Tara groaned and rolled over, pressing the off button on her buzzing alarm clock. She groaned again, a little louder and pressed her face fully into her pillow.
She sighed and sat up awkwardly, blinking and yawning widely. She hazarded a squinty look out the windows, the soft gray light indicating that the fog was burning off. She sighed heavily and stretched her arms over her head, leaning side to side, hoping that the movement would wake her still sluggish muscles. Today was going to be a long day. She had to do a pre-sale showing at the gallery at 10, meet with a couple of local publications in the afternoon and then sit in with Marissa and a couple of other artists to discuss the feasibility of showing their overflow in L.A. after the series closed out. Then there's the caterer, the menu for the party here, the candles to pick up, the flowers... She shook her head and looked at her alarm clock again. She was ready to go back to bed already, and it was only 7:55.
Willow. She brought her hands up and rubbed her face, her fingertips pressing into her eyebrows, air exhaled from a throaty groan tickling her palms. Last night could have gone better... She dropped her hands into her lap and sighed, shaking her head. Whatever, you know, it was late, and I'm not going to beat myself up or feel guilty about needing to go to sleep... She stood up and shuffled to her open armoire, pulling a clean towel from the top left side. Although that's not what happened and you know it. She paused, staring at nothing in particular. You took off because of what happened Friday. Because you didn't want to hear about her weekend with Xander. She frowned slightly, grabbing her robe. You didn't even fall asleep until after 2...
She opened her door and slowly made her way to the bathroom, entering the tiled room and closing the door behind her. She tossed the towel on the top of the toilet next to the shower and hung her robe on a hook on the back of the door. She turned the shower nozzles, watching as the water sputtered and then sprayed against the inside of the cubicle. Just, don't think about her today. You have more important things to think about than Willow Rosenberg.
She lost herself, hypnotically watching the stream of water fall before her.
Willow sat at the kitchen counter, box in hand, her legs nervously firing up and down like a sewing machine needle. "So hey, hi, Tara... I uh, bought this for you, you know, just a little, 'good luck' charm for the gallery opening; but not that you need it, the luck I mean, cause you're a really talented artist and I'm sure you'll sell a lot of paintings even without the charm, or with it, you know, if you wanted to wear it, or not, it's no big deal, it's just a bracelet, I don't even think it's that lucky, I mean it's just a bunch of glass beads, not like a four-leaf clover or a rabbit's foot or anything... special..."
Willow closed her eyes. Or, she thought, briefly picturing a horrified, confused look on the blonde's face as her babbling spiraled out of control, I could just leave it on the counter with a note. Her lips quirked into an annoyed frown at the thought as she opened her eyes. No. She thought firmly, resolutely. The whole point of this, of rising before her alarm went off, of sitting ramrod straight at the counter for a half an hour, hyper alert, her stomach too nervous to handle much more than a couple sips of coffee, was to see the blonde's face when she saw the simple gesture.
The redhead looked at her watch and then back up. 7:55. Five more minutes and then I really have to go. She glanced at the stairs and then back forward. I mean, I could stay, but then I'd probably miss the 8:07 BART, which would mean I'd have to take the 8:14, which means I'd get downtown at 8:42, which would make me late for work, which would probably be bad. So I should go.
She dropped her head a bit and shook it. But I want to do this today. Now. If I wait... She thought back to her bungled attempt to give the bracelet to the blonde the previous evening. Okay, not bungled, just... ill-timed. I mean, it was late, and she was tired, and my face was probably covered in dried drool... She again frowned at herself. Not a setback, just a... pause. Yeah; it was just a gift giving pause. And she's going to come down the stairs, and things are going to go smoothly, I'm not going to babble like a crazy person, although that's not really fair to crazy people because I'm sure they can't help-
She was yanked from her thoughts when she heard a door open upstairs. She stood, and faced the stairs, gift in hand, only to hear another door close. She held her breath and then heard the shower start. Her shoulders slumped and she tapped the small box against her leg, checking her watch again. I can wait. I mean, it's not like she's going to shower forever... She nodded her head sharply and sat down. Then frowned. No I can't... She stood again. Why is this so hard?
Her eyes caught a pad of paper and pen next to the phone. She looked to the stairs, then back to the paper. Her face fell. Just leave a note, kinda, casual. Like, "hey, picked this up for ya, good luck at the show"... Willow frowned. But I want to see her face...
She sighed, don't be so dramatic, and made her way to the paper. She picked up the pen, held her breath, and wrote:
She exhaled and looked over her work. Casual. Friendly, but not intimate. Legible. She disappointedly sighed and ripped the page off the pad, then placed the box on top of the note on the counter. She looked upstairs again, the shower going strong, and sighed. She picked up her bag, and with one last look at the gift, exited.
The house was still for a full minute before the front door swung open and Willow charged back in, grabbing the gift and note. She shoved the note into her pocket, and exited again, gift in hand.
It was just after 5 p.m. and Tara stabbed at her salad, not quite listening as Marissa outlined the proposed L.A. show to her and her fellow artists. The day had gone smoothly; the pre-sale showing had garnered a commission, and the interviews had been pleasant enough.
I hope she's not eating cereal for dinner. Tara thought absently. Or popcorn.
The redhead's diet was truly appalling.
There are some cans of soup in the top cupboard, and then there's fruit salad left over from breakfast... I hope she feels like she can eat it if she's hungry, even though, technically, it's mine. She shook her head. I should have left a note, told her I wasn't going to be home; I hope she stops and gets something on the way home, like a pizza, or-
Tara's head snapped up, her eyes owlish. "What?"
Marissa stared at her, her tone patiently annoyed as she repeated, "I said, if you sell out up here, do you have extra works to contribute to the L.A. show?"
Tara looked around to see the other artists staring at her. She looked back to Marissa, who was looking at her with her eyebrows raised, expectantly. "Yeah, I'm finishing a couple now. Yes." Marissa nodded her head, shooting Tara a look before turning back to the other artists. Tara shook her head and looked back to her salad, pushing the croutons to the side as Marissa began speaking about how they could market the show. I think there was an Amy's Kitchen vegetarian lasagna in the freezer, and I know there's some frozen veggie burgers...
Willow stood on the BART platform, waiting for her ride home. I can give her the bracelet during dinner. No wait--after dinner. During dinner is too much like a proposal, or something girlfriends do. Maybe before dinner. She was broken out of her thoughts by her phone ringing. She fumbled for it, and then after a quick peek at the screen, answered. "Buffy, hey, you weren't online today."
"Production week; so swamped."
"Right. Well what's up, have a good weekend?"
"Yeah, other than getting ditched Saturday night by you."
Willow winced. The tone in Buffy's voice was light, so she knew the girl wasn't mad, more like disgruntled. "I'm sorry, I just needed to get out of town."
"See Xander." Buffy replied, flat.
"Yeah, well, I had hoped to see my folks, but they weren't home, as usual, so... Xander default."
"How was that." Buffy asked, her voice lacking enthusiasm.
"It's was fine. Good, actually. We talked."
"Yeah?" A bit of interest crept into the petite blonde's voice.
"Yeah..." Willow trailed off, not wanting to get into exactly what they had talked about on the phone. She changed the subject quickly. "Hey, did you know that he and Julie broke up?"
"Yeah..." Buffy trailed off. "Are you okay with that?"
"Um, sure?" Willow answered, confused. Not like she was all that emotionally invested in Xander's relationships. "I mean, she was nice and all, but I'm not sure they were exactly headed for marriage and baby carriages, you know?"
"Right." Buffy replied. There was a moment's pause before she grumbled. "Damn it - hey listen, I have to go, just got emailed new pages in that I need to look over before I rush home and get changed for my date."
Willow racked her brain. Rob, Rob, Rob-
"The bartender from Thursday night?" Buffy prompted.
"Oh. Oh! Hey! Go you!" Willow said, smiling.
"Yeah, should be fun... Oh! And speaking of last Thursday night..." Buffy said. "When Tara buys you a drink to say thanks for a cab ride, that's all it is."
"What?" Willow replied, her chest suddenly constricting, the smile erased from her face.
"She wasn't hitting on you. She was worried that you thought she was..."
"She said that?" Willow asked quietly, suddenly feeling both light headed and panicked.
"She just wanted to make sure you didn't think she was coming on to you. In case you did. I told her you probably didn't." Willow stood silently, the phone pressed to her ear as Buffy continued on breezily. "Don't tell her I told you though, I don't want her to get embarrassed or anything."
"O-Okay." Willow stammered out. She was worried I thought she was interested in me...
"Okay, really gotta go. I'll see you Wednesday?"
"Kay." Buffy hung up and Willow stood staring ahead for a long moment, crushed. She focused her gaze in time to see her train pulling away from the platform; she sighed and turned to sit on a nearby bench. Thoughts came and went, flittering across her mind as she waited for the next train. Tara thought, that I thought, when I really wanted... She looked down at her phone, still cradled in her hands and dialed.
"Xander." Willow said simply, her throat tight.
The voice on the other end of the line was cheery. "Will! How's my best-"
"Tara doesn't want me." The panic and humiliation in Willow's voice was clearly audible.
"Okay, and we're clearly bypassing pleasantries to jump directly into the drama." Xander said patiently, slightly exasperated to hear the redhead so down. "What happened?"
"I just got off the phone with Buffy, and she said Tara wasn't hitting on me." Willow said, tears starting to sting her eyes.
"Right..." Xander drew out. "I'm gonna need some context here."
"The drink that she bought me at the gay bar last week - she wasn't hitting on me." Willow elaborated, feeling the panic inside her surge.
"Yeah..." Xander again drew out. "I know, you said she was paying you back for the cab ride."
"But what? You said she bought you the drink to pay you back for the cab ride; an extremely nice gesture that a lot of people wouldn't make."
"But Buffy said Tara said-"
"Okay, that's a lot of saids in there, Will; too many for you to know exactly what happened. Buffy said, Tara said--I watch some Law & Order, I know hearsay when I hear it sayed."
"Do you know why Tara said what she allegedly said? Maybe she digs you but doesn't want Buffy to know because it would weird Buffy out and Buffy was grilling her about why she bought you the drink. Or... you're straight Willow, in her mind at least; Tara making sure you didn't think she was coming on to you because she did something incredibly kind doesn't mean anything. If anything it just shows her concern for your feelings, that she wants you to feel comfortable around her. "
"But why would she think that I would think that - that I'd be worried about that?" Willow said urgently, her brow furrowed and her eyes downcast.
"I'm gonna go out on a big fat limb and say... cause you freaked out on her the morning after?"
Willow's eyes widened in horror. "You think she thinks I freaked because she thinks I thought she was hitting on me?"
There was a pause on the other end of the line. "What?"
"Do you think-"
"Will, I'm a simple construction worker." Willow's face contorted in confusion as she tried to follow Xander's apparent tangent. "I do simple things, like install sheet rock, carry heavy bags of unmixed cement, and listen to very opinionated men argue about football."
"Today is Monday, which means there was lots of football talk on the site. As you know, I could care less about football; I'd rather window shop for jewelry with a lesbian than watch... but that doesn't mean that I don't find the conversations occasionally interesting. For instance, did you know that apparently, according to Tito, the first fifteen plays of every game are scripted?"
"Scripted?" Willow said, confused. "I don't under-"
"The coaches; they have the first fifteen plays written down, and they run them hell or high water, even if the other team is on to them, making them fumble, or whatever it is they do. It's called their game plan. They run the ball a little, throw the ball a little; pretty much do a bunch of different things to try and figure out how the other team will respond to similar plays during the rest of the game."
"Xander, that's great but-"
"What you need to do is stick to your game plan, which is spend time with Tara and not worry about the romantic stuff." Xander said. "The drink, Friday morning... that's over. You need to think about the next game."
"Have you given her the bracelet?"
"No, she wasn't home last night, and then this morning--"
"See, so you have something in the future to obsessively plan and worry about - the drink, everything else, it doesn't matter."
"It doesn't matter."
Willow nodded. "Okay." She said quietly.
There was a pause on the line before Xander continued. "I think it's sweet that she was worried about what you thought."
"You do?" Willow said, bringing her eyes up to look down the tracks, the familiar rumbling of an approaching train catching her attention.
"Yeah. You think Bryan ever cared enough about my feelings to worry whether I thought he was coming on to me when he'd buy me drinks?"
"He was coming on to you." Willow replied simply.
"That guy's so warm for my form." Willow chuckled slightly at that. "Think positive, happy smily bracelet thoughts Will."
"Okay." She said as a new train pulled up to the platform. "My train's here."
"Fine, ditch me for mass transit; I see how you are."
"I'll call you later." She said, smiling slightly.
"And I'll be here, cause I have no life."
"Bye Xand." Willow said smiling as she hung up, and boarded the train. Worry about the next game... she thought, taking hold of a pole as the trained lurched forward. I can do that...
Tara returned home Monday night long after Willow had dropped off to sleep, and as she had Monday morning, Willow spent Tuesday morning fidgeting with the box and staring at the stairs waiting for a meeting that wouldn't happen. The process repeated Tuesday night, Tara returning home just after midnight, Willow having succumbed to sleep minutes before.
Wednesday morning was different, however, in that when Willow woke with the sound of her alarm, she heard movement downstairs. She's up... She looked to her nightstand and the box. She was suddenly very awake, and quickly made her way to the shower, scrubing, drying and dressing in under 10 minutes. She hastily applied a light amount of makeup, blew dry her hair and after a deep breath, headed downstairs with her briefcase and the box in hand.
Tara stood in the living room, the cordless phone pressed to ear, the instrumental music indicating she was on hold looping back on itself. She had heard the redhead wake upstairs, but didn't have the coherence of thought to worry about an awkward meeting. One of her paintings, 'Flirtatious: Amorous" was missing in transit, and she had less than 12 hours to find it and get it to the gallery.
Willow flew down the stairs, slowing only enough to not launch into the room like a complete spaz. She saw the blonde, her hair pulled up into a messy ponytail/bun, near the secretary table, her back to her. She smiled, put her briefcase on the ground near the kitchen counter and approached. "Hey, Tar-" She cut herself off when she saw Tara turn halfway toward her, the cordless pressed to her ear. Willow covered her mouth quickly, apologetically.
Tara turned more fully toward the redhead. "Hey. It's okay, I'm on hold. What's up?"
"Oh, nothing, just, good morning."
"Good morning." Tara smiled weakly. The red longsleeve; I love that shirt on her.
"I'll just-" Willow indicated to the kitchen, Tara nodding, averting her eyes to avoid staring.
"Hello?" Tara said into the phone anxiously as she was taken off hold, casting a nervous glance in Willow's direction as she watched the redhead pour herself a cup of coffee. "Yes, this is Tara Maclay, I'm calling about a delivery that was to be made care of me to the Cross Street Gallery in San Francisco, California yesterday?"
Willow leaned back against the counter and watched as Tara absently thumbed a stack of papers sitting on the secretary. The blonde was already dressed, her bag on the floor by the secretary table, and from the looks of it, she'd already be out the door if it wasn't for the tense phone call.
"No, I'm calling from the west coast, it's why I didn't call earlier; I'm trying to track a crate that was overnighted to me Monday. Or was supposed to be, only it's not here, and it's now Wednesday. The tracking number is 150262." There was a long pause. "No." Another long pause, and the redhead could sense the blonde's growing anger, the skin on her neck flushing red. "You can call me at this number." Tara said through clenched teeth. She hung up and after taking a deep breath, turned to look sheepishly at Willow. "Hi, sorry about that. Not exactly a great way to start the day." She said, shaking the phone in her hand.
"Package get lost?" Willow asked sympathetically. Tara nodded, obviously stressed. "I'm guessing it wasn't something silly like sandals, or..."
"A painting." Willow's brow furrowed, so Tara continued. "My contract for the showing tonight is for 15 paintings; I sold one on Monday... usually not a problem, just put a 'sold' sign on it, only the guy paid extra to have it shipped yesterday, so I had to find a new painting last minute to fill the installation spot. I have one in New York at a gallery in Syracuse that I was hoping to get shipped out in time for the opening, but who knows where it is now."
"That's horrible." Willow said. "What happens if you don't find a fifteenth painting to fill the blank spot?"
"Oh, you know, just have to pay a big fee." Tara sing-songed, tense.
"How big?" Willow asked, bracing herself for the answer.
"Couple thousand dollars." Tara sighed, shaking her head as Willow winced. "It's not a big deal, I can always take something from home down to the gallery, just put a 'sold' sign on it, fib a bit, but... I just really didn't want to have to show something from my personal collection." She glanced up at her work over the fireplace and dropped her eyes.
"I'm sorry." Willow said, wishing she could do something to improve the blonde's mood. "Hey!" She blurted, a light bulb flashing above her head.
Tara looked over at the redhead, her eyebrows creeping a bit in surprise at the energetic tone of Willow's voice. Willow's mind suddenly went blank as she took in Tara's curiously alarmed glance. "Yeah?" Tara asked when Willow continued to stare mutely for a long moment.
Willow snapped out of her paralysis, swallowing hard. "I uh, I saw something this weekend and thought of you."
"Y-You did?" Tara replied, baffled at the thought of Willow thinking about her, much less telling her that she had thought about her.
Willow nodded and moved forward, looking down at the box in her hands. "The thing I saw, it's not a big thing, just... there's a store in downtown Sunnydale called Annabelle's-"
"I've been." Tara said, a hint of shock in her voice. Okay, what is going on; she was thinking about me? She's walking toward me and telling me that she was thinking about me? She saw something at Annabelle's that made her think about me? "With Buffy," the blonde finally stammered out. "It's on that main street, right? Next to... the Espresso Pump?"
"Right." Willow smiled, relaxing a little at the mention of her hometown haunt. She looked down at the box again, her eyes downward cast as she continued speaking, stepping to within a foot of the blonde. "Well anyway, I saw something, thought of you, and..."
She looked up, and held the box out toward the blonde, her arm extended, eyes hopeful. Tara was shocked as she looked down at the small white box. She bought me something? Jewelry something? "Willow..." she said softly, her eyes darting up to look at the redhead.
"It's not a big thing. Just... I couldn't imagine you not having it, you know? Pretty much screamed 'Tara'." Willow smiled nervously, and Tara just nodded.
The blonde reached out, and took the box from Willow's fingers. Just as the box exchanged hands, the phone rang. Tara sighed out of frustration, pursing her lips at the horrific timing. "I'm sorry, I really need to..." Willow nodded, backing up a couple of steps. Tara clutched the box tightly and answered the phone. "Hello? Yes, I'm Tara Maclay." She immediately turned all of her attention from the box in her hand to the woman spouting incorrect information on the other end of the line. "No, no-it's an irregular oversized crate. No, not Albany, Syracuse. I don't know why it'd be in Albany." Willow fidgeted, watching the box. "Yes, I have the number, it's 150262. Well that's the number the gallery gave me and the number I gave to the other person I spoke with this morning. No, I'm sure that's the right number. Another number, wait- ugh, hold on, I'll have to get the form from the other room."
Tara covered the phone, frowning. She turned back to Willow. "This is going to take a while. Is it okay if I open this later?" She furrowed her brow apologetically, tentatively holding the box up a bit.
"Sure." Willow said, a lump in her throat. She stepped forward to retreive the box, but Tara only smiled appreciatively and walked toward her studio, box in hand. Wait- Willow thought, stunned that after four days of trying she still might not see the blonde's reaction to the gift.
"Willow-" Tara's voice spun the redhead around. Willow looked at the woman, almost to her studio door, wide-eyed. "The party tonight, here-"
"Right." Willow interrupted, her shoulders slumping a bit. "Um, what time do you want me to clear out?"
Tara looked at her confused, the phone pressed to her chest, the box pressed to her stomach. "Clear out? You- You're not coming?" She asked, thrown. She doesn't want to come? Tara thought, hurt and panic sweeping through her quickly.
Willow's eyebrows arched, surprised at Tara's tone. Wait, did she just- "Oh! No, I-" She shook her head. "I'm- I didn't know I was invited."
"Of course you're invited." Tara said, a slight look of hurt crossing her face. "Always," she added softly. Willow smiled warmly at that, and Tara nodded, reassuring the redhead of her sincerity, before tacking on, "besides, someone needs to keep Buffy occupied; art, not her best subject."
"Okay." Willow replied, a large, relieved smile breaking wide across her face.
"Great." Tara smiled brilliantly. "People should start arriving around 7:30, in case you wanted to shower beforehand, or-"
Tara nodded and said, "no problem," before turning and continuing on to her studio. "Sorry, okay," she said into the phone. "The account number..." She closed the door behind her.
Willow watched as the door closed. Not knowing how long Tara would be, gonna guess a while, these things always take forever... she paced over to where her bag lay. I can stick around and wait for her to open the gift like some sort of stalker, or I can just go into work early. She sat down at the counter and took a sip of coffee, an innocent look on her face. After about twenty minutes, and another cup of coffee, she cast a look down the hallway. Tara's frustrated voice could be heard periodically through the door, and Willow knew the blonde was going to be a while yet. With a sigh, she picked up her bag, and left for work.
A full hour later, Tara hung up the phone, annoyed and very angry. The painting had accidently been shipped to Albany, Georgia, and there was no way it'd make it to San Francisco before the opening tonight. She looked to the wall at the four paintings hung along it. Alright... which one of you wants to take a little field trip downtown... She shook her head ruefully.
She suddenly remembered the box the redhead had given her earlier, and picked it up from the easel she had perched it on earlier. Willow bought me something from Annabelle's... because she was thinking about me. Her forehead knit together and she gently shook her head in a mix of confusion and wonder.
Annabelle's... She fondly remembered the only time she had gone into the little custom jewelry shop, how she had lost herself in the intricate designs of the items on display. Buffy had been impatient, claiming that everything in the store was "too funky" for her tastes, but Tara had been enthralled by how easily the artist had taken mediocre elements and made them beautiful. The artist's ability to work with found glass was particularly inspiring; so much so that Tara had created a mosaic the next semester for her advanced composition class from glass found on the beach.
She bought me something from Annabelle's... She shook her head again at the enigma that was Willow Rosenberg, and lifted the lid. Her jaw dropped as she took in the beautiful blue glass bead bracelet. "Oh, wow..."