
"Well I think it's about time we were on our way." William stated as he dusted off his hands and led his horse out of the stables. Willow followed him and helped him hitch the horse to the carriage.
When they returned inside, Tara and Dawn were packing the remainder of breakfast for the three travellers. Elizabeth argued that their journey was not much longer, but the stubborn women would hear none of it. They placed the packages in Elizabeth's hands and William told her it was time to leave. They all said their goodbyes and Willow found it adorable that Anne wanted to 'stay with Miss Tara and Miss Dawn forever', as she put it. Tara leaned down and kissed the tiny child on the head, saying she could come and visit anytime. Willow heartily agreed, as well as Dawn. As they watched the carriage leave the plantation, Tara slipped her hand into Willow's. Willow smiled and pulled her close, reveling in the smell of Tara's hair and the warmth of her body. She kissedher lightly on the temple and smiled as Tara sighed happily.
"Well I'd better get to work if were going to have music night tonight." Willow said as she looked out at the fields.
"You h-have music nights?" Tara questioned with a lopsided half-smile.
"Yes, every Sunday night Dawn and I sit around and play our instruments and sing. It's our form of amusement."
"That sounds wonderful. I didn't k-know you could play an instrument."
"Well Dawn plays the fiddle and I play the mandolin. We have a piano, but we do not know how to play it."
"I can play the piano."
"Really? That's wonderful! We have another musician."
Tara smiled brightly and Dawn practically skipped off to her chores. Willow and Tara shared a chaste kiss before Willow went to the barn to get her cotton sacks for picking the cotton. She would pick cotton until the sun was at it's highest, then she would stop and eat with Dawn and Tara. Then she would return to the fields and pick corn until the sun was on the horizon. then she would head to the stables to feed the animals and when the sun set, she would join Tara and Dawn for supper. After supper they would sit around and sing.
Tara and Dawn would have a full day as well, although Willow suspected theirs would have more free time than she, since Dawn usually had to do all her chores by herself. They would gather the eggs from the chicken coop first, and then they would gather and store the vegetables from the garden. They would start on the dough for bread and let it rise while they made lunch, for which they would join Willow. After lunch, they would start work on the cotton Willow gathered from the field. They would remove the seeds and spend the better part of the afternoon spinning it into yarn, some of which they would keep, and the rest would go to town to be sold. Then at sunset they would prepare supper and eat with Willow. Then came the music.
The day seemed long to Willow. The morning air was cool and crisp, and noon was warm, but she knew it would start to get cold as the sun set below the horizon.
Tara and Dawn spent the day getting to know one another, and Tara got to know Willow through Dawn. She learned that Dawn and Willow were only half sisters, Willow's mother had died when Willow was just five. From then on, Willow's father had left Willow to fend for herself until he remarried. Dawn was born, but her mother died in childbirth. Willow's aunt had come to stay with them and raise the children until Willow was seventeen and Dawn was twelve. Willow didn't like the way her aunt treated her and Dawn and convinced her father that she could take care of herself and Dawn and that he should send their aunt away. He did so. So Willow had raised Dawn for the last four years, insisting that she was schooled and taught to read and write. Their father had died the previous year of typhoid disease, which he contracted on his way home from a business trip. He was exempt from the war because he was too old to fight, but he still travelled all over Kentucky and Tennessee to do business with men in the slave trading industry. Their father never kept any slaves but he acquired and traded them often. Willow didn't approve of his business but never spoke out against it.
Dawn learned very little about Tara, except that she too knew how to read and write and that her mother had died when she was sixteen. She didn't talk much about her father and she learned that Tara had a brother two years older than her named Donald. She wouldn't talk about him much either, only to say that he wasn't very nice to her.
Tara also learned from Dawn that Willow had a friend that had been sent off to the war and she hadn't heard from him in almost a year. His name was Alexander. He had been stationed somewhere in Virginia, but that was all his last letter contained. Willow was very worried about him, as she had heard about several big battles that had been fought near the fort he was stationed at. Willow and Dawn often took in strangers, sometimes a wayward soldier making his way home from the war, sometimes lost or stranded travellers. Tara smiled at Dawn as she thought about their bravery and kindness at taking in complete strangers.
The sun was setting and Tara passed by the foyer window just as Willow trudged up the stairs to the front door. The redhead caught sight of the blonde beauty and smiled fondly as Tara stopped to wait for her near the door.
"Hello you." Willow smiled and caught Tara's hand. Tara didn't reply, but smiled shyly and lowered her head submissively. Willow captured her under the chin and tilted her head up to meet green eyes.
"We really must correct that."
"W-What?" Tara stammered, thinking she'd done something wrong.
"You always looking at the floor. Someone as beautiful as you should never hide that from the world, Tara Maclay." Willow said with such sincerity in her voice that Tara almost believed her. She lowered her eyes again and blushed, mumbling something too low for Willow to hear.
"I s-said I'm n-not beautiful."
"Who told you that?"
"Everyone at h-home. E-Except M-Mama. She always s-said I was. But they s-said she w-was crazy." Tears filled Tara's eyes as she spoke.
"Tara look at me." Willow commanded firmly. Once she had Tara's full attention she continued. "Am I crazy?"
Willow gazed deeply into Tara's deep blue irises. Tara shook her head, making the tears in her eyes flow down her cheeks. Willow's thumb found them and wiped them away.
"Well since you do not think I am crazy and I know I'm not, I say you're beautiful. That's the truth."
Tara nodded tearfully and a slight smile came to her lips. Willow smiled gently and pulled Tara into a tender embrace. She held her and ran her hand in circles across the blonde's back, sometimes venturing up to stroke the thick golden hair that hung loosely down the woman's back. She took Tara by the shoulders and pulled her back slightly to leave a soft, loving kiss on her lips.
"Now, we'll have no more talk of you being anything but beautiful and kind and amazing. Do you understand?" Willow said firmly in mock sternness. Tara laughed at Willow's silly antics and wiped a hand over the wet streaks on her face.
"There now, that's better. Now let's go eat. I'm starving."