Inescapable; unavoidable; certain
Someone Tell Me When My Heart Will Stop Breaking
“Do you remember when we were just kids?”
Willow’s words burned in Tara’s mind as she stared at the page scribbled in her handwriting.
The swooped letters, the little hearts. Her words had been so full of hope.
Now all she could remember was the beginning of the end and one word in particular shrieked in disgust from the one person she thought could never let her down.
She felt her heart breaking in two.
How had everything gone so wrong, so fast?
On a warm Friday evening, Tara Maclay was hunched over the desk in her bedroom, scribbling music into a notebook.
She always had at least one notebook on the go, full of ink with the lyrics that would flow through her mind. When she had been old enough to start learning instruments, the music followed and she could often be seen jotting down a few notes on the back of receipts or napkins or even her own skin as they entered her head, lest she forget the melodic moment that thrummed through her.
Today the words flowing lightly from her fingers were influenced by something, or rather someone, who had embedded themselves in her mind that day and truthfully, every day.
The silly jokes you've said
Your different colored pens
The secrets you can't keep
The babble in your sleep
Some may call you strange
But me I'd never change
Oh, about you
She stopped, frustrated.
It wasn’t enough.
It never felt enough.
She could never get down on paper the actual complexity of what she felt.
The deep, resounding feelings that filled her every waking moment.
She put a big X across the page.
She turned to a new page and tried again, this time closing her eyes. The pen hit the paper and the words came; her hand intrinsically knowing exactly where and how to press in the ink to keep the writing neat.
I lived my life in shadow
Never the sun on my face
It didn't seem so sad, though
I figured that was my place
Now I'm bathed in light
Something just isn't right
I'm under your—
Her phone buzzed in her front pocket and she slid her hand in, turning the device over in her palm. Her heart fluttered when she saw who it was from.
A smile bloomed on Tara’s face and she typed out a quick reply,
She pocketed her phone again and closed her notebook.
She moved spritely from her chair, swung a sitting backpack waiting on her bed over her shoulders and left her bedroom behind. As her feet imprinted on the well-worn carpet on the stairs, she called out loud enough for it to reach wherever her mother was in the house at that moment.
Kimberly Maclay appeared from the doorway of the kitchen, hidden to the back of the staircase. She was a young woman, one you’d easily mistake for having young children and not teenagers, screeching for her attention.
Her light brown hair stopped at her shoulder and that was one of the only differences between herself and her daughter; their frame and features matched identically, right down to the same angular point on their striking cheekbones. Kimberly's eyes were more of a grey-blue than Tara's striking pop of azure, but people often didn't notice that unless they got up close.
“Staying over tonight?” Kimberly asked as she pushed a dishcloth around the interior of a saucepan.
Tara nodded and Kimberly smiled amiably.
“Okay. Make sure you’re ready on time tomorrow.”
“I will be,” Tara promised, already making a beeline for the front door.
As she went to open it, it opened first from the other side and she just narrowly avoided getting jabbed in the nose.
Donny Maclay pushed himself through the door and sneered when he saw Tara.
He wasn’t very like his mother or sister at all.
He was broad and scruffy and very much took after his father in looks. Not that Tara would know, as she had no memory of him, nor were there any photos to remind her. But she rarely saw a resemblance between them at all and so had to assume.
“Aren’t you gone yet?”
“Tomorrow,” Tara replied quietly.
“Can’t come quick enough,” Donny muttered under his breath as he walked right past her.
“Donny,” Kimberly chastised with a puffed breath of frustration.
She really wished her kids could get along.
Tara did too. She didn’t know quite why Donny hated her so much; he just did and always had. Her memory was littered with proof of that, from juice boxes being squeezed in her face to bubblegum stuck in her saxophone, to telling the whole school when she got her first period.
It had been a relief when she had gone to a different high school; though even now Donny had graduated from his, he was still living at home and tormenting her.
He stayed put instead of going to college; working some hours at an auto-shop and spending the rest out in some dive bar or sleeping off the resulting hangover. Kimberly did all his cooking and cleaning, meaning all he had to do was roll around the place, grunt and get a dig in at Tara whenever he could.
At least it was easy to strategically avoid him.
And she’d have a total break from him soon. Unfortunately, that meant a break from other things, or people, in her life too. As much as she loved going to camp every year, she missed the only person who’d known her almost as long as her own family had.
“Bye, mom,” Tara called again, not waiting for a response this time before slipping out of the door.
She walked down the path past her front yard, checked both ways before crossing the street and jogged up to the front door of the house that sat directly opposite hers. Her knuckles had barely skimmed the wood when it swung open.
On the other side, Willow Rosenberg stood with a cheerful smile and an even more cheerful sweater.
“I saw you crossing the street.”
“Hi,” Tara returned with an odd mix of bashful familiarity.
Willow stood aside to let her in.
“Come upstairs. I want to show you this funny video I saw online.”
Tara stepped over the threshold she’d stepped over a thousand times before. Living fifty feet from your best friend since you were four years old meant a lot of time spent in each other’s houses.
She followed Willow upstairs, feeling a pang of guilt when her eye-line was drawn to the bounce of her friend’s posterior. It wasn’t that she felt guilty about the associated feelings, but she didn’t want to be like her brother and his friends who so openly leered at girls they were attracted to.
She also didn’t want to get caught. That wasn’t the way she wanted to tell Willow about… everything.
Willow led Tara upstairs and laid on her bed, stomach down with her feet at the headboard and her laptop in front. She maximized a video and pressed replay when Tara laid down beside her.
Tara only half-watched the video, distracted by the sweet smell of Willow’s soap and the way her smile lit up her face when she laughed.
“Did you see? The panda kept sneezing.”
Tara quickly looked back at the screen.
“I liked when it tumbled,” she supplied after a moment.
“Yeah,” Willow agreed with an easy smile, but also with concern in her eyes.
This was the trouble with keeping secrets from your best friend; they knew you too well.
“Are you okay?” Willow continued, softly sympathetic, “Donny being an ass again?”
Tara was relieved to have an excuse given to her.
“Being himself, you mean.”
Willow wrapped an arm around Tara’s shoulders.
“He’s a loser,” she said, with an emphatic squeeze for emphasis, “So are we going to order pizza and fight over whose turn it is to pick a movie?”
Tara smiled. They often followed the same routine when they had sleepovers, ever since their first meeting barely out of diapers — when Kimberly had been asked to babysit when a surprise event came up for Ira and Sheila Rosenberg to attend.
The Maclays had only been living there a week at the time and barely moved in, but Kimberly felt sorry for the small, redheaded child upset at all the disruption and saw an opportunity for Tara to make a friend.
“You can pick,” Tara offered, rolling herself off the bed when she felt her cheeks getting a bit too overheated, “I just need to use the bathroom.”
“Okay, I’ll call in the pizza,” Willow replied as she too got up to choose a movie, “It shouldn’t take too long.”
Tara went into the bathroom attached to Willow’s bedroom. Hers and Willow’s houses had the same basic structure, but Willow’s had been built on and extended to the point that she had an entire level to herself.
Tara envied the space and Willow hated the loneliness.
Tara knew that and had spent a lot of time in the Rosenberg residence, though she’d pulled back as her inner feelings became more apparent to her. Willow had other friends, school friends to fill in the gaps. Tara went to a special school for performing arts so their circles didn’t cross much. They always just had each other around when needed.
This proved to be a mixed blessing of late. Tara could normally control her feelings around her friend, but she’d been aware of them so long now that it was starting to strain. All she could think about when they were together was this big invisible bomb hanging between them. The biggest problem she had was that she had no idea how Willow felt. Sometimes she thought there were signs, other times she convinced herself it was wishful thinking.
That was the other thing about keeping secrets from your best friend — there were too many opportunities for it all to come out.
She tied her hair up and tried to shift her emotional state to something a little more subtle. She flicked her face with water and patted it dry with the soft towel hanging beside the sink. It was her last night with Willow for a while; she wanted it to be a fond memory.
She returned to Willow’s room, where her friend was walking back into the room from the other side with the box of pizza.
“Good timing. I put on Cruel Intentions. Is that okay?”
“How long was I in there?” Tara asked, sitting quickly on the floor at the foot of Willow’s bed, “But, um, yes. That’s fine.”
Willow pressed play the movie and sat with Tara with the pizza between them.
She loved the familiarity of their routine; pizza, movie and staying up half the night talking.
It was funny; she often had the same routine with Buffy but with Tara it was…different.
They ate in silence until there was one lonely slice left and two bellies too full to eat it. Tara was very aware of their hands resting close together and took hers away, idly nibbling on the skin around her thumb.
“She looks kinda like your friend Buffy,” she commented as they watched the movie, the first thing to come into her mind, “But…kind of mean.”
Willow pulled some pepperoni from the slice and ate it on its own.
“She’ll have to be my pizza-and-a-movie buddy while you’re off being a prodigy.”
“It’s just band camp,” Tara replied bashfully.
“Back to back sessions because you’re just too good at too many instruments to pick one,” Willow said back, nudging Tara’s shoulder, “You have no idea how awesome you are, y’know.”
Tara gulped and hoped a flush wasn’t rising on her cheeks.
“We’re missing the movie.”
They continued watching, but Willow wasn’t long in chuckling and interrupting again as one of the more notable scenes played out on screen.
“Remember when we were just kids?” she asked, an oddly-placed lilt of nerves in her voice, “We used to practice kissing for boys?”
She rolled her eyes in Tara’s direction.
“Then no boys asked us out, of course…”
Tara’s heart began to pound. She worked very hard not to remember that. Or at least, only remember when she was alone with her thoughts.
“W-Were you disappointed when Xander started dating that girl? The cheerleader you don’t like?”
Listening to Willow go on about her friend and crush had never been easy for Tara, especially since Willow had known them both almost the same amount of time and he was acquiring the space she wanted to be in more than anything.
Still, she diligently listened and offered genuine advice on how to talk to him. Willow’s happiness always meant more to her than her own.
“Whatever. Don’t know what I ever saw in him anyway. If that’s his taste…yuck! So much for being treasurer.”
Tara glanced at Willow, her eyes shining with innocent hope.
“Yeah, so over it. I’m not spending my senior year moping over that jerk,” Willow replied bitterly, looking down, “Better than crushing on Buffy I guess. Anyone but me.”
Tara frowned but Willow pulled herself together and looked up and over to her, smiling softly.
“What about you?”
Tara clammed up and Willow’s voice grew teasing but laced with something else that sounded vaguely threatening.
“Nate looks at you, you know. I see it when you guys play.”
Nate Williamson was a friend of Tara’s, better described as a bandmate. They wrote music together and sometimes played sets at The Bronze or local events and parties. They also volunteered once a month at the old folks’ home where Tara’s mother worked as a nurse.
He was a nice guy and excellent guitarist; Tara enjoyed making music with him but he did not make her heart a-flutter. Only one person had ever done that.
“I don’t like Nate like that,” Tara replied, looking down at her hands as they tumbled over each other in her lap. She avoided this topic like the plague and in the past Willow had been distracted enough by Xander to not notice Tara’s silence, “I…I don’t like any boys.”
“You’ve never liked a single person?” Willow asked with amused disbelief.
Tara hated this. It physically hurt to have to lie and bottle everything up and then be probed.
“That’s not what I said,” she replied in a strained whisper.
Willow turned, the movie forgotten, with curious eyes.
“Well, who then? Spill!”
Tara paled and continued gazing into her lap in silence.
“Well?” Willow prompted again, giggling at seeing Tara squirm, thinking it for a very different reason, “I knew someone would catch your eye eventually. Who is it?”
Tara could feel green eyes boring into her and had to tuck her hands between her knees to stop them from shaking. She slowly raised her head to look at her friend-since-forever and heard the word tumbling out of her mouth before she even consciously made the decision to say it.
Willow rolled her eyes.
“Oh, haha. April 1st passed a while ago.”
The silence boomed between them, confusion rippling on Willow’s face.
“Tara, what are you talking about?” Willow asked, her voice rising an octave, “Are you… are you gay or something?”
Tara felt the knife stab in her heart and the blood rush between her ears as her secret exploded in front of her eyes.
“I-I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.”
Willow scrambled to stand and put space between them.
“I’m not like that!”
“I’m sorry,” Tara repeated lamely, feeling the shake move from her hands to her whole body as she stood too.
Willow looked like steam might blow out of her ears.
“You can’t just land that on me! You’ve been tricking me all this time, kissing me!”
“I-I stopped it when I realized how I felt,” Tara replied with an echoing voice, “Remember, Willow, I’m the one who said we should stop.”
“I’m not some dyke!” Willow spat in return.
Both of their faces contorted in shock as those words hung in the air. Willow seemed stunned that the word had even come out of her mouth and Tara’s face was frozen in hurt.
Tara broke the eerie stillness to snatch up her backpack.
“I should go.”
“Yeah I think that’s a good idea,” Willow replied with quiet anger, though she didn’t know which one of them it was directed at.
Tara turned before the tears actually fell, but only just. Her cheeks were wet before she got out the door and the collar of her shirt was starting to become damp by the time she rushed across the street and let herself back into her house.
She made a beeline for the stairs and bounded up and into the bathroom, the only place where she could be ensured of some privacy. She was actually grateful for the overpowering stench of Donny’s cheap aftershave because at least it meant he had gone out.
She locked the door, tossed her backpack into the tub and sank down to sit with her back against it, sobbing into her knees to conceal the sounds.
Still, it only took a moment for there to be a knock on the door.
“Tara?” Kimberly called through, “What’s wrong? I thought you were staying the night at Willow’s?”
Tara took in a short breath and closed her eyes to focus on her words and not the tears streaming down her cheeks.
“The pizza upset my stomach,” she called back with impressive restraint on the wobble in her voice, “It’s nothing, I just need my own bed.”
There was silence, then Tara heard her mother speak again, accepting the answer.
“I’ll put a hot water bottle in your bed.”
“Thanks,” Tara croaked back.
She waited until she heard retreating steps before running the faucet to fill up the sink and plunge her face into the cold water. She screamed, though there was no evidence of it but the bubbles that rushed to the surface carrying her pain.
She emerged from the water with a gasp and let the cold sting dominate her sensations for a moment. She could taste Donny’s aftershave and it made her gag.
She dried her face, her heart still pounding but in a more steady rhythm; one she could use to regulate her breathing. She crept across the hall to her bedroom and sank down onto her bed, looking ahead with a sad gaze.
Her eye landed on the notebook she’d been so happily pouring her heart out to earlier.
Do you remember when we were just kids? she recalled Willow’s sweet voice, though it only caused a stab of agony in her heart now, Yes…when I wasn’t…when she didn’t hate me.
In a fit of anger, she tore the page straight out and let it float back down onto her desk, slamming the nearest book on top of it just to ram it home.
Again, it wasn’t enough but this was a whole different emotion from earlier. She grabbed the page and squashed it into a tight ball wrought with the tension she felt coursing through her. She flung it as hard as she could but it only ended up a foot away, so she booted it as hard as she could with her foot.
Anger was not an emotion Tara was accustomed to feeling and it fizzled from her as soon as her foot landed back on the floor. She picked up the scrunched ball and smoothed them out.
Those words had really meant something. She couldn’t just throw it away.
She folded the creased paper and tucked it away in her nightstand.
Left with just an echoing sadness, she took off her shoes and curled under her blanket; hiding her face and leaving just the top of her head exposed.
Her door creaked open and she tried to hide from her mother under the blanket.
“Is everything okay? I heard a bang.”
Tara clenched her jaw. If her mother knew she was crying she’d want to know why and Tara didn’t know if she had the strength to lie.
“I just dropped a book,” she said, sounding appropriately ropey for someone with an upset stomach, “I’m fine. I just want to go to sleep.”
Kimberly left and Tara thought she’d gotten away with it, but just a couple of minutes later, the door creaked again and Tara felt the sag of the mattress as her mother sat beside her.
“Sip on this,” Kimberly advised, leaving a glass of sparkling water on the nightstand and placing the hot water bottle on Tara’s pillow, “If you don’t feel better in the morning we can delay—”
“I’ll be fine,” Tara cut off.
Kimberly rubbed Tara’s back and tucked her sheet in before leaving a kiss on top of her head.
“Goodnight sweetheart,” she said before flipping the light-switch and leaving her daughter alone in the darkness.
Tara closed her eyes, bunched sheet in her hands and contemplated in distress just how much of her life she had ruined and for how long.
When will I be okay? When will I be myself?
It felt like she would be suspended in this agony forever.
Across the street, in an all too familiar move, Willow removed her hand from beneath her pajama bottoms and cried herself to sleep.
Willow walked at a glacial pace from her house to the Maclay house; the fifteen-second journey stretching into whole minutes.
Finally, she was at the door, but it was another minute until she found the courage to knock.
She felt awful and she just wanted her best friend back.
Kimberly opened the door and seemed pleased to see her. She’d always had a soft spot for Willow.
“Oh, hello Willow,” she greeted, “What can I do for you?”
Willow swallowed several times before speaking.
“Is Tara here?”
“Oh, sweetheart, she left for camp,” she said softly, concerned, “Didn’t she go over to say goodbye?”
Willow felt like she’d been hit with a ton of bricks. In the flurry of emotion she’d been feeling, she had completely forgotten about Tara going to camp.
That meant six long weeks before she could speak to her face to face again. It physically ached.
“Yeah, no, of course. I-I meant to say is her bookbag here?” Willow covered, whilst clearing her throat, “She said I could borrow a book.”
Kimberly just smiled.
“Oh, of course. You can go up to her room and check.”
Willow nodded in gratitude and made her way up the stairs with her hands in her pockets. She went into Tara’s room and stood aimlessly with a frown because the room smelled like Tara and that hurt.
Worse, she hated that it hurt so much. It shouldn’t hurt to smell your friend’s perfume just because she wasn’t around to smell directly. She bonked the side of her head with the heel of her hand.
I don’t want to smell her! Shut up you useless block of grey matter.
She dropped into the seat at Tara’s desk and picked up the notebook sitting there to lightly bang against her head in the hope it might suddenly straighten her out.
When it did nothing but give her a headache, she dropped the book into her lap with a sigh. It opened on the page before the one Tara had ripped, on the lyrics with the big X through them.
The lyrics were identifiable and personal and Willow knew immediately they were about her.
Mimicking what Tara had felt the night before – anger, panic, and confusion, in different spades for slightly differing reasons — Willow also ripped that page out, tore it in two to get rid of the evidence then scrunched up the paper and tossed it, not even looking long enough to see it roll under the bed.
Only half-remembering to take a book, any book, with her, she trudged back down the stairs, stopping to say goodbye to Kimberly just to be polite.
“When are your parents home?” Kimberly asked, arms lightly folded on her chest.
Willow shrugged. She really wanted to get out of there.
“I haven’t checked their schedule. Next week some time.”
“When was the last time you had a proper meal?” Kimberly asked in that concerned motherly tone, then continued before Willow could answer, “Stay right there.”
Willow went to great pains to stay on the spot but was grateful when Kimberly returned with half a pan of leftover lasagna wrapped up. It looked a lot better than what she’d been feeding herself.
“Thank you, Ms. Maclay,” she said, feeling far too emotional for just the receipt of lasagna.
Stupid Tara and her stupid mother being so stupidly perfect.
She mumbled a goodbye and rushed back home at ten times the speed she’d left. She felt guilty for that thought. She felt guilty for a lot of thoughts. If she could just get Tara out of her damn head.
That’s what she had to do. Put Tara out of her head.
She took her phone from her pocket and pulled up the name she was looking for. She pressed the call button and waited anxiously for the other side to pick up.
“Hey, Xander. Can I come over?”