Much to Tara's relief, her last week in Paris had flown by in a blur of lectures and last minute research. Giles had been true to his word in promising to keep her so busy that she would not had time to miss Willow. However, despite her lack of time to stop and reflect, every little thing she did made her think of Willow. She suspected that nothing would lessen the constant, dull ache in her heart that never failed to remind her how far away from her Willow was.
So when it finally came time to pack her bags on her very last day in Paris, Tara did it with barely a hint of reluctance. While of course it was sad to be leaving such a beautiful city, she wanted more than anything to go home. Not home to the dingy apartment in Greenwich Village where her father and Donny would no doubt be cursing her name... Tara shivered, that had never been home. She really had no home in the sense of a building to go to...
Willow was home.
There was a light knock at the door to her hotel room and she opened it to reveal Giles, his packed bags sitting out in the hall behind him. Tara smiled as she placed the last few items in her suitcase, pressed it down firmly and closing it shut without too much difficulty. As the lock clicked audibly she realised that the one suitcase was her entire life. Everything she now owned was in one suitcase... Tara paused for a moment before inexplicably running her hands over the top of the case. Whether Giles was realised the same thing or something else altogether, his hand reaching up to sit on her shoulder was a welcome touch.
"All packed," Tara said, tapping her fingers on the lid of the case in a quick, drumming beat.
"You're a wonder Tara... I've never seen a girl pack so fast," Giles smiled at first but very quickly held up his hands in surrender at the glacial look on Tara's face. She couldn't hold the look for long and a small giggle burst from her throat.
Giles' stared at her for a few moments before his smile faded and he wandered over to sit on the corner of the bed, he looked at her with a steady, resolute expression, "About what you told me last week... about your family... I know you didn't want to fully discuss it then..."
...Tara had sat down and told Giles everything the day after Willow had left Paris. Well, not everything because Giles already knew much of her story... she just corrected her lies. She had quickly dissolved into tears at the look on Giles' face when the truth finally came out. She had lied to him, made him take her to Paris under false pretences and had waited a month to tell him about it... and then he ruined her apology by not being the least bit angry. At first he sat in silence, such a look of sorrow on his face. It had broken her heart because she knew it was a look she didn't really deserve. Then he had taken her into his arms and held her tightly as she cried.
"Why didn't you tell me Tara?" he asked softly, a soft voice tinged with disappointment.
"I d-don't... know..."
Giles saw she was having difficulty getting the words out and continued, "I mean, I knew you were having a rough time at home, ever since your mother died but... why didn't you tell me?"
"What could you have done?" Tara sobbed quietly, she had always known that no one could have done anything.
"I don't know, something... anything... anything to make things better for you."
Tara turned her head so she could look at Giles from the corner of her eye. Her heart swelled with gratitude towards the kindly Englishman.
"You always did," Tara replied quietly.
She was sure Giles' cheeks had a slight pink tinge to them as he let her get back to her feet. He removed his glasses in order to give them a thoroughly unnecessary cleaning.
"Well, I'll do whatever I can to help..."
"Giles, you don't need to..."
"Tara, let me do this," Giles had said firmly, effectively silencing Tara's protests...
"Anyway... about last week. I didn't want to spring this on you now but it's as good a time as any. Do you know what you're going to do when we get back."
Tara shrugged, she hated to admit that she hadn't the slightest idea as to how she was going to get by on her own, "Find some place to stay I guess."
"You can come and stay at my place for as long as you need..."
He was quick to nod, saving her from completing the rest of her polite refusal and he continued, "I knew you'd say that and... I know of a place you can stay..."
Tara looked up at the old but well kept up townhouse and tried to look a little upbeat...
She was back in New York after a very uneventful plane ride during which she had managed to sleep most of the way. This was even despite an overactive child whose parents had clearly given it too much sugar kicking the back of her seat repeatedly. Her dreams had been of a certain gorgeous redhead with a cute tendency to babble. The way Giles was looking at her when she had woken up, Tara wondered if she'd said anything particularly incriminating in her slumber. However, when she looked at him inquiringly, he just set about cleaning his glasses as though his life depended on it.
...The townhouse was a charming brick building complete with brightly coloured plants in window boxes. The building gave off a strong aura of familiarity and comfort even though Tara knew full well she had never laid eyes on it before. It was miles away from her old home... and it felt miles away. According to Giles, the neighbourhood was mostly young couples and families... small children around them were playing on the street with carefree abandon. It was all very tidy, well-kept and most importantly, it looked very safe. So safe that Tara was almost able to forget the horrible fear she had of expecting to run into her father around every corner... almost.
Giles knocked on the door as Tara hung back, still a little nervous and unsure. A few moments passed until a stout, pleasant looking woman answered the door and spoke with Giles for a few moments. The woman looked to be anywhere from her late thirties to her early fifties but her sparkling brown eyes were definitely those of a young woman. Her slightly greying, dark hair was done up in a lose bun. Tara couldn't hear what she was talking about with Giles but the fact that she smiled a lot served to put her at ease. After a few moments, Giles turned back to her with a smile of his own and beckoned her inside.
"Hi Tara, I'm Mrs Connelly, but you can feel free to call Abby, everyone pretty much does anyway," Tara shook the hand that Abby held out to her. Her grip was firm and reassuring, Tara couldn't hold back a small smile.
"Abby is an old friend of mine... you'll be well looked after here," Giles said as they followed Abby into the house and up a set of stairs.
"You're lucky, I had a girl move out to get married just a few days ago. The nicest room too, looks out over the street. Giles tells me you're a very intelligent and well-mannered young lady so I'm pleased to offer it to you... Rupert doesn't lightly hand out his compliments" Abby continued talking, not stopping to take one breath even as she moved swiftly up the stairs, "I've been having girls stay under my roof for the last thirteen years, ever since my Harold was killed somewhere in the Pacific during the war. Most girls leave to get married and by the looks of you, I'll say you haven't got long to wait for someone to sweep you off your feet."
She opened the first door on the right and ushered them inside. Tara meanwhile felt her cheeks grow a little warm as she entered the room. It was a very decent size, more than enough space for her to move about in between the bed, a large standing wardrobe and a chest of drawers. A small bedside table with a lamp rounded out the room's complement of furniture. The walls were papered in a soft mint green, soothing to the eye and completely offset by the bright yellow curtains on either side of the window. Tara smiled in spite of her nervousness. It was charming.
"There's usually about five girls under my roof, they come and go at all hours of the day but you'll meet them all in time. I think they're a good bunch so you won't have too much trouble making friends. You share one bathroom at the end of the hall so there's not enough hot water to dawdle any while you shower. I serve breakfast at seven and dinner at six, curfew is at eleven... there are to be no men above the ground floor at any time," as Abby listed the rules Tara paid close attention and knew the last wouldn't pose a problem.
"Any questions?" Abby asked Tara.
Tara could only shake her head with a shy smile, it was still a little too much to take in.
"Perhaps you should... call your father, he might be worried about you and he is legally still your guardian," Tara spun around from facing Abby to stare at Giles. His expression was soft, concerned while her face was a mask of panic, "You never know..."
"G-Giles... I do know, I know him... if he were to find out where I am..." Tara felt a shiver run down her spin at the thought, "You can't send word to him... please."
At that moment she was less than glad to be back in New York, she wanted to be as far away from him as possible. Perhaps it wasn't too late to get back on a plane and fly to California... or maybe Australia.
Giles nodded in reply, a little reluctantly because he was feeling guilty for the part he had played in helping her run away from her family. Yet, at the same time, nothing he had ever done in his life had made him happier. Tara deserved to find happiness in life and he knew that the man who called himself her father would never allow her to find it. Giles also suspected that Mr Maclay would be less than enthusiastic about Tara's new relationship with Willow. He on the other hand, would do anything for the two girls because he knew that Tara's happiness was intimately tied up with the beautiful, young redhead.
Abby, to her credit, sensed the tension in the air and excused herself from the room without a fuss, "Well, I also expect you're very tired after your trip, I'm not very far away if you do think of anything you need."
Tara lifted her head to smile at the older woman, "Thank you so much Mrs Connelly... Abby."
Abby exited the room and Tara was left alone with Giles. The young woman opened her suitcase on the bed and stared at it, transfixed. It was all she owned in the world... her father would most likely do something unmentionable if he ever saw her again... she was in love with a girl... and she had never been so happy in all her life.
"Go call Willow then," Giles said softly, "You've been pining after her every waking, and I suspect every sleeping second for the last two weeks... . and I know she'll be dying to see you."
Giles suspected that was a gross understatement as to how much the two girls had been missing each other. He was pleased to get a warm smile out of Tara.
"I will... I think maybe I need to sleep on everything first... I mean, I must look terrible... she can't see me like this."
"Willow would think you were the most beautiful girl on earth if you had just been dragged through a swamp face first," Giles chuckled at the look he caused on Tara's face, "Abby will take good care of you. I'll see you at the store on Monday?"
Tara nodded and turned away from her suitcase to stand right in front of Giles, tears misted her eyes when she looked up at him, "Giles... thank..."
He silenced her grateful thanks by touching her lips briefly with his finger, just seeing her smile was all the thanks he ever needed. The door closed behind Giles and Tara was left alone in her new room. Although she was exhausted and somewhat hungry the first thing she did was unpack her suitcase. She didn't make much progress however, the first item she removed from the top of her suitcase was a pale pink sweater. Tara stopped, remembering she had worn it on the rare afternoon it had rained while she was in Paris.
Tara closed her eyes and smiled at the memory of sitting in the conservatory at Willow's aunts home as daylight passed into dusk, listening to the sound of the raindrops falling on the glass. Being a very public place she and Willow had barely been touching, just their hips and thighs pressed together as they sat and yet that small touch was all they needed to feel their love.
"I love the rain," Willow said looking up, watching the rivulets of water run down the glass above them.
"You wouldn't love it so much if you were out in it," Tara had teased with a giggle.
Willow sat forward on the seat and glanced back at Tara with a mischievous little look on her face. She obviously took Tara's words as some sort of dare and before Tara had been able to stop her she was on her feet, moving to open the conservatory door.
"Willow!" Tara watched in part horror and part amusement as the redhead stepped out into the almost tropical downpour.
In seconds her red hair was plastered to her face, clothes soaked... and, as Tara was most pleased to observe, clinging in all the right places.
"I love the rain!" Willow shouted over the din of the downpour, doing a little twirl in a puddle to emphasise her point.
"Willow Rosenberg... get back in here you silly git!" although Tara was struggling not to collapse in a fit of laughter, she was also worried that Willow would catch a cold or worse.
Willow grinned, twirled once more for good measure and then sloshed her way back inside, leaving a puddle wherever she went. She lifted her arms wide and made to give Tara a giant hug.
"On second thoughts..." Tara said, evading Willow's clumsy lunges, "You can stay out there!"
Tara curled up to sleep that night in a strange but comfortable bed, in a strange room with an odd sense of contentment. She dreamed of the sound of the rain falling on glass... and funny little Willow-sneezes...
Never before had New York seemed like such a wonderful city to live... and so full of promise.
"Miss... W-Willow Rosenberg please," Tara gripped the phone with a shaking hand.
She stood in the downstairs foyer of the boarding house, having just dialled Willow's number and listening as the phone was answered in a formal tone. Tara almost slammed the phone back down at that instant, it was only by sheer force of will that she kept it pressed to her ear.
"And who may I say is calling?" the stiff voice asked.
"T-Tara Maclay..." Tara wondered if she ought to say anything further but apparently it was not required as she heard the sound of the phone being put down and footsteps walking away.
Tara waited as patiently as she could but she could barely stop herself from jumping up and down on the spot. Another of Abby's boarders walked past her, the girl looked at Tara strangely... Tara could only grin back stupidly as she rocked back and forth on her heels.
After what seemed like an hour had passed, Tara heard the sound of the phone on the other end moving and she held her breath...
"Willow speaking," it was the most beautiful sound in the world and Tara listened with her grin growing by the second.
"Hello?" Willow's voice came over the phone line again.
Tara realised she'd completely forgotten to say anything, flustered she quickly sought the perfect words to say in reply but came up a complete blank.
"Hello?" Willow sounded confused.
"H-hi... it's..." Tara started.
"Tara!" Willow exclaimed down the phone line, "You're back! How was your flight? How is Mr Giles? Speaking of flights, I had the world's worst flight ever... I had food poisoning, throwing up every minute it seemed... it was awful... I was so glad to finally get back to New York but now that I'm here... I've spent more time with my parents these past two weeks than I have at any other time in my life... I really didn't want to know them that well!"
Tara could only listen to Willow babble on the other end of the line, nodding at moments, even though Willow couldn't see her. She furrowed her brow in concern when Willow mentioned her illness on the way home and laughed at the slightly piqued but also jovial tone in her voice as she spoke of her parents. After rattling off at least a half a dozen more questions that Tara could never hope to remember long enough to answer them all, Willow finally stopped talking. The phone line was completely silent for a few moments, the only sound being a slight crackle which neither girl noticed.
"I missed you," they both said at the said time... then they both let out a long breath and a matching nervous giggle.
"Um... what happened... when you got back I mean, where are you staying?" Willow asked quietly in an anxious voice. It was the question which had occupied her worried mind for the past two weeks.
"Oh, Mr Giles... he found me this place... a boarding house of sorts I guess, for young women. The lady who owns it... Abby, she's really nice..." Tara hadn't really been there long enough to tell whether she really liked living there, but she had a good feeling.
"Oh thank god, I was so worried about you..."
"You needn't be worried sweetie... I was in good hands."
"Yeah, Mr Giles..." Willow couldn't possibly thank the man enough for all he had done for them.
"So..." Tara began, unsure of the right words to say, "I-I was wondering when... I mean, if you w-want of course... um..."
Willow laughed in spite of herself. Tara rarely ever stuttered in her presence anymore but it seemed as though talking over the phone was not one of her strong points.
"When can we meet?" Willow filled in Tara's question for her, "Um... there's a dinner tonight... I have to be there, some thing for my Daddy's business... but tomorrow I have nothing planned... you can come over tomorrow right? Because if I have to wait any longer to see you I think I might go stark raving mad."
"Saturday? Sure," Tara replied, barely able to contain her enthusiasm.
"Grr, I hear my mother calling me, I think she wants me for something. Until tomorrow then," Willow said, Tara could tell she was grinning from ear to ear even though she couldn't see her... the grin was in her voice.
"Until tomorrow," Tara said softly and hung up the phone with a sigh.