The last box sat on Tara’s desk until Friday morning. She’d wanted to get everything unpacked right away, but between her calculus problem sets, and Dawn’s anxious phone calls, there just hadn’t been time.
The box was a jumble of things thrown in at the end, when she couldn’t bear to be in that room for a second longer than necessary.
She started with a couple of crumpled-up shirts. Tara folded them, and put them in her dresser drawer. She held up a light blue one with a dark stain on the front.
Tara’s finishing her term paper when there’s a knock on her door. It’s Willow, holding a plate of chocolate chip cookies.
“Hey,” Willow says, “I thought you might need a study break."
Tara smiles. “I think I do.” They sit down on the floor next to Tara’s bed.
Tara takes a cookie. She prefers peanut butter cookies, but this one’s warm and the chocolate is melted and that’s all she needs right now. Well, that and Willow, here just because she wants to be. There are no spells, no magic books, no monsters to fight off.
Willow grabs a cookie. In between bites, she says, "Buffy and I figured out that we can bake cookies in our toaster oven. Now I’m sad for all the times I just baked Pop-Tarts because I didn’t know any better.”
Willow licks a bit of chocolate off her lower lip, and Tara can’t resist the temptation. She kisses Willow quickly, before she loses her nerve.
Willow flinches and drops her cookie on Tara’s shirt. Chocolate smears all over the light blue shirt. It’s probably ruined, but that’s the least of Tara’s worries.
“I’m sorry,” Tara says. “I thought--I m-made a mistake.” She wonders if she can even salvage Willow’s friendship at this point.
Willow says, “You just surprised me.” A moment later she adds, “It was a good surprise.” Then she turns to Tara, gently touches Tara’s cheek, and moves in for what Tara decides she will think of as their real first kiss.
It’s wrong and will probably end badly. Willow’s still getting over Oz. She needs more time.
But time is the one thing Tara doesn’t have.
Tara walked towards the trash can, paused for a moment, and then placed the shirt with the others in the drawer.
She took a few more shirts out of the box. There was a lump in a dark green one--one of Miss Kitty’s catnip mice had slipped in there somehow.
The black and white kitten at the pound makes a beeline for Willow, mewing with all the force her tiny body can muster. She climbs Willow’s sweater and settles on Willow’s shoulder.
After a few minutes, Willow carefully picks the kitten up and places her on Tara’s lap. Tara dangles a catnip mouse in front of the kitten.
The kitten takes a second to appraise Tara’s lap and find it wanting, and then jumps back on Willow. Willow moves the kitten again, and the kitten returns to Willow again.
“Hey, don’t reject her! It was her idea to come here. You should be nice to her.” The kitten sniffs Willow’s hair, completely unperturbed by the lecture.
Tara can’t help but smile at Willow’s indignation on her behalf. “Willow, the whole point of cats is that you can’t make them do anything they don’t want to.”
Willow thinks about this, then says, “Then let’s find a different kitten. One that wants to play with you.”
Tara says, “No, I think this one is our Miss Kitty.”
She can’t blame the kitten for being as fascinated by Willow as she is.
It’s probably for the best if the kitten loves Willow more.
Because in six months, Willow will be Miss Kitty’s sole owner.
Tara put the mouse on top of the bookshelf, starting a pile of things to bring to Dawn.
She returned to the box. At the bottom was her battered copy of Anne of Green Gables. It looked like one of the pages had come loose. Tara carefully opened the book. It wasn’t a loose page; it was a photo.
Someone, maybe Dawn, had taken a photo of Tara and Willow floating at The Bronze.
Tara’s lived a lie for more than a year. She’s known she’d have to leave Willow one way or another on her twentieth birthday, but she’s never told Willow that. The lie feels more monstrous with each passing day, as she and Willow adopt a cat together, move in together, as Willow calls Tara "essential.”
When the truth finally comes out, Willow says, “I trusted you more than anyone in my life. Was all that just a lie?”
“No!” Tara says, tears burning her eyes. There’s no reason for Willow to trust that answer. Not when Tara has lied about so much for so long.
But Willow believes her. That’s all Willow needs to know.
Tara floats in Willow’s arms, lifted by something more fantastical than magic: total and complete forgiveness.
Tara put the photograph back inside the book and shelved the book.
She sat down on the bed and thought about the things she knew for sure. She knew that Willow dropped the cookie, that they took Miss Kitty home with them, that they floated together at the Bronze. But what she didn’t know, couldn’t know, was whether those things happened the way that she remembered them, or whether those memories were edited with Lethe’s Bramble.
It was pointless for Tara to hang onto little bits of proof, because it was impossible to reclaim the integrity of her memories.
Willow had destroyed that forever. And Willow didn’t think she’d done anything wrong.
Tara got up and grabbed her purse.
After a quick trip to Safeway, she stopped by the student lounge, where some of her dorm-mates were watching One Life to Live.
“Hey,” Tara said. “Wanna hang out in my room? I’m baking cookies.”