She fought the urge to bolt out the door, running her sweaty palms down the front of her smart gray slacks. Her eyes hit the floor, and she let out a long breath, sucking another one in through her red full lips. Her tongue shot out and wet them, and she immediately pursed them together and glanced in the mirror one last time. Her hands went out to smooth her light brown hair, allowed to drop naturally down around her shoulders. Her blue cardigan was tight across her chest and stomach, unbuttoned slightly so a hint of her white undershirt peaked out. Her black boots peeked out just the right way from her pants, and she smiled despite herself. Not so bad, Maclay, not so bad at all…Not so bad for a girl who always felt like the nobody in the room. Well, you’re not going to be the nobody tonight. She let out another long breath, adjusting the glasses on the bridge of her nose.
“Tara. You look beautiful.” She jumped a foot in the air, her frazzled nerves giving a shout as a voice sounded from the door behind her, a small blond stepping into the room and into Tara’s view in the mirror. “There won’t be a dry seat in the house!” Anya exclaimed, her grin reaching from ear to ear. “You’re ready to wet the dreams of hundreds.”
“Th-thanks, I guess.” She winced, she hated stuttering, and had almost completely eradicated it from her speech patterns.. She had long since gotten used to her friend’s sexual nature, but it did nothing to calm her down. Now was the time to continue her slow breathing. Her eyelids shut, allowing her a moment to collect herself. “Is it packed in there?”
“Oh, god, yes.” Anya sounded positively thrilled. “Isn’t it great? We’re going to make loads of money!”
“It’s a free reading, Anya. We’re not going to make any money.” Tara smiled despite herself, leave it to Anya to care about two things: money and sex. At least it was comforting that that would never change. In this moment, she would take a reminder of anything that hadn’t changed.
“But when they hear you read, they’re going to want to buy several copies of your book so they can read it again at home and masturbate.” Anya gave her two thumbs up in the mirror, smiling her “money smile”. “Okay,” she said, clapping her hands together, “you have about five minutes. I’m going to go sit in the audience, you…” Anya made a face, “you try not to have that look on your face when you come out, alright? Nervous isn’t sexy.” Anya bounced away from the doorframe, again leaving Tara alone with her thoughts.
The soft pitter patter of the rain on glass did nothing to relax the redhead as she stood staring out into the great unknown of the city. A sigh forced her hand up and through her locks, and her green eyes searched out into the darkness. She didn’t look up at the knocking on the door, barely acknowledging the older couple who came through the door. Sheila flipped the light switch as she came through the door. “What are you doing in the dark, Willow?” The girl didn’t bother to open her mouth to answer, setting her jaw firmly into a look of distaste directed at the woman but turned away from her eyes. “Well, we’re ready to go. Have a great time exploring! We should have breakfast in the morning, don’t you think Ira?”
“Breakfast with the two most beautiful women in my life? Absolutely.” Her Father’s face cracked into a grin, both of her parents seemed completely oblivious to her anger at being left. “You won’t get lost, will you, Bren?”
Willow rolled her eyes at her father’s endearment, feeling, not for the first time, exasperated by her parents. “I can read a map, Dad.”
Ira moved across the room and placed a kiss on the back of Willow’s head. “We’re so happy you came with us, sweetheart. You have fun tonight.”
Willow sighed again before turning to face her parents’ retreating backs. “You too!” As the door shut behind them with an audible click, she muttered dejectedly, “I love you.”
In the absence of anything else to do, she moved across the room and picked up the hotel room phone, dialing without thought. She waited until a voice greeted her on the other end of the line. “Hi, Ms. Summers, is Buffy there?”
“Hold on, Willow, I think she’s just about to walk out the door. Buffy?” Muffled sounds of mother and daughter conversing filled the empty noise in the room until Buffy picked up the other line.
“Hey Wills, how’s vacation?” Buffy chirped cheerfully.
“You’re strangely monosyllabic. What’s wrong?”
“They haven’t spent any time with me! What was the point of coming all the way to stupid Portland if they were just gonna do what they do in Sunnydale?” She let her body fall down to the hotel bed.
“I’m sorry, Willow. Soon you’ll be on your way home to Sunnydale and your friends, so don’t worry okay? Why don’t you just make the most of it?” Buffy sighed. How often could Willow continue to be disappointed by her parents and not begin to resent them? She remembered how excited Willow had been that her parents had suggested she take the trip with them.
“And do what?”
“Go out. Meet some people. You spent weeks checking out information on Portland, I’m sure there’s stuff you want to see, right? What was that bookstore you were going on and on about?”
“Powell’s. It’s a whole city block of new and used books. I saw it, it’s incredible, all of that information in one place. Giles could seriously get lost in there! All I could think of as we drove by was the look on Giles’ face if he saw it.” Willow’s voice perked up at the mention of her true father figure.
Buffy smiled hearing the upturn in her friend’s mood. “I know how hard things have been for you since you and Oz…” She winced, wishing she hadn’t said his name. “But this is a chance for you to go out and be someone else for the night! Think about it, no one knows you Willow! You can be anyone you want to be. Meet some people, have some fun, and then come home to the Scoobies. We miss you.”
Willow sat, letting her friend’s words wash over her. It made sense, didn’t it? That this was her chance to break out from Willow Rosenberg, high school nerd, now college nerd. Ever since Oz left, she’d pushed herself back into her studies, keeping herself busy. In this strange city she might actually get a chance to be Willow Rosenberg, woman of mystery.
* * *
She had succeeded in wandering through Powell’s for a few hours, picking up a few books that she had found interesting. After talking with the cashier for a few minutes (a good looking boy, even with his spiky hair dyed blue and his several piercings), he had persuaded her to walk down to VooDoo Doughnuts.
“Everybody from the bars go there, so you may have to deal with some drunk kids, but it’s a Portland institution.” He flashed her a disarming smile. “Kind of like this place, actually, just more tasty.”
“Well, if it’s a must see, then I must see it.” She smiled back him, wondering at her bravado. Am I actually flirting with him? He looks a little bit like Oz, short and spiky hair, nice smile, much more talkative. WooHoo with mystery woman Willow!
“Maybe I’ll catch you around there, later.” He smiled at her again.
“Maybe you will.” She tried her best at a sexy smile. “Bye.” She grabbed her bag, directing herself out of Powell’s, and in the direction of the doughnut shop.
* * *
Approaching the street VooDoo was on, she passed by several adult bookstores and a few bars. People passed by her in a hurry, but she allowed herself to slow down and really look around her. The Burnside Bridge was clearly visible from where she was standing, and she knew that there was a whole other east side to the city she was probably not going to ever get to see. She had passed a fair amount of homeless people on her walk, but for the most part they had seemed friendly, if not a bit desperate. I feel comfortable walking on my own here. She thought to herself, pleased with the revelation. I feel strong. I feel competent and able. She smiled, feeling fully herself for the first time in a long time.
Her stride picked up as she allowed the confidence to flood her body. She approached the shop, carefully sidestepping a group of five or six kids hanging out in front. She was about to move towards the door when one of them pushed in her way.
“Hey Red, got a dollar?” The girl asked, pushing her whole body in front of Willow. The brunette wore a leather jacket and dark jeans, and had a slightly dangerous look in her eye. Willow hesitated, unsure of how to respond, and the girl slid her body more closely into Willow’s. “C’mon, a pretty girl like you has to have a dollar.” She smiled, the crook of her mouth and the glint in her eye forming an overall predatory demeanor. “I’ll kiss you for it.”
“I…” Willow’s mouth opened to speak as her eyes darted frantically around the group. They were an odd bunch. Her eyes slid from face to face, looking for the hint of something to tell her it was a joke or if it was another bully taking her lunch money. She faltered, her eyes falling to a girl, leaning back against the brick wall. Her breasts pushed against the restrictive white cotton of her shirt, and Willow’s eyes fell to them, unable to glance away. In the dim streetlight, the girl’s mouth was parted, and her eyes were large – her pupils black and dilated. She moaned, running a hand over her stomach.
The bully’s eyes followed Willow’s, and she smirked. “Better yet, I’ll let Tara kiss you.” Willow’s eyes looked to the brunette in shock, and she began to shake her head. “Aww, c’mon, Red, I saw you looking. She won’t care, she’s too fucked up to notice.”
“What’s wrong with her?” Willow’s voice trembled, and her face pinched as she gave away her weakness.
“Nothing’s wrong with her, Red, she’s just having a good time.” With that, the girl grabbed the blond and pulled her into her own body, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. “Hey, T, this girl will give us a dollar if you kiss her.”
The girl’s eyes sought out Willow’s, and Willow felt herself gasp. Staring at her were the most blue eyes she’d ever seen, beautiful, like a lake or the ocean or something amazingly wonderful that she couldn’t place. The brunette slid her arm away from the girl, and pushed her forward. The girl seemingly had little control as her body propelled forward into Willow’s and she giggled.
“Your eyes are so green.” Her breath smelled sweet, and it tickled Willow’s face. Their lips were close, and the blond leaned forward, her soft lips sinking into Willow’s, her hands feeling their way around her sides and firmly planting themselves on Willow’s back. The kiss was soft until Tara opened her mouth and pushed her tongue unceremoniously into Willow’s, tracing the redhead’s lips, and seeking out the inner walls of her mouth, mapping it. Finally she pulled her face back, and gave a contented sigh. “You’re beautiful.” She whispered, her words reaching Willow’s ears only. Her hands began to move again, feeling the softness of Willow’s breasts pressed down against hers. She moaned into the feeling.
For Willow’s part, the girl’s kiss had been earth shattering. She had never felt such a beautifully warm sensation before, so soft, so lingering. But it was nothing, not even a slight miniscule of anything, in comparison to the moan that had escaped the girl's lips. That moan, that moan that their bodies had caused by fitting together in a delicious embrace, that Willow had caused simply by existing and living in the body she did, that moan would haunt Willow for years afterwards. The sound of it would compell her to do things she never before thought possible, it would drive her insane with need and want, and it would fuel her fantasies until the day she died. Before she could process the paradigm shift that was changing her entire world, Tara was being pulled away. And in her place, ugliness remained.
“The dollar, Red.” The brunette’s voice now hinted at the homicidal, her anger poked through around the edges and sent a shiver down Willow’s spine. She began to reach for her pocket, simply afraid of not complying, when she heard another voice that echoed the first in its effects but not its tone.
“Can I just be kissing her?” Tara laughed. “Please, Faith? She tasted like strawberries and she looks like fire.” Tara’s hand reached into the air, as if tracing Willow’s hair.
“Let it go, T. You’re just rolling. You won’t even remember her in the morning.” Faith’s hand pushed in front of Willow’s face, her eyes sending a warning to not speak or move a muscle. Willow found and placed the dollar in Faith’s palm before pushing her way into the store.
* * *
As she felt herself coming back to consciousness from her dream state, she was mildly aware of her discomfort. Groggy, somewhere between awake and her dreams, she tried to place where she was. She felt dirty and thirsty, and there was a cramp in her neck. Slowly she opened one blue eye, placing much more slowly than usual the faded curtains over the windows, the brick of the walls and the chill that hovered in the air. She must be in Faith’s rat trap apartment. She brought her hand to her neck, slowly rubbing at the concentration of pressure and tenderness. “Hey T, good morning.” Faith’s voice was cheery in the gloom, and at the sound of it she closed her eye again.
The noise that came out of her throat resembled something of a moan. She felt something slightly wet being pushed into her hand and opened her eyes to see a glass of water. Raising it to her parched lips, she nodded in thanks. “Morning, Faith.” Her jaw ached as it opened and closed, and her hand darted to the side of it, giving it a good rub.
“You were outta your mind last night, T.” Faith laughed.
“I remember.” Tara sighed.
“Aww, c’mon, T, don’t be like that. We all had a good time.” Faith sat down on the edge of the bed beside Tara, dropping a hand to her knee. “You wanted to have fun, remember?”
“I remember that too. Although, I don’t remember asking for ecstacy to be involved.” Tara’s face contorted into a grimace, feeling the pain that she had caused herself last night.
“You were gung ho about it at the time.” Faith’s hand began to run in circles on the inside of Tara’s thigh.
“Faith, please…” She stood up, immediately regretting her rash decision. She took a step forward and then back to steady herself. “We can’t do this again.”
“Do what?” Faith’s voice was harsh. “We’re not doing anything.”
“What time is it?” Tara asked, changing the subject.
“Just shy of seven. I was going to wake you in a few minutes anyway. You have work to get to.” The harshness in her voice had dropped back down, seemingly controlled. A genuine warmth, a caring replaced it.
“Shit. I do.”
“Borrow something, and I’ll drive you there.”
“I can’t wear leather to work.” Tara teased, before heading over to Faith’s closet, and pulling out a fresh shirt and a pair of black pants.
“Alright, then put on the crappy clothes you leave here and then I’ll drive you.” Faith teased right back.
The way to the restaurant was quiet. Neither girl felt the need or the desire to speak. They were almost halfway there when Faith began to laugh. “You really were outta your mind, T. Do you remember kissing a total stranger?”
“I thought that was a dream.” Did she remember? Of course I remember kissing the woman of my dreams! She was so beautiful, and I was so fucked. The story of my life. She sighed again. If only I could have met her some other way… what I wouldn’t give for a chance to talk to her, to apologize, to try to explain. Explain what, McClay? That you take drugs? That you want to escape your pathetic life so badly that you’ll buy artificial happiness? Why would a girl like that ever want a girl like me?
* * *
Willow stood with her parents, waiting for a table just inside the restaurant. Her mother babbled on about the conference they had attended that week, including the dinner they had just attended the night before. Willow tried not to fall asleep or scream. But she wanted to scream. She wanted to stay in bed that morning, when her parents had woken her up, reminding her about the previously planned breakfast. Why is it that when I want to spend time with them, they can’t get any further away, but the minute I want some space to work things out, there they are? At least the restaurant had coffee available for the people waiting for a table. That at least she could be thankful for. Finally, the hostess came over to tell them that they’d been seated. She plopped down in a seat across the table from her parents and faked a smile as the hostess handed her a menu. “Your server should be with you in just a moment. We’re a little busy today.” The hostess flashed the Rosenbergs a big smile and retreated.
“What are you in the mood for, Bren?” Her father asked, looking over the menu.
“Ham or bacon.” She said, under her breath, muttering. She was doing her best to ignore this entire situation, hoping that her parents would take her silence for her being tired. “I don’t know, Dad, maybe pancakes?”
“What did you do last night, Willow?” Sheila asked, looking at her daughter as if she were some kind of exhibit at a museum.
I kissed a girl. I liked it. I’m afraid it means I’m gay. “I went to Powell’s, and then to a place called VooDoo Donuts…”
“Hi, my name is Tara, I’ll be your server this morning.” Tara had heard the last two exchanges of the customers’ conversation but had begun speaking before she completely registered the words. Her eyes widened in surprise as she caught sight of the redhead sitting in front of her. Oh my god, it’s her.
Willow glanced up at the sound of the voice and was similarly flabbergasted. It’s her. And for what seemed like an eternity to both of them, they stared at each other. Ira and Sheila looked back and forth between the girls, and then at each other, wondering what was passing between them. “Do you know each other?” Ira asked, wondering at the look of horror on his daughter’s face.
“Yes.” Willow answered over Tara’s reply. Their eyes met again, and finally Willow spoke with careful concentration. “We met last night, actually. Outside of the donut shop I was just starting to tell you about. Yes siree, just met her outside. She was hanging out with a bunch of her friends.” Finally, she turned her attention back towards the girl, amazed she had gotten out all of the words without passing out. “Tara, right?”
Tara nodded, wishing the floor would swallow her. “N-nice t-to see you again?” It came out as a question, though she hadn’t meant it to. I haven’t stuttered in months! Shit. She forced herself into action. “S-so, what can I get you folks?”
“Willow was just saying how much she wanted pancakes.” Ira answered with a smile, happy to see his daughter was well adjusted and could make friends anywhere.
Her name is Willow. That’s so beautiful, what a gorgeous name. Just like the girl herself. “G-great, and f-for you?”
* * *
After the order had been taken, and Tara had slipped away to work, Willow excused herself from the table. Pushing open the door to the bathroom, she walked straight over to the sink, ran the cold water and began splashing it in her face. Her eyes played a game of darting away from the mirror whenever she started to look at herself, but ultimately they failed. She stood for several moments, staring herself in the eye, wondering who it was that was staring back at her. She looked mostly the same, red hair that touched her shoulders, bright green eyes that took in every line of her own face, nice skin that betrayed nothing of her aging, remaining perfect still, as if frozen in time. She could see no change, but she knew. She knew she was inherently different than the girl who had called Buffy last night. That girl was still in love with her ex-boyfriend, the one who left her for someone else. This girl was attracted to a woman. She was so busy staring at herself she didn’t hear the door open. She didn’t see someone standing behind her in the mirror. In fact, Tara’s presence in the room was only given away when the scent of her touched Willow’s nostrils. She inhaled deeply, turning to seek the origin of what seemed at once totally familiar and completely foreign.
“I’m sorry, Willow.” Tara’s voice was soft, but her words were crystal clear. Willow couldn’t help but feel her heart lift as the girl spoke her name.