Stop thinking about it! Willow's mind screamed, as she rubbed her hands over her flushed face quickly. She groaned and dropped her hands, looking back at her computer screen. It was just after two in the afternoon and the dream still hadn't dissipated. Not even close. Just when she thought she was getting into a groove with the code she was working on, a decidedly graphic and naughty image would flash through her mind. How are you going to get anything done today when all you keep thinking about are Tara's breasts! Willow internally admonished. Mmmm, Tara's brea- No! No! See, right there! What did I just say?!
Willow huffed in frustration and turned to a pad of paper she kept on her desk next to her computer. She picked up a pen, put the cap into her mouth and yanked the pen free. She bit down on the cap and quickly wrote, "game plan: get to know Tara." She nodded at the words on the page, as if their existence solidified her resolve. She quickly tacked on, "let Tara get to know me." She smiled sweetly before adding, "NO obsessing about hot, naked steamy gay love with Tara." She again nodded, pleased with herself, then reached up and drew a heart around Tara's name on each line.
There was a knock on the door and she quickly dropped the pen, slammed her open hand flat on the paper, then pulled her fingers in toward her palm, yanking the page from the tablet and scrunching it up into a crinkled mess. She turned to the door, wide-eyed, crumpling the page into an even smaller ball. "Hney-" she said around the pen cap clamped between her teeth. She quickly reached up and removed the cap from her mouth, then smiled sheepishly. "Hey, Khalil." The man smiled at her, amused. "What's up?" She asked, innocently, further compacting the paper in her hand.
"What are you doing this weekend?" He asked, his shoulder leaning on the doorjamb.
"Um, nothing..." Willow replied tentatively. "Why?"
"Wanna go to Portland?" He said smiling widely.
"Portland?" She echoed, confused.
"Couple of the doctors from the Washborn clinic are going to try out your new program."
"Oh!" Willow exclaimed her eyes going wide as she flapped her hands excitedly. "Yay!"
"Sutter thought you'd like to go up, see it in the real, maybe answer any questions the doctors might have."
Willow was already nodding her head vigorously. "Yes! Definitely. When?"
"Leave tomorrow afternoon, back Sunday afternoon."
"The demo's Saturday morning, thought we could take the docs out for dinner afterward."
"Yeah, that sounds good. Do I need to do anything?"
"Nope, I'll have Stacey make the plans. We'll leave from here around 4 or so?"
"Okay, sounds good. Thanks!" Willow nodded, smiling and Khalil exited, shaking his head chuckling. Yay! She thought as she turned back to her computer, a large grin plastered to her face. If there was one part of her job that she truly adored above all other parts, it was interacting with the different doctors who used the programs she designed. Seeing how they used the software, answering questions about why she programmed the interface the way she did, taking suggestions for future versions... it was why she left her previous company, as SutterSoft's reputation for connecting clients with the programmers was simply phenomenal. Yay! Willow internally exclaimed again as she wiggled slightly in her seat.
She moved her hands to the keyboard, and frowned when she saw the pen cap in one hand, the balled up paper in the other. Oh yeah... She tossed the paper in the trash and placed the cap back on the pen. She sighed contentedly and went back to her work, her mind finally, and fully, occupied with a non-Tara thought for the first time that day.
The dark haired man was startled awake by the ringing. He slapped around on his night stand for what seemed like an eternity before he finally located and answered the phone. "Hello?" He rasped, his voice thick with sleep.
"Xander, are you sleeping?" The incredulous voice asked on the other end.
"Mom?" He asked, sitting up and wiping the sleep from his squinting eyes.
"Uh, try again..."
"Buff." He sighed. "Why in the world would you call me at..." He twisted and took in the clock next to his bed, his eyes going wide when he saw 3:00, the sun streaming in through the windows across his bed. "So, what's going on," he said casually, trying to cover for his laziness as he mouthed "three o'clock!"
"Nice life," she said sarcastically. "Sleeping in past noon on a Thursday..."
"Eh, if you're not sleeping in on your day off, you're doing something wrong," he shrugged. "Are you calling for a reason, or..."
"Reason." He heard her take in a deep breath before she tentatively asked, "why did Willow buy Tara a bracelet?" There was a long moment of silence. "Xander?"
"Buffy." Xander said.
"Did you hear me-" she asked.
"Yeah, I just don't know why you're asking me." He heard her sigh, so he added, "I'm not Willow."
"She said you were there when you bought it," Buffy explained.
"And, I was, but that doesn't mean I know why she did."
"Well did she say anything when she bought it-" Buffy asked, her growing annoyance with his evasive answers apparent.
"She said it looked like something Tara should have." Xander replied, giving no more information than he needed.
"That's what Tara said Willow said," Buffy said, obviously not pleased with the answer.
"And..." Xander prompted. "You don't believe her?"
"It just seems weird," Buffy admitted.
"Why, I thought it was nice."
"Well it is, it's just, I didn't know that Willow and Tara were friends like that."
"Friends like that?" Xander repeated.
"Bracelet buying friends," Buffy explained.
"Well if it makes you feel any better, Willow also bought Shelia a necklace." Xander said, turning side to side, cracking his back.
"How much jewerly did she buy?" Buffy asked, incredulously.
"Just those three I think. Oh, and a ring for herself."
"One of each, huh..." Buffy said. A long pause followed. "She didn't say anything else-?"
"Buffy, if you want to know why Willow did something, ask her! You know where she lives, you have her phone number-"
"Okay, okay. I'll ask her. Sheesh." Xander shook his head. "I just didn't want to bother her with it."
"So you of course decide to bother me with it." Xander said, yawning, adding before Buffy could inevitably argue "No, no, it's okay, you don't have to say anything. Caught in the middle-just a hazard of having two girl best friends." There was an uncomfortable pause, as the two once close friends realized how inaccurate the term 'best friend' was in describing their current relationship. "So, how did you like the earrings we picked out for you." Xander quickly asked with forced cheer, saddened that his calling Buffy 'best friend' had shone a spotlight on their tense friendship.
"They're nice." Buffy said diplomatically.
"Nice huh." He scratched his hand along his morning beard. "Tell you what, you mail them to me, and I'll take them back and send you the cash. I have the receipt, Will will never know."
"No, I couldn't-" she started to argue.
"Okay," she said quickly, obviously smiling on the other end. Xander smiled and nodded, pleased with how well he knew the petite blonde despite their differences. "But it'll have to be after I get back," she said. "I sooo don't have time for the postal service right now," she added.
"Back? From...?" He trailed off, confused.
"My... trip..." Buffy trailed off herself.
"Right, right." He nodded, closing his eyes briefly. "You leave Saturday morning?" He yawned again.
"Yup," she said. "One week in New York partying with fashion's best and brightest and then a week with Dawn."
"How is the Dawnster doing?"
"Good. Completely wigged that I'm coming to visit her at school, but it's the only time I could get off so..."
"Ah she'll perk up once you're there. Cool, fashion-editor-older-sister Buffy. Kind of sounds like a doll-'Malibu Barbie sold separately...'" Xander said in his best commercial voice over voice.
Buffy laughed, "you know Xand, sometimes I worry about you..." The mood inexplicably grew tense again as the innocent statement implied a concern both were uncomfortable dealing with. There was another long moment of silence before Buffy apologetically said, "I should get back to work..."
"And I have to have breakfast." He said, light-heartedly. "No, lunch," he corrected. He looked over at the clock. "Ah hell, I'm going straight for dinner."
"Bye Xand." Buffy said, amusement evident in her voice.
"Bye Buff," he said sincerely. He hung up the phone and stretched. "Ugh, lumpy mattress..."
"SuttterSoft, a leader in the medical imaging industry, is a company with over twenty years of experience in helping address the world's ever-changing medical needs. Today, SutterSoft is among the world's leading developers of 3D imaging software, for use in disease screening applications, clinical diagnosis and intensive radiological planning."
Hmmm, Tara thought as she read the information on the screen before her. She sat cross-legged in an office chair in the gallery's office, a half eaten sandwich sitting on the desk next to the computer she was using. She leaned back in the chair and sighed, frowning slightly. Everyone knew SutterSoft; in the grand scheme of San Francisco's busy business scene, SutterSoft reigned supreme, a multi-million, if not billion, dollar healthcare technology business. People who invested in the company bragged about the fact, and to work there was a definite badge of honor. So why doesn't she ever talk about it... Tara thought, confused by the redhead's reticence.
Maybe I can ask her at dinner tonight... Tara thought, tapping the eraser of her pencil on the piece of paper in front of her. Pasta. Everybody likes pasta, right? The blonde looked down at her shopping list, reviewing it for the fiftieth time.
Angel hair pasta
After a moment's contemplation, Tara reached up and crossed out 'flowers'. That's way too date like... she frowned. Besides, you have like a dozen lilies from the party last night. She'll look at the new flowers and... She crossed the word out even more, blushing. Yeah, no flowers... She bit her lower lip and read back over the list again, adding in parenthesis after 'white wine', (for cooking). She started to cross out 'garlic' and then stopped herself, rolling her eyes. Okay, that's just crazy. She's not going to kiss you.
She read the list one more time, then folded the piece of paper and tucked it in her back pocket. What about music... Tara mused. I could put on some music... nothing romantic though. Something... relaxing. Mellow. But soft, not distracting; we'll want to talk, not listen to whatever's playing. She mentally reviewed her music collection before frowning. I have absolutely no clue what kind of music Willow likes...
She shook her head and turned back to the computer. She dragged the pointer through the Bookmarks list and selected TheFillmore.com. She clicked on Calendar and scrolled down, taking in all of the upcoming acts. She sighed, wondering as she read each band's name if they were Willow-worthy. Another something I can ask her about over dinner... Just... if I knew what she liked now I could buy tickets for a show, surprise her. She shook her head. I can't believe she's never been to the Fillmore...
The door opened and Marissa scurried in, her arms loaded down with papers. She dropped the papers on a side table with a thud and began sorting through them. Tara pursed her lips, considering something, and then swiveled the chair to take in the frizzy haired woman leafing loudly through the stack across the room. "Hey Marissa..." she asked, trailing off.
"Yes..." the woman replied, not looking up from her task.
"If you wanted to find out what kind of music a person liked, how would you do it?"
"Um, I'd ask them..." Marissa turned and looked at Tara, raising her eyebrows.
"Well yeah, but I mean... if you wanted to be sneaky." The blonde asked innocently.
Marissa frowned. "Are we in seventh grade...?"
Tara sighed, rolling her eyes, and Marissa shook her head. The older woman looked back to the papers, finally finding what she wanted, and walked over to the desk, leaning over to take a peak at the screen. "Fillmore huh, buying tickets for a show?" She arched an eyebrow and then picked up a pen to write on the paper in hand.
"Not until I can figure out what kind of music she likes..." Tara grumbled quietly, closing the browser.
"I'm sorry, 'she'?" Marissa asked, a teasing smile crossing her face. "Tara Maclay, do you have a-"
"So how are things going today?" Tara interrupted, blushing furiously. "We sell anything?" She smiled weakly, hoping Marissa would take the hint.
Marissa smiled widely, seeing Tara's subject change for what it was, before crossing to a file cabinet. "One, 'Lyrical Mastery'." Tara grinned, pleased with herself. "But other than that, sort of slow." The frizzy haired woman said, filing away the paper. "You know how it is though, should pick up tonight. Speaking of..." the older woman turned, shutting the file drawer. "Tonight."
"Tonight..." Tara repeated, not following.
"You watching the gallery?" Marissa clarified.
"Oh!" Tara replied, slapping her head to her forehead. But dinner with Willow...!
"No, no, no! You didn't forget!" Marissa said, rushing over to the desk, pointing at the mortified blonde. "Tara, it took me two weeks to get reservations at Town Hall-"
"I did forget," Tara winced, "but it's okay, I'll be here." Marissa stared at her with dubious eyes and Tara repeated, strongly. "I'll be here."
"Thank god." The older woman said relieved, putting a hand over her heart. "I don't think Michelle would be too happy if I cancelled out of her birthday dinner because you were too busy doing..." she arched her eyebrows, expecting Tara to finish the sentence by revealing her thwarted plans for the evening.
"Nothing." Tara said, trying for 'innocent'. Marissa frowned, disbelievingly. "Honestly," Tara said, "I was just, going to have dinner with Willow."
"You have a date with Willow?" Marissa asked, surprised, sinking down into a chair.
"No!" Tara exclaimed, startled by the assumption. "No date. Just dinner," she quickly explained. "At my place, our, place. Just dinner, that I would make. No date." Tara hurriedly said, hoping her face was not as flush as she felt.
"Oh." Marissa said as she processed the information. "I was going to say, cause isn't Willow straight...?" The woman trailed off, carefully.
"Yes." Tara confirmed, her voice faltering a little.
There was a long pause before Marissa spoke, her tone sincere. "I'm sorry."
"What? Why?" Tara chuckled, all the sudden very concerned with wrapping up the remains of her sandwich. Marissa just kept quiet. "What?" Tara asked again, arching an eyebrow.
"Tara..." Marissa sighed. "You know I'm not a pry-er..."
"You're a gallery owner," Tara said, attempting some humor, her insides twisting as she waited for Marissa to pry. There was a long pause and Tara looked at Marissa suspiciously. "But-"
"Do you have feelings for Willow?" The curly haired woman asked, sympathetically.
"What?" Tara asked, a covering smile on her face. "No..." Oh god... Tara panicked internally. It's that obvious; what kind of fool have I been making of myself- she looked up, noticing Marissa didn't reply. The blonde added with certainty, "no."
"Okay." Marissa said, her voice laced in quiet skepticism.
Tara felt her limbs going cold, her most closely-guarded secret in peril. "I don't."
"I said 'okay'." Marissa said, holding her hands up, surrender-like, her eyes saying something completely different.
"You said it like you didn't believe me..." Tara tentatively challenged.
"I'm sorry, of course I believe you." Marissa said, nodding her head. "It's just... you were radioactive last night-"
"Um, thanks?" Tara replied perplexed, wishing that the conversation would take a different turn as she uncrossed her legs.
"I mean," Marissa clarified, "you were glowing every time you talked to Willow, you were so obviously smitten-" Tara puffed out some air, visibly uncomfortable with where this was going, yet Marissa continued, patiently. "In all the years I've know you, I've never seen you like that around another woman, and now all of the sudden you're trying to buy sneaky concert tickets for the girl-"
Tara's head snapped up, eyes wide. "I never said-"
"I just don't want you to get hurt Tara." Marissa quickly inserted. "Pining after a straight girl, that's just bad news-"
"Not, pining..." Tara said exasperated, standing to move to the fridge, sandwich in hand. As soon as her back was to the older woman, her face fell, her mouth drawn tight. Did I make a complete idiot of myself last night...? Oh god-
"Marissa," Tara said, putting the foiled food in the fridge and turning. She smiled, patiently, trying to control her trembling insides. "Willow is my roommate, she's Buffy's best friend. I'm just trying to be nice."
"Okay." Marissa said, slapping her hands on her thighs then standing, realizing the blonde needed her to back off. "Just don't be too nice," she said jovially in an attempt to relax the mood, as she winked and moved over to a hat rack near the door. "I have a hair appointment..." Tara's eyebrows raised, contemplating what exactly a hair stylist would do with the mess of curls on the older woman's head. "And then home to get beautiful for my woman." Marissa said.
"You could show up for dinner in a paper bag and she'd love it," Tara smirked, relieved the older woman had backed off of her, apparently extremely obvious obsession, Tara grumbled.
"Of course she would," Marissa said, checking through her purse and pulling on her light jacket as she tried to ignore Tara's obviously tense mood. "Paper bag, that's like wrapping paper, which is made to be torn awa-"
"Go, wine and dine your wife." Tara said smiling, sitting back down in the seat behind the desk.
"Don't call me unless this place is in ashes." Marissa said with a smile, as she exited.
"Yep." Tara sing songed after her. As soon as she was alone, the blonde's body sagged. She put her face in her hands and exhaled slowly. Lying now... 'radioactive'... she rubbed her weary hands across her face before dropping them in her lap. So much for agonizing over dinner... She shook her head and shifted her weight, pulling the folded shopping list from her back pocket. She sighed, and then squeezed it into a crumpled mass before tossing it into the trash. She stood up, then crossed to the door to the gallery, determined to think about work, and only work, for the rest of the long evening.
Willow walked down the street toward the BART street entrance, her briefcase's shoulder strap slung across her body diagonally. She held her cell phone in her hand and thumbed through the menu, finding the number she wanted to dial, then bringing the small device to her ear. She heard two rings, and then, "hello?"
"Mom." Willow smiled, turning to take the first escalator to her train.
"Willow, hold on." Willow waited patiently as she heard movement on the other end of the line. "Sorry," Shelia Rosenberg apologized. "I just got home and desperately needed to get out of those slacks and into some sweats!"
"It's okay, completely understandable." The redhead pulled her BART ticket from her bag. "How was the conference?" Willow asked, stepping off the bottom of the escalator.
"It went very well, thank you." Shelia replied, obviously moving through the house on the other end of the line. "I'm pretty sure my lecture was well received... I'm sorry I missed seeing you though when you were home this weekend. Did you stay at the house-?"
"Xander's." Willow said, putting her ticket into the machine and crossing through the mechanical turnstile. She collected her ticket on the other side and walked to the second escalator. "Did you see what I left you though? On the kitchen table?"
"The necklace, yes."
Willow smiled. "Xander picked it out at Annabelle's. He said it was 'Shelia-rific'," the redhead chuckled, stepping onto the second escalator.
"It's lovely. Thank him when you speak to him next." Before Willow could speak, Shelia interrupted. "I received an interesting call today."
"From..." Willow said, her brow furrowing, wondering if her mother was going to make her guess who she had heard from.
"Roger Kahn. He said he saw you at an art show last night, of all places."
"Tara's art show." Willow said. "My roommate, the artist? It was so weird," she continued. "Seeing Roger, not the art show-the art show was beautiful. But seeing Roger; I was standing there looking at one of Tara's paintings and the next thing I know, he's there, giving me a hug and embarrassing me." Willow stepped off the bottom of the escalator and started to walk down the platform.
"How was the show?" Shelia asked. Willow could hear the refridgerator door closing, items being moved around the kitchen.
"It was really fun," she said, a warm smile curling her lips. "Tara was great," and beautiful, wonderful, amazing, "and I'm pretty sure even Buffy had a good time."
"Did you meet anyone?"
"Yeah, some friends of Tara's."
"Oh? Any nice men?"
"No..." Willow drew out. Way to walk into that one...
"Well that's too bad." Shelia bemoaned, oblivious to Willow's tense reply. "Although," she added, "in San Francisco, single men in art galleries-"
"I spent a while talking to the owner of the gallery," Willow interrupted, not in the mood to hear her mother finish the stereotypical thought. "Marissa Davis. It was really fun, she and her wife Miche-" Willow heard the sharp intake of breath on the other end. "What." She asked, an annoyed edge to her voice as she stopped in an unpopulated area near the end of the platform.
"Nothing." Shelia replied coolly.
"You winced." Willow said, the familiar feeling of hurt, anger and irritation starting to swirl in her chest.
"I didn't wince," Shelia admonished. "Don't be so dramatic."
"Mom-" Willow disputed.
"It's just, strange to me." Shelia casually explained, moving a pot on her end with a great bit of noise. "'Her wife'. It's just... 'Wife'. I prefer partner."
"It's practically the same thing-" Willow retorted, her stomach starting to tighten.
"No..." Shelia calmly disagreed.
"They had a ceremony, mom," Willow said hotly. "They're married."
"Okay," Shelia seemingly acquiesced. "I'm just saying, that for me personally, I am more comfortable with the term 'partner'. 'Her wife', it just sounds strange to me." Willow sighed, frustrated into the phone. "I didn't grow up in an era where women had wives, Willow, it's odd to hear. I don't know, maybe I'd just have to say that a lot before I was able to-"
"Wife, wife, wife-" Willow started repeating.
"Willow, don't do this now," Shelia said in her most disapproving tone. "I'm tired, I've been on a plane all day-" Willow sighed, knowing that her mother was not going to let this conversation continue for much longer. "You know I don't have anything against lesbians, I'm friends with Helen and Karen-"
"You're not friends; they're your co-workers." Willow corrected.
"Willow." Shelia chastised, exasperated. "I have told you before that I'm not going to have these kinds of conversations over the phone at this time of day. We're both tired-"
"Fine." Willow said, the anger sitting in her throat.
There was a slight pause before Shelia continued. "Now, Roger tells me you haven't seen any new condos lately."
"I've been busy." Willow replied evenly.
"Well you can't be too busy to find a place to live," Shelia said, as if stating the obvious.
"I have a place to live." Willow retorted.
"With a roommate." Willow held her breath, waiting for the descriptor, but released her breath relieved when her mother said, "you make far too much money to be sharing a home with a roommate."
"What about lofts." Shelia offered 'helpfully'. "You were looking at those for a while-"
"They're too sterile." Willow pouted. She wanted a warm place, with lots of light, like, Tara's place...
"Well, you need to find something soon," Shelia insisted.
"Why?" Willow challenged, annoyed by her mother's persistence, her earlier hurt fueling her defiant tone. "Just because I have money-"
"I'm sure Terry would like her home back."
"Tara." Willow corrected. "And she's said she doesn't mind-"
"Of course Willow, she's polite." Willow rolled her eyes. "I'm sure she'd like things back to normal, so she can have... friends... over," Shelia said.
"Frie-" Willow's jaw set. "You mean girls?"
Willow was well and truly pissed now. Her mother's attitude, Tara- Tara having girls over- "My living there doesn't inhibit Tara, and she's not the kind of person who has girls over-"
"Willow, obviously we're just not clicking tonight," Shelia said authoritatively, and Willow swallowed hard, knowing the conversation was over. "I have the stove going, I'd like to watch the nightly news-"
"Fine." Willow gritted out.
"I'm sorry," Shelia said simply. "I just am not in the mood for all this tension tonight-"
"I said 'fine'." Willow repeated. She heard her mom sigh on the other end of the line.
"Call me tomorrow? When we're both in better moods?" Shelia asked, obviously unhappy that the conversation was ending on the note it was.
"Okay." Willow replied automatically.
"What." Willow said, her entire body numb with disappointment and distress.
"I love you."
"I love you, too." Willow said, meaning it although she didn't want to, not just then anyway. "Bye." She hung up the phone and sighed as the train approached. "Love you most of the time..." she grumbled, frowning. She stepped on the train, and headed home, thinking ruefully that she didn't even get to why she called in the first place; to tell her mother that she'd be going to Portland for the weekend.