DCP: Ice Cream Challenge Entry
1. Story MUST NOT exceed a PG-13/TV-14 rating
2. At some point in the story Willow and Tara must own an ice cream shop together.
3. Blurred lines are involved
The following items/persons appear or are mentioned:
4. An Insurance Adjustor
5. List on an envelope
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Author: Jen Tidwell
Summary: A ‘Day in the Life’ after 17 years together.
Spoilers: Everything up through B:tVS Season 6 Episode 19 Scene 35 minus sub-scenes A36 & B36 (so-called per the original shooting script) in other words, the end of “Seeing Red” as it pertained to the mortality of certain blonde witch… yeah… forget that. Didn’t happen here. Additional spoilers include references to events in Season 7 including the television series finale. The comic-book series continuation is not a factor in this story, except for a reference to San Francisco.
Disclaimer: Willow and Tara and other characters borrowed from the television show Buffy: the Vampire Slayer are the property of their creator, Joss Whedon, and his affiliates, Mutant Enemy, Warner Brothers and Dark Horse Comics. That being said, this story is mine, please don’t plagiarize.
Notes: Thoughts in italics
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The alarm clock chirruped loudly, startling its owners with the announcement of a new day. A slender, freckled, arm stretched out from beneath the downy comforter; the hand attached to it slapping at the digital clock several times, finally succeeding in shutting off the aggravating beep. The hand rested on top of the plastic housing for a moment – a muffled groan coming from beneath the covers – and then slowly it slid off of the clock and back under the blanket from whence it came.
For a few moments nothing happened. Then, suddenly, the bed’s other occupant sat up, sluggishly pushing the blue and vanilla patchwork comforter down to her knees, she swung her legs off the side of the bed so that she was seated on the edge. Brushing a tangled clump of blonde hair from her face, she paused to rub her eyes sleepily.
“Will,” she said, her voice slightly froggy. She ‘ahemed’ a few times to clear it. “Will,” she said again, this time more clearly, reaching behind her body to nudge her sleepy companion.
“Nguh,” came the reply.
“Come on, sweetie,” the blonde encouraged, “gotta get up. Sophie’s going to be late.”
“Yeah-huh,” she countered – yawning, but looked over at the digital display on the bedside table by her companion to double check. The numbers were fuzzy. She squeezed her eyes shut, and then opened them attempting to refocus. She rubbed her eyes with the palms of her hands then looked a third time, keeping her eyes squinted. Finally, she was able to make out “7:06 AM” on the readout. “Yes, Willow,” she said with more confidence. “It’s your turn to take her. I have that appointment to get to before heading to the shop.”
Willow flung the blanket away from her face, keeping her head buried into the pillow. “No, Tara,” she answered, practically whining, “It’s not because she doesn’t.”
Now Tara was moving past tired bemusement and into grumpy frustration. “Yes, she does.”
“No,” argued the redhead, “she doesn’t. It’s Saturday, baby.”
Tara face shifted into an expression of absolute bewilderment. “What?” she asked, “no it’s not.”
“Yes it is,” said Willow, wrapping her arms around her pillow and snuggling it.
The blonde shook her head, trying to clear both cobwebs and confusion. She reached out and grabbed the handle to her bedside table drawer, pulling it open. Grabbing her cell phone from the charging station inside she quickly activated the home screen. Seeing the day of the week plainly written across the display, she pursed her lips and slapped the phone down onto her thigh.
“Willow,” she said firmly, “it’s Thursday.”
“What?” answered Willow, rolling onto her back to look at her wife. “How?”
“Well, besides the fact that yesterday was Wednesday,” Tara dryly replied, “it says so on my cell phone.”
Willow propped herself up on her elbows and gazed at the blonde with scrutiny. “Well, it must be wrong.”
Tara gazed right back with a look of incredulity. “Wrong?”
“The cellphone that, like all cellphones, is connected to Greenwich…is wrong?” Tara watched as realization dawned across her lover’s face.
“Crap.” Willow winced, and then looked at the blonde apologetically. “I… I dreamt it was Saturday.” She shrugged. “I guess my brain didn’t want to give up the idea.”
“It’s ok, love,” sighed Tara, “I wish it was Saturday, too.”
Willow pulled her body from the bed, pausing to stretch a moment, before beginning to stride toward the bathroom. “Ok, I’ll shower super-fast while you get Sophie up, then we’ll swap?”
“Sounds good, we’ll meet you in the kitchen,” answered Tara already heading for the door.
Tara stepped from the hallway into her daughter’s room. The floor was littered with toys that the blonde could have sworn she’d told the seven-year-old to put away the night before. Tip-toeing carefully around a row of stuffed animals, she made it to the sleeping child’s bedside.
The girl was resting on her tummy, her little fist pressed up against her nose; blissfully enjoying the deep, careless, sleep of children. Tara couldn’t help but smile wistfully as she brushed a lock of chestnut hair from her daughter’s face.
They’d hoped for a redhead, but Tara’s natural brunette genes had won out over the anonymous donor’s ginger ones and when Sophie had been born with an unmistakably brown-colored fuzz on her head, the women were delighted nonetheless. It suited her.
Even though Tara loved Sophie’s hair, she’d still gone back to her dark bottle-blonde as soon as she was able. She knew, given the option, Willow liked her better as a blonde. Although the redhead would never admit to it, even under threat of torture. But, ultimately, it was Tara’s choice, and she just preferred how the blonde color softened her features. She’d always felt her natural color exaggerated her angular features and made her look a little like a Disney villainess. On top of everything else, she was starting to grey – not aggressively, she was still only thirty-seven after all – but enough that her stylist had casually pointed it out at her last color touch-up. Tara liked to think of herself as a woman who was comfortable with the idea of “aging gracefully”, but not at least until she was in her late-forties. Or maybe mid-fifties. Or, even better, early-sixties. She liked that notion best. Yes, sixty-four was a good age to go grey. The Beatles even wrote a song about it.
Snapping out of her reverie and back to the matter at hand, Tara gently began to rub her daughter’s back, soothing her to wakefulness.
“Sophie,” she said softly, “Sophie, time to get up, baby.”
Sleep-dusted green eyes blinked open and looked at her. “Mommy?”
“Yeah, baby, time to get up. School.”
The girl lifted her head and nodded, half-sleepily, half-resignedly. Tara pushed the covers down and helped pull Sophie to standing. She took her small hand and started to lead her from the room, under the auspice of getting them both to the kitchen for breakfast, when her daughter planted her feet and stopped their progress.
“Careful, Mommy, the ring!”
Tara froze. “What?”
Sophie pointed to the floor in front of her mother’s foot. “Lulu’s ring! You were going to step on it!”
The blonde looked down and saw the small loop of yellow play-dough on the floor. “Sophie, what’s the rule about play-dough on the carpet?”
“It’s not ‘posed to be there?”
“Because it gets stuck’ded in the fibers?”
Letting the grammatical error slide for the moment, Tara continued, “so why is–”
“Lulu’s ring,” Sophie supplied.
“Yes, Lulu’s ring, on the carpet?”
“It wasn’t there when I went to bed,” she argued.
“Where was it?”
“On Lulu, ’cause Betty gave it to her when they got married.”
Tara could not suppress the smile that grew across her face. She looked down at the row of stuffed animals she’d bypassed earlier on her way into the room and observed them more closely. It was a wedding ceremony. Lulu the Lop-Eared Bunny (Sophie’s favorite toy) was sat carefully next to Betty the Bear at the head of the row of the rest of the toys. It appeared that Pierre the Poodle was presiding… naturally.
“Alright, well, it must have fallen off Lulu overnight,” she said, stooping to pick the soft-clay band up from the floor. “Can we set it on your desk for now?”
“No, it has to go on Lulu ’cause she’s married!”
Tara pressed her lips together. It was too early for a debate with a seven-year-old. “Alright, well how about we put Lulu and Betty on your desk and say they’re on their honeymoon? That way Lulu can wear her ring and the play-dough is off the carpet, ok?”
Sophie quickly picked up the two stuffed animals and placed them reverently on her desk. Tara handed her the ring and she delicately balanced it on Lulu’s paw.
“All good?” She asked her daughter.
“All good,” the girl replied, then hurled herself through her bedroom door and down the hall to the stairs screaming, “cereal time!” As she went.
Tara winced at the high-pitched exclamation and followed after her. “Please don’t yell in the house!”
“You are!” Sophie hollered back from the foot of the stairs.
Tara slapped her palm to her forehead. “Every time.” She shook her head and hurried downstairs, reaching the kitchen in time to prevent an epic cereal spill as Sophie tried to pour herself a bowl at the kitchen island.
“Woah, speed racer,” she said, grasping the box, and pulling it from Sophie’s hands. “Let me help with that.”
“I can do it,” Sophie protested.
“I know you can,” said Tara. “Grab your bowl and spoon and bring them over to the nook table.” She watched her little girl do as told. “Ok, you can pour yourself a bowl here.” She set the cereal box on the table.
“Why here and not over there?” Asked Sophie.
“Because the island countertop is a little too high for you to be able to pour accurately,” her mother explained as she grabbed two mugs from the cupboard and set them next to the coffeemaker on the counter. The machine had been set the night before to automatically brew the morning’s pot. Tara slid the carafe from the hot plate and poured two cups of coffee. She swiftly added two scoops of sugar to each and then grasped both mugs through the handles with one hand, carrying them to the fridge and pulling out the jug of milk with the other.
She walked over to Sophie at the table, setting the mugs down first, then pouring a small amount of milk into the cereal bowl and the coffees in turn. Swiveling back to the fridge she asked, “orange or cranberry?”
“Cranberry please,” said Sophie, around a mouthful of crunchy flakes.
Putting the milk away, Tara grabbed out the bottle of cranberry juice, taking it with her to the cupboard as she pulled down a juice glass. “Ok,” she said, “but next time if your mouth is full please chew, swallow, and then answer, ok?” When she didn’t hear an immediate reply, she turned to look and found Sophie hastily chewing and swallowing before finally answering, “kay.”
Tara smiled and carried the glass of juice over to the table, setting it down next to her little girl. Then she put the bottle back in the fridge and finally managed to get back to the table to start on her coffee just as Willow came scurrying into the kitchen pulling her light pink V-neck sweater on over her head. She ran her fingers through her not-quite-completely blown-dry hair.
“Tag,” she said to Tara, stepping over to her and giving her a quick kiss.
“Thanks, sweetie,” her wife replied, “coffee’s on the table.” She breezed out of the kitchen, heading for upstairs.
Willow turned her attention to Sophie.
Reaching into her jeans back pocket she pulled out a pose-able female action figure, setting it on the table as she sat down.
“I found your Sacajawea tangled in a pile of towels on the bathroom floor this morning,” she chided playfully.
Sophie regarded her sheepishly. “She was trying to save Lewis and Clark.”
“So where are Lewis and Clark?”
“In the tub?”
Willow squinted at her daughter’s upward inflection. “I didn’t see them in the tub when I took my shower,” she replied.
“They went down the drain,” Sophie tried again.
Willow took a sip of coffee. There was no way those figures could fit down the bathtub drain. Another thought occurred to her. “Bug… you didn’t flush them, did you?”
“No…,” her daughter drew the word out, as though testing the answer as she was giving it.
“So where are they now?”
“In my room?”
Now Willow was starting to get concerned. “Are you asking me or telling me?”
“Are you sure?”
Willow sighed. Whatever had happened to Lewis and Clark, they didn’t have time to sort it out now. She had to trust that her daughter was telling the truth for the moment. “Ok,” she said, “finish your cereal and then run upstairs and get dressed. It’s going to be chilly today, so jeans and a long sleeve shirt, alright?”
“Ok,” said Sophie, taking one last bite of cereal and chasing it with her glass of juice. She winced and wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve. “Ugh, bad combo,” she muttered as she slid out of her chair and headed upstairs to change.
Willow snickered to herself, “every time.”
The redhead sipped on her coffee for a few moments, then stood and approached the kitchen island, grabbing a banana from the fruit bowl there. She peeled the skin and munched on the fruit inside. Finishing, she tossed the peel in the waste bin and turned toward the cupboard, opening it and grabbing two travel mugs. She filled them both with more coffee, finishing off the pot, and turned off the hot plate. Adding milk and sugar, she capped both mugs and set one on the counter by the back door, leaving the other on the island top. Picking up the half-full mug Tara had made her, she carried it upstairs to check on her daughter’s progress.
She found Sophie in her room, pulling on her second sneaker. The girl was a vision of pink. Pink-dyed jeans, a pink-striped long-sleeve t-shirt and white sneakers with pink accents. Willow shook her head slightly, a smirk of disbelief creeping onto her features. Before Sophie had been born, she and Tara had made a point of selecting only gender neutral colors for the nursery and baby clothes. Even after, they had made sure that she was exposed to equal parts ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ type media, books and toys. But as soon as Sophie could make her preferences known, it was all pink, all the time. The color was really the only ‘girly’ thing about their daughter. Otherwise, she was tomboy through and through. Up in trees and down in mud at every chance she got. It was a miracle her clothes weren’t all permanently stained with dirt and grass. Willow owed that to Tara’s laundering skills.
“Ready, Bug?” she asked, “time to brush your teeth and hair, then we gotta go!”
“Yep!” Sophie replied, standing and heading into the hall.
Willow was right behind her. They approached the bathroom door, Willow placed a hand on Sophie’s shoulder to stop her barging in. Giving a listen, she heard the shower still running. She wrapped her knuckle twice on the door and then opened it slightly. “We’re coming in, baby,” she announced.
“Okay,” Tara called back over the spray of water.
Once inside, Willow quickly loaded up her and Sophie’s toothbrushes with paste and, handing the smaller brush to her daughter, they both set to work on their teeth.
“Up and down, up and down, side, side, side, side, side,” they said in unison as they brushed. “In and out, in and out, side, side, side, side, side. Front and back, front and back, side, side, side, side, side.”
They repeated this several more times until the two-minute timer built into Sophie’s “Brave”-inspired toothbrush beeped. Willow filled and handed her little girl the matching rinse cup so she could swish and spit, then the redhead quickly followed suit.
“Good job,” she said, taking the cup and handing Sophie a face towel. The little brunette took the cloth and wiped her mouth with it.
Willow picked up a brush and sat on the toilet lid. “Come here, Bug,” she said. Sophie approached her mother obediently and turned around to face the wall. Willow gently began brushing out her hair. “Braid, ponytail or straight?”
“Can I have a braid on each side?”
Willow glanced at the wall-clock and grimaced. “We don’t have time for that this morning, sweetie. I can do pigtails, though.”
Sophie considered a moment. “Nah, just straight.”
Willow nodded and continued to brush. The shower shut off; Tara’s arm reached out from behind the curtain and grabbed a towel from the rod nearby. A few moments later, she drew the curtain back and stepped out of the tub, the towel wrapped around her body. She leaned over and gave Willow a quick peck on the lips and Sophie a smooch on the head.
“Mommy, you got my hair wet,” she complained.
“Well, then I guess I have to get your face wet to even you out,” her mother teased, rubbing her cheeks against her daughter’s face and then planting kisses along her forehead.
“Ack, Mommy! Stop,” Sophie whined, pushing her back.
“Yeah, Mommy,” said Willow, “Mama’s feeling left out.”
Tara leaned back over and captured her wife’s lips in another, this time longer, kiss. After a moment, she pulled away asking, “Better?”
“Mm, much, thank you, baby.”
“Mommy, you’re dripping on my shirt!”
Tara rolled her eyes as she stood back up. “Ok, ok,” she said, “I’m getting dressed.” She exited to the hall and back toward the master bedroom.
Willow finished brushing out Sophie’s hair and turned the girl so that they were facing each other. Grabbing a barrette from a dish on the countertop, she clipped into her daughter’s hair to keep it from falling into her eyes. “You’re all set,” she proclaimed. “Mama’s turn.”
She stood and scootched Sophie to the side so that she could stand and step in front of the mirror. She ran the brush through her hair quickly, just to get it a little more under control and so that it would lay in the page-boy fashion it was cut in. Then she opened one of the drawers and drew out a tube of mascara and a lipstick.
“Can I wear my lipstick today, too?” Sophie asked.
“Sure,” said Willow, reaching back into the drawer and pulling out a tube of plain Chapstick, handing to her daughter. The redhead made quick work of applying the eye and lip make-up. She paused a moment to review her work. Satisfied she looked down at her little girl who handed her back the lip balm. Willow tossed everything back into the drawer and slid it shut.
“Ready?” she asked.
“Ready,” Sophie agreed.
“Ok, grab your backpack and I’ll meet you downstairs.” She watched Sophie zip out of the bathroom and down the hall. The redhead followed, stopping into her and Tara’s bedroom on her way. “Hey, baby, we’re heading out.”
Tara, now dressed in a skirt and blouse, was bent over, still towel-drying her hair. She stood up, the damp locks falling down around her shoulders. “Ok, sweetie,” she said.
They stepped into each other’s arms and kissed again. “I love you,” said Willow.
“I love you, too,” Tara replied.
“I hope things go well at your appointment,” said Willow.
“Oh, it’ll be fine,” the blonde assured her. “I’ll fill you in on all the details when I get to the shop after. Oh, I didn’t have time to throw together a lunch for Soph, so you’ll need to give her some money for the hot lunch.”
Willow nodded and they smooched once more, then she headed out the door and down the hall.
“Come on, Bug,” she called to her daughter as she walked into the kitchen, “let’s go!”
Sophie barreled into the kitchen from the living room, her Joy-themed “Inside-Out” backpack strapped to her shoulders, and whizzed past Willow to the back door.
“Wait for me, wait for me,” chided Willow, hastily grabbing her light-jacket and keys from the hooks by the door, along with her travel-mug from the counter, and following after.
At the sound of the back door slamming shut, Tara let out a long sigh. She paused and shut her eyes, listening to the ambient sounds of the house and the neighborhood. The wind chimes on the front porch. The wind ruffling through the large oak tree on the corner. The hum of electricity. A car rolling by in the distance. A dog barking. She cherished these moments of quiet. Not that she and Willow couldn’t be comfortably quiet together. But occasionally, Tara needed to be alone. Just for a minute… or ten… or sixty.
She remembered when she’d first broached the idea to Willow. The idea of time alone. They’d been together almost six years, if you didn’t count their time apart during what Willow now referred to as her “black-eyed days”, and had just finished moving into their third apartment in almost as many years. They’d relocated to San Francisco with Buffy, Xander and the rest of the newly-minted slayers after the closure of the Hellmouth and implosion of Sunnydale.
Tara was still simply thankful they hadn’t settled on Cleveland.
At first the two girls had found a little studio in the Castro district. It had been Willow’s idea. One of Buffy’s new cohorts… who also happened to be a lesbian (and who Tara had been certain was attempting to weasel her way into Willow’s affections) had pointed out to the redhead that she didn’t know much about being gay beyond… just the being gay part.
“The culture, the history,” the girl had told them both over drinks at the Bronze, “Hell, even the slang – you gotta know this stuff. It’s important. Because, without those dykes on bikes, and those fags in drag and all the other queers and homos and lezzies marching in New York and San Francisco and D.C. for rights and recognition… we wouldn’t have what few rights we finally do have.”
And so, while the younger girl’s attempted advances onto the very-much-spoken-for-thank-you Willow had been totally pointless, other than to annoy Tara and bewilder Willow, the history lesson had landed on the redhead’s consciousness with a profound thud. Thus, when the group decision was made to re-locate to the City by the Bay, Willow was adamant that they had to live in the Castro to “soak up the history.” Unfortunately, the only things getting soaked up were their savings (the rent was atrocious) and their patience for dealing with tourists. A lot of tourists. All the time.
As soon as their six-month lease was up, they’d relocated across the bridge to Berkeley. Willow started taking courses at the university – having been able to transfer her UC Sunnydale credits with relative ease – and Tara found work as a nanny by day for one of the university professors and started taking classes at night with the hope of finally finishing her BA. This worked well for a couple of years, until the rent started to creep up on them again and they were forced to find a lower cost option in the higher danger city of Oakland. Which brought Tara back to the initial memory of asking for alone time from Willow.
Naturally, the redhead had panicked. The only type of “alone, without you” that she understood was “alone without you because we’re not together – as in broken up”. Almost as soon as Tara had broached the notion Willow had started begging for another chance to improve, or fix whatever she’d screwed up and it had taken the blonde the better part of an hour to get her poor, distressed, girlfriend to calm down. Even then, after the initial freak out had been quelled, Willow struggled to understand why Tara needed time alone, and started listing all of the examples she could think of in their daily lives where they were already apart from each other.
“What about when you’re at work and I’m in class,” she asked, voice high with anxiety, “we’re apart then.”
“But, I’m at work, where I’m watching a very hyper-active toddler,” Tara replied, “so not alone and not quiet.”
“Well… what about when you’re on the bus on the way home? You’re alone then.”
“Alone with about thirty strangers with varying degrees of hygiene and occasionally so-loud-they’re-going-to-be-deaf-at-thirty headphones blasting music?” She sighed. “I’m talking about solo time where I can stretch my arms out and spin around and not run into to another person. Where I can just be still and quiet with my own thoughts for a while.”
“You just want to sit and be still?” Willow could not understand why she could not seem to understand. “Away from me? Without me? But, can’t you be still with me? I can be quiet, I promise. Why do you need to be away from me to be still? I just… I … Do I annoy you?”
Tara winced. “Sometimes?”
She placed her hand on Willow’s arm in an attempt to calm her. “But, Will, that’s normal. Everyone annoys everyone sometimes. I know I must do things that annoy you.”
“Nope,” she repeated, resolute. “Not a thing. You are perfect.”
Willow shrank a little. “Ok, well there is this one thing. But it’s dumb.”
“Most annoying things are. What is it?” Tara could tell that her girlfriend was buttoning up tight. “Come on, you can tell me. What?”
Willow fidgeted with her hands in her lap. She tapped her toes. She looked to and fro. Finally, she gave in. “I… it annoys me when you make lists on envelopes.”
“Okay…,” Tara dragged the word out, actively trying to remember the last time she had done what Willow was describing. “I do that?”
“Yep. All the time. And it bugs me… because envelopes are for mailing things in and notepads are for lists. That’s why we have so many notepads? Because, I keep buying them and putting them where I think you’ll use them, but somehow you always end up writing down… whatever… usually a shopping list… on an envelope.” She sank back into her seat in relief, freed of the burden. Then, she shot up again, straight-backed, as she eyed her girlfriend closely; worried that she might have said too much.
But, instead of an angry repost, Tara burst out laughing. At first nonplussed, Willow quickly found herself relaxing and started laughing, too.
After several minutes, Tara finally caught her breath. “I’m sorry,” she chuckled, wiping laugh-induced tears from her eyes. “I just… when you said that…I suddenly realized that we do have a lot of notepads around the house.” They fell out giggling again. “I guess I just thought they were… reproducing or something,” she added, “enchanted somehow.”
“Is that why you haven’t used them,” asked Willow, holding her sides.
“No, I…,” she thought for a moment, “I don’t know why I always use envelopes, I guess they just seemed handier?”
Willow gave her a look that screamed, ‘seriously?’
“I will be sure to use the notepads from now on,” Tara promised.
“And now you’re back to being perfect,” Willow smirked; but then her expression saddened. “So, what do I do…how do I annoy you… sometimes?”
Tara regarded her sympathetically. “You… um… you talk… a lot.” She watched Willow’s expression cloud. “Sort of… all the time? But, it’s always important. I mean, it’s important to you that you tell me what you’re telling me. So, I always want to pay attention. But sometimes, I just… I just need a chance to tune out.”
“I’m sorry I’m such a motor mouth,” Willow mumbled, visibly hurt.
The blonde sighed, “That’s not the problem, Will. And… you’re not a motor mouth. Not really. You just always have a lot to tell me, and I want to hear about it all. I do.” She paused, collecting her thoughts into a clearer shape. “It’s just… between work, and school, and keeping up with Buffy and everyone… I haven’t had a lot of time to just listen to my thoughts. So, that’s all I’m asking for. One, maybe two hours a week to be still and quiet and alone… with my thoughts.”
Willow eyed her cautiously. “You sure this isn’t like a warm-up for something worse? Like, first it’s an hour or two… then it’s a day… then it’s a week… then it’s good-bye, Willow?”
Tara took her girlfriend’s hands and pressed them firmly to her chest. “Never gonna happen. Never gonna leave. Not again.”
“Promise,” asked Willow meekly. “No leaving? Because… a girl’s heart can only take so much.”
Now, the light dawned, and Tara suddenly realized why Willow was so nervous about what “alone time” meant. It wasn’t (just) about drawing up old memories of when Tara had left her for that short time; it was about when Tara had almost left in a far more permanent and shocking way. Unconsciously, she rolled her left shoulder, still able to feel the loose cartilage between the scapula and the ball and socket joint where the bullet had passed through. That goddamn stray bullet from Warren Mears’ gun… an inch lower and to the right… Tara shuddered to think of what might have been.
The impact and pain had caused Tara to pass out from shock. Willow had thought she was dead and went into a grief and rage-fueled dark magick spiral that threatened the life and safety of, quite literally, everyone.
Luckily, Dawn had found Tara, alive but very weak, and called the paramedics just in time. Xander managed to stop Willow from destroying the world by providing proof that Tara was alive… and also telling some story about a yellow crayon. (The blonde was still sketchy as to the exact details.) Unfortunately, by this time, Willow had already taken on a boatload of both light and dark magicks and had also – terrifyingly – murdered Warren Mears.
Even with the horror of it all, Tara did not to leave Willow. Instead, she went with her and Giles to England and they’d spent the summer with the coven in Devon where Willow had learned to manage the magick that was now permanently a part of her. It had been a difficult time. Both girls had to come to grips with what Willow had done, and the consequences thereof. There had been moments where Tara had wondered if she could handle it all. But, slowly, she came to accept that Willow had hit rock bottom only because she had believed that Tara had died; had been violently, pointlessly, murdered and taken away from her forever. It didn’t justify the death of Warren Mears and the havoc that followed, but it explained it. It had happened because she, Tara, was gone. And so, Tara – still hopelessly, desperately, in love with Willow; still able to see that the redhead was, in spite of it all, a good person – chose to never be gone from Willow’s life again. They would face the magick together.
It wasn’t easy at first. Willow had nightmares. Tara worried. But when they found themselves facing down the First Evil, and Willow had summoned the Power of the Goddess to reclaim and awaken the dormant strength within the waiting potentials… When she had witnessed this Willow, her Willow – her lover, her darling – glowing and radiant, hair white-gold, the vessel of light… Tara knew, she didn’t have to worry anymore.
And here they were, four years later, and all of that was behind them, more or less. They still dealt with the occasional mystical mayhem – usually thanks to a call for help from what was affectionately referred to as “slayer central”. Otherwise, their lives were – comparatively – normal.
“Willow,” said Tara, “listen to me. I’m not going anywhere. Sorry to say, you’re kinda stuck with me. Better get used to it now.”
Willow grinned, her tongue poking out between her teeth. “I’ll learn to live with it, somehow,” she teased back, “sacrifices must be made.”
“For the good of all,” Tara finished in mock earnestness. Glad to sense that the crisis had passed, she cradled Willow’s face in her hands and kissed her gently.
Back in the present, Tara felt the ghost of that kiss drift across her lips and smiled. She opened her eyes and glanced to the clock, shocked at how much time had passed. Wow, amazing how a quick trip down memory lane can suddenly take so many detours. She touched her left shoulder with her right hand; the old, familiar, ache making itself known. Physically shrugging, she let go of the past and set her mind to attending to the present matters at hand.
She finished drying her hair and then spent a little bit of time back in the bathroom, styling it up into a sloppy bun. She put on a little make-up, taking a few extra moments to give her eyes the “smokey” treatment that Willow loved so much; and then headed downstairs, grabbing her purse and coat from the hooks in the kitchen, she started for the back door, and paused. She smirked at the sight of the travel mug of coffee resting on the counter by the door. Picking it up, she thumbed open the rubber stopper on the lid and took a quick sip. Still warm.
“I love you too,” she said softly to the air, and then continued on her way out, shutting and locking the door behind her.
“Hold on there, Bug,” called Willow, jogging to catch up to her daughter on the sidewalk. “Aren’t we forgetting something?”
“I don’t think so,” said Sophie, running through a mental checklist. Backpack, check. Homework, check. Pants, check.
“How about holding Mama’s hand when you cross the street,” Willow prompted, indicating to the crosswalk ahead.
The child scoffed. “I’m seven years old, I’m too big to do that anymore.”
“Well, this Mama disagrees,” countered the redhead. “Hand please.”
Sophie tilted her head back on her neck, as though preparing to cry heavenward, and moaned, “Fiiiiiine,” extending her hand for her mother to take. Willow rolled her eyes at her daughter’s antics and took the offered limb.
They crossed the road, pausing to say good morning to the yellow-vested guard, and landed on the other side, steps away from Sophie’s elementary school.
“I can go the rest of the way from here,” stated Sophie, vying for a slightly larger degree of independence.
Willow let go of her hand and crouched down next to her, at eye level. Reaching into her back pocket she pulled out her small wallet and grabbed out a five-dollar bill, handing it to her daughter. “Ok, Bug, here’s your lunch money. Have a good day, today.”
“Thanks, Mama. You, too,” she answered politely and tucked the money into her front pocket.
Willow lifted her right hand, pointing her finger toward the small girl. Sophie reciprocated the action with her own, smaller, finger point. They touched their fingertips together and uttered in each their own best impression of E.T., “Beee gooood.”
Ritual complete, Willow kissed Sophie’s forehead and stood back up. “Love you, Bug. See you this afternoon.”
“Love you. Bye!” called the girl, already racing to the school entrance.
Willow watched to make sure Sophie made it inside, and then started on her way toward the bus stop so she could catch a ride downtown to the shop.
The redhead glanced around the sunny, suburban, streets and was reminded of her old neighborhood in Sunnydale. Even now, fifteen years later, it was still a shock to think that all those streets, and all those buildings and homes – Her parent’s home, Buffy’s home, Xander’s parent’s home, the movie theater, the university, the Magic Box, The Bronze – the list went on and on. All gone. Buried in a hole. Quite literally done and dusted.
But now, here she and Tara were, settled in the quaint city of Orinda, with a seven-year-old… and a mortgage… and a business. A business that had started out as a joke… or possibly a dare. Still, Willow couldn’t quite get over how… adult… they were. It was weird. She certainly didn’t feel like an adult any more now than she did when she’d turned eighteen and the law had deemed it so.
Orinda, California hadn’t been where they’d intended to land. But, she was glad they had. And, if she had to concede it, it was because the place so reminded her of her now defunct hometown – minus one pesky Hellmouth and resident demon population, of course. Certainly, once in a while a vampire or some other evil-creature-of-the-night-whozeewhatsit would make the mistake of trying to set up shop in town and she, or Tara, or occasionally Buffy or Xander (if they were visiting), would quietly ‘handle’ the situation.
If Willow had to pick another reason why Orinda had been their ultimate choice it was because once she’d learned that an entire neighborhood there was called “Northwood – Tara” she was bound and determined to buy a house there. True, if she’d fully had her way, and luck and listings had been on her side, they would currently be living on the corner of Tara Road and Tarabrooke Drive. Of course, the actual flesh-and-blood Tara had been less than keen on the idea and, fortunately for her (and to Willow’s chagrin), no houses had been available on either of the streets. Instead, they’d found a nice little two-story bungalow on Bates Boulevard. That had been nine years ago and now Willow couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
Waiting at the bus stop she let her mind drift back to that crazy year. 2008. It was May. They’d just closed on the house two weeks prior and were in the process of unpacking the kitchen when the news came through the radio that the California Supreme Court had overturned the state’s ban on gay marriage. Gay couples could start getting married immediately.
Both girls had frozen in their spots. Willow remembered that she had been half-way to putting away a handful of cooking utensils; ladle, whisk and spatula in one hand, measuring spoons and vegetable peeler in the other. Tara had been unwrapping the plates from their packing paper. They both had slowly turned to look at each other, eyes wide.
For several long moments, neither of them had said anything. Then, finally:
They’d spoken at the same time. They chuckled and blushed.
“Do you?” asked Willow.
“Do you?” echoed Tara.
“I’ve kinda always hoped we would,” said Willow, “I just didn’t think we ever–”
“Could,” Willow finished.
They were silent again. Willow looked to her hands, at the utensils still in her clutching grasp. Suddenly she chucked all of them into the drawer, save for the measuring spoons. She quickly undid the wire ring holding the spoons together. Tossing the loose spoons onto the counter she spun to face Tara, the improvised ring still in her hand.
“So,” she began, nervously, “this may seem kind of sudden, but–”
“Really? Ok, well that was eas–” She found herself enveloped in a tangle of Tara arms and legs and lips accompanied by the sound of ceramic plates shattering on tile.
They’d driven in to San Francisco the following week and were married at city hall. They’d had to stand in line for hours with at least a hundred other couples but they wouldn’t have traded it for a big, old-fashioned, wedding any day of the week. Buffy and Xander had joined them as witnesses; that was all the wedding party they needed. They’d even brought doughnuts and pizza to share with the couples and families around them. It had been the perfect celebration of love and community. Tara still kept that plain, twisted-wire, ring in the coin pocket of her billfold.
Willow snapped out of her reverie at the sound of the bus stopping in front of her. She hopped on, slid her fare card through the reader, and grabbed a seat near the front. Then she allowed her mind to drift back in time once again.
Those first few months after they’d been married had teemed with possibility. For the first time, she and Tara were discussing a larger future together; one that looked beyond the day-to-day and onto bigger things. Like children. That had been the first time they’d discussed the idea of expanding their twosome to a threesome. But then, the awful Proposition 8 had passed that November and it had scuttled their burgeoning plans. Not because their marriage was suddenly void, it wasn’t. Indeed, all of the couples who had been lucky enough to marry between May and November of that year were still legally protected. Rather, it was thinking about the thousands of other couples who wouldn’t enjoy the same rights that they now did that served as a sucker punch to the gut of their hopes.
A year had passed before the subject of kids came up again. Neither of them had ever really stopped thinking about it, it had simply been an unspoken agreement to table the matter until later. Ultimately, the urge, the notion and the yearning had started to overwhelm them both, and so they started discussing it again.
“So, I guess we should figure out how we’re going to do it,” said Tara, reclining against the headboard of their bed.
“You mean adopt or conceive,” questioned Willow, head propped up on her hand, her elbow dug into her pillow.
“Or spell,” Tara offered. “You know, there are…”
“No spells,” the redhead countered firmly, cutting her off. “And I think you should carry… if you want to. I mean, if you don’t, or if you’d rather, we can adopt.”
“Me,” asked Tara, “why me? Do you think you can’t?” Willow had never mentioned not being physically able to have children but, then again, it wasn’t a topic they’d talked about much before.
“Not can’t,” she answered, “shouldn’t.” Off of Tara’s confused look, she continued, “I’m loaded with magick, Tare. Dark and light. It’s in my body all the time, and it always will be. I don’t want to expose an absolute innocent to that kind of….” She took a breath. “Magick should be a choice. It’s one thing to be born with a gift for it, it’s another to be forced to have to deal with it.”
Tara nodded, “which is why you said ‘no spells’.” Willow bobbed her head. “Well, I guess if I’m honest, I sort of just assumed I’d be the pregnant one anyway.”
“Really,” said Willow, “why?”
“I don’t know,” the blonde admitted with a small shrug. “Just sorta had.”
Willow waggled her eyebrows at Tara flirtatiously. “Must be all that maternal instinct you’re oozing.”
Tara winced and scoffed. “Ok, worst come-on line ever, Will.”
“Really?” Willow smirked, “I thought it had potential.” She started creeping Tara’s way.
“Not really,” the blonde replied, knowing full well what her wife was up to.
“Bet I could change your mind,” she argued, pulling herself up and straddling Tara’s thighs.
Tara had a witty retort poised and ready to fire, but she stopped herself. “Are…are we ‘adult’ enough to have a kid?”
Willow eyed her worryingly. “You… you are over eighteen, right?” Tara responded by smacking her arm. “Ow,” the redhead pretended to complain. She giggled a little and then grew serious. “What makes you think we aren’t ‘adult’ enough?”
Tara’s brow furrowed. “Will, you’re wearing Sponge Bob jammie bottoms and a t-shirt that says ‘My Barbies Were Lesbians’.”
The redhead adopted a pose of mock superiority. “Well, thank you for complimenting my ability to maintain my sense of humor and whimsy beyond my early twenties.” Tara chuckled and squeezed her knees. “I don’t think it’s a matter of ‘being adults’,” said the redhead, “I think it’s just about being responsible. And we’re two of the most responsible people I know. Doesn’t mean we have to stop being goofs, too.”
“Excuse me,” countered Tara, “I am not a goof. I am a doofus, thank-you-very-much.”
Willow beamed. “You’re my doofus.”
“And you’re my goof.”
“Hey, doofus,” said Willow, leaning forward.
“Hey, what?” Tara answered playfully.
The redhead brushed their cheeks together and whispered in her ear, “I’m gonna knock you up.”
Tara shuddered with delight at the breath against her ear lobe. “I thought you said ‘no spells’.”
“Yep,” said Willow, nibbling along her neck. “No spells. Just the good old fashioned way.”
Tara quirked an eyebrow. “Good luck with that.”
“Hey,” her wife rejoined, leaning back on her haunches, “you never know. Lots of practice could pay off.” She pounced, and the girls tumbled, giggling, under the sheets.
“Downtown stop,” announced the bus driver, pulling Willow back to the present – although a definite “goofy” grin remained on her face. “This is the downtown stop. Please disembark. This bus is returning to the depot. Downtown stop.”
Willow and the rest of the passengers exited the long vehicle.
She waited for the bus to pull away, and then crossed the street to the waiting storefront. Walking up to the security door on the front of the small building she knelt, undid the padlock, and rolled the door up, revealing the front windows and main entrance of the small shop. Also exposed was the store’s name written in 19th century font: “Ice Cream Social” and then below it in scrolling italics, “Frozen Confectionery and Internet Café,” and on a third line, “Est. 2015”.
“Alright, Mrs. Rosenberg, go ahead and read as far down as you can.”
Tara held the black eye-patch paddle against her right eye and gazed at the chart across from her.
It was still a little odd, even after nine years, to hear herself referred to as “Mrs. Rosenberg.”
She and Willow had gone back and forth as to whether or not hyphenate, or swap last names or even just keep their names as was. But, ultimately, Tara decided to take Willow’s name. She was “done” with her father’s name, she had said. It hadn’t been an easy thing to admit, because she’d always associated her mother with the Maclay surname, even though it hadn’t been the name her mom had been born with. Willow had suggested that they could hyphenate Rosenberg with Tara’s mother’s maiden name; but Tara had demurred, saying that “Tara Rosenberg” suited her just fine and she’d rather look to the future than dwell on the past.
“E, F, P, T, O, Z,” she read, “L, P, E, D, P, E, C, F, D…” she shifted. It was starting to get more difficult. “E, D, F, C?… Z, P… um… F?…E…L…O…P?…Z…D…” She sighed, dropping the paddle. “The next line is too blurry.” Her shoulders dropped.
“Hey, it’s alright,” said the optometrist. “Your eyes aren’t that bad. 20/25 on the left, 20/30 on the right. So, you’re mildly near-sighted. Basic reading glasses should do you fine for now.” He walked over to the exam chair in front of the phoropter and patted the seat. “Come on, let’s get you dialed in.”
Willow was struggling to close a cardboard box full of paper cups in the stockroom when she heard the jingle of the bell above the front door. “Be right with you!” she called out and then gasped and winced as she sliced the edge of her thumb along the box lid. “Dang it!” She said, hopping up and down and shaking her hand, and then sticking her thumb in her mouth. “Cardboard cuts are the worst!”
“It’s just me, sweetie,” Tara called back. A moment later she walked into the back and found her wife nursing her injured appendage. “You ok?”
“Cardboard paper cut,” Willow replied around the thumb in her mouth.
“Oh, those are the worst,” agreed the blonde.
“Right?” Willow stopped sucking on her thumb and raised it to her eyeline to inspect the damage. A little blood wept up along the laceration. She looked at it, a few words floated unbidden to the forefront of her mind, and the skin knit itself back together. “Dang it,” she muttered.
“What,” asked Tara, setting her purse down on the small desk by the storeroom door.
“Wasn’t thinking,” said Willow. She showed her healed thumb to Tara. “Magicked.”
Tara chuckled. “Will, it’s ok.” She shrugged out of her jacket and placed it across the back of the desk chair. “I do it too, once in a while.”
“Yeah,” her wife sighed. Then she perked up, switching gears. “How’d it go?”
Now it was Tara’s turn to sigh. She walked over and placed her arms on Willow’s shoulders, knitting her fingers together behind red hair. “Your poor wife is getting old.”
“Oh,” noted Willow, placing her hands on Tara’s hips.
“Yep,” the blonde confirmed. “The verdict is in. I need glasses.”
“Aw,” Willow cooed.
“Well,” Tara hedged, “I guess I don’t need them, need them. I could still go a while without if I wanted. I’d only use them to read. So, not so blind as to be a danger to myself and others… yet.”
Willow eyed her knowingly. “You don’t want them, do you.” Tara squintched up her face and shook her head, ‘no’. “Why not?”
The blonde squirmed sheepishly. “Vanity?” Willow gave her a look. “I can be vain,” Tara argued.
“You’re, like, the least vain person I’ve ever met in my life,” Willow countered. Tara was about to respond when the shop doorbell rang again. “Hold that thought,” said the redhead. She kissed her wife’s cheek and slid past her back out to the front counter. “Welcome to Ice Cream Social, what can I get ya?”
Tara smiled and walked back over to the desk, leaning against it, she peered through the storeroom window and watched her wife attend to the customers. How on earth did we end up owning an ice cream shop? She thought to herself, shaking her head.
Nothing in their lives had ever pointed to ice cream… or shop ownership… whether as single notion or separately. Sure, like most people, they had eaten ice cream on occasion. But they weren’t exactly passionate about the sweet treat. As for owning their own business… eh… both girls had been doing fine in their own jobs. Willow traded commodities using software she’d developed for her firm. Tara was a docent at the Bailey Art Museum about thirty minutes away in Crockett. True, it wasn’t so much an “art” museum as it was a “curiosities” showcase, but the work was fun and interesting; even if it didn’t fully utilize the BA she’d worked so hard to achieve.
They were happy, they were comfortable. Nothing glinted on the horizon that would indicate suddenly dropping it all to sling ice cream for the masses. And, yet.
It had been three years ago, at Sophie’s fourth birthday party. The kids (most of whom were Sophie’s pre-school classmates) were running around on sugar-highs, wreaking havoc. And most of the adults had sought out the safety of the dining room table, where they could still keep an eye on the action without being drawn into it.
“Xander, shut up,” Willow scoffed.
“It’s true,” he countered, absent-mindedly scratching at the skin next to his eye-patch. “I’m telling you, you’re living a charmed life.”
“I am not,” she protested.
“You have the perfect life. Everything you try comes up aces.” He started listing things off. “Perfect wife.”
“Ok, not going to argue there.”
She shrugged, “Yeah, it’s pretty good. But have you seen the shape of the gutters? And there’s a leak in the basement we can’t find the source of.”
Ignoring her, he continued, “Perfect kid.”
Willow squinted. “You mean the one currently running around with the remains of a piñata on her head, waving a bat, and screaming ‘Excelsior!’?”
“Which is perfectly adorable,” Xander reposted. “I’m telling you – you could do anything, try anything, and it would work out. I think it’s all the good juju you’ve got running in your veins.”
Willow did not appreciate the suggestion. “It’s not the magic,” she said firmly. “It’s called hard work, Xan. I don’t cheat.”
“I’m not saying you’re cheating,” he attempted to soothe. “I’m just saying you have a… a… bumper crop of good luck. That’s all.” Willow ‘hmmed’ at him. “I’ll prove it to you. Quit your job.”
“I’m serious,” he said. “Quit your job and start your own business. Something random. I dunno…” he glanced around looking for inspiration and spied a carton on the kitchen counter. “Ice cream. Selling ice cream. What do you know about ice cream?”
“Nothing,” Willow admitted.
“Perfect,” he replied. “Open an ice cream shop. I guarantee you… overnight success.”
“What’s an overnight success,” asked Tara, walking up to the pair.
“Your ice cream shop,” Xander explained.
“Don’t listen to him, baby. Xander’s being funny.”
“I am not being funny, I’m serious,” he argued and set to telling Tara about his theory.
The blonde had shrugged him off, as expected, and the three of them had a good laugh about it. But that evening, Tara walked into the bedroom to find Willow sitting up in bed, gazing into the ether.
“Uh-oh,” said Tara.
“Uh-oh?” echoed Willow, snapping out of it.
“I know that look.”
“That ‘I’m going to quit my job and start an ice cream shop’ look.”
Willow was caught. “I don’t have that look.”
Tara sat on the edge of the bed and regarded her wife seriously. “Will, we have a house… and a kid with a college fund… and you can’t just quit your job to start a business that you want to fail in order to prove a point.”
“It wouldn’t fail,” Willow countered, “I wouldn’t let it.” And she winced as she realized that she’d just admitted to wanting to open an ice cream shop.
“Isn’t that the point though,” questioned the blonde. “To prove that everything you do won’t turn out perfectly?”
“Not exactly,” explained her wife. “It’s to prove that it wouldn’t be an overnight success.” Off of Tara’s expression, she went on, “See… ‘overnight success’ could be blamed on ‘luck’. But, hard-earned ‘over time success’ means no magic, no luck, just hard work.” She took a breath and tried again. “Xander believes that things have only gone so well for us…er…or…well for me… because of the magick. The good magick, I mean. Like, somehow it’s positively affecting all of our outcomes.”
“Well, that’s not true.”
“I know that and you know that, but Xander….” She drifted off. “He’s still alone. Buffy’s still alone. And Giles….” She choked up a little. It was still hard for her to think of him gone.
“Dawnie’s not alone,” said Tara, softly, not quite following what their friends’ relationship statuses had to do with anything, but offering support nonetheless. “She’s married, with a kid… and another on the way.”
“I know,” Willow acknowledged, “but she wasn’t part of the original four of us. Not really.” Her thoughts drifted all the way back to that day in their sophomore year, out on the Sunnydale High quad, sitting on the fountain. She’d been nursing her emotional wounds after the whole ‘Moloch/Malcom’ debacle. Buffy and Xander had been trying to cheer her up by reminding her of their failed loved interests.
And then Buffy had said, cheerily, “Let’s face it. None of us is ever going to have a normal, happy, relationship.”
“We’re doomed!” Xander had laughed.
“Yeah,” Willow had agreed, joining in.
They’d laughed for a good few moments. And then the laughter had sputtered out because they all suddenly realized that it was probably true. It had been a very depressing day after that. Willow almost cut class. Except that she’d never cut class. But she’d thought about… for a second.
Willow finished relaying the memory to Tara. “I just… I think… I wonder,” she finally settled on the word, “if maybe without the white and light magick…. Would I still be alone, too?”
Tara took Willow’s hands into her own. “So, what’s the point of the ice cream shop, Will,” she asked gently.
“I think that I just want to prove to myself that our good fortune isn’t magick-based. And… if it is, I want to know that, too.”
Tara thought about this for a moment. The picture came into focus. This was about Willow worrying that she didn’t truly deserve the loving and happy life she was living; that somehow all of the light magick she’d absorbed was maybe protecting her (and them) from her genuine karmic comeuppance. After all, she had murdered a man. A despicable, low, evil, weasel of a man… but a man… a human. Surely, a happy life with a loving wife and daughter should have been out of her reach. Tara understood that Willow needed to prove that this near-perfect life of theirs was not a fairytale. She took in a deep breath and let it out. “Ok,” she said, “let’s prove it.”
And now here they were. And the ice cream shop had absolutely not been an overnight success. It had been months of sleepless nights, and tears and recriminations and hard work, and praying that the bottom wasn’t going to fall out from under them, until finally, a little over a year in, they turned a tiny profit. Then the tiny profit turned into a marginal profit and now the marginal profit was on its way to becoming a decent profit; and the girls had started breathing a little easily again.
Tara watched as Willow finished with her customers and wished them well on the rest of their day. The shop door opened and closed… and then opened and closed again. More customers. Tara walked out to join her wife behind the counter, grabbing her apron as she went. The midday rush was about to start.
A couple of hours later the shop was again empty, save for two weary wiccans. Tara leaned against the back bar while Willow wiped down the ice cream counter next to the point of sale station. Finished, the redhead turned to face her wife.
“Please tell me we have a nice evening in to look forward to,” she begged.
“Sure,” said Tara, “right after we get home from Sophie’s Tae Kwon Do class.”
Willow slumped in confusion. “What? But her classes are on Tuesdays.”
“Right,” Tara agreed, “but remember when she missed her belt test three weeks ago?”
The redhead thought back to when their daughter had come down with a nasty stomach bug. “Projectile” and “vomit” were two words she never wanted to associate with their child again. “How could I forget that,” she cringed, “I kept waiting for her head to spin and the bed to levitate.”
“Right,” the blonde said again. “Well, tonight is the make-up test. It’s on the board.” She added, referring the cork and white board they kept in the kitchen at home. The cork section was covered in Sophie’s artwork and various coupons. The white board was a list of messages and reminders written in different colored markers. Willow had set up a system (of course) but it frequently fell victim to the habit of “use the marker you can find” rather than “use the marker that means this thing”.
“Oh,” said Willow, her memory jogging slightly. “I thought that was next week.”
Tara smiled patiently. “No, next week is when your parents are in town.”
“I thought that was next month!”
“Sweetie, next week is next month.” The blonde eyed her with concern. “Are you okay? You don’t normally mix up schedules like this. Usually, you’re the one reminding me.”
“Let’s just say that I’m glad we’re finally bringing in enough money to start hiring more employees,” answered Willow, rubbing her left eye with her hand wearily. “The days have sort of starting melding into one giant day. Plus, waking up thinking it was Saturday when it’s Thursday… knocked my brain for more of a loop than I’d thought.”
Tara stepped up to her, and ran her fingers through her wife’s hair. “Poor Willow’s brain,” she said sympathetically. They kissed sweetly. “So,” she continued, resting her hands on her wife’s hips, “speaking of employees, what time does Shelley start today?”
Willow glanced at the clock. “About half an hour.”
“Why don’t you go ahead and head out,” offered Tara. “Sophie’s off school soon, anyway. You could pick her up on your way home. Take the car.”
Willow’s brow furrowed. “You sure?”
“My surety is sure,” she replied. “Swing by and grab me later, on your way to Tae Kwon Do. Then, afterwards, I promise the ‘inning-est’ evening we could possibly have.”
The redhead sighed. “Mmm… my hero.”
They kissed again.
“Scoot,” Tara commanded.
Lewis and Clark slowly made their way along the inside of the waste water pipe plumbed from the upstairs bathroom. At first, it hadn’t seemed possible, but somehow, they had managed to clear the U-bend at the base of the toilet. The intrepid adventurers had lost their native guide and were on their own. This was all despite the fact they were both cheap plastic figures, the kind you find in bags hanging from impulse racks at the grocery store, were molded into a fixed position and definitely not alive. Still, those pesky facts did nothing to stop their advance.
Now they found themselves at a crossroads. The pipe offered them a choice: left, up or down. The natural impulse, aided by gravity, was to go down. Unfortunately, being decidedly ‘non-bendy’ they were instead literally, and figuratively, stuck. The, old, rusty, joint of the pipe creaked softly.
Elsewhere in the house, the sound of the backdoor opening and small footsteps racing across the kitchen floor could be heard, accompanied by a young girl’s voice shouting, “Gotta pee! Gotta pee! Gotta pee!” The footfalls pounded up the stairs sounding like a small elephant herd.
“This wouldn’t happen if you’d just go at school,” her mother’s voice called after her, the sound of the backdoor clicking shut following the admonition.
In the pipe, Lewis and Clark waited, blissfully ignorant of the catastrophe they were about to cause.
“Don’t use too much T.P.,” Willow hollered up the stairs, “and don’t forget to flush!”
Unfortunately, Sophie only listened to the last half of her mother’s instruction.
A flushing sound and suddenly Lewis and Clark were overwhelmed by a tide of water, accompanied by a large wad of paper. They tried to shift and go with the flow, but were too tightly jammed in the rusty joint. The pressure built up quickly.
In the kitchen, Willow’s subconscious mind sent an alert to pay attention to the sounds within the house. Her ears perked and she listened as she heard what sounded like loud banging, following by a creaking groan, followed by.… water. Definitely the sound of water rushing. Rushing… beneath her.
“What is,” she muttered to herself. “Oh no…”
She dashed to the basement door, flinging it open and racing a few steps down to get a look. Seeing the pipe spewing waste water, she quickly shouted, “Prohibere!” And everything froze. Not like ice. Rather, the water was simply paused in place. She looked down at the thin pool of water already filling the floor, spied the figures of Lewis and Clark floating on the surface and placed her face in her palm.
Shaking her head she trudged back up the stairs. “Sophie! Sophie come down here please!”
Upstairs in her room, Sophie already knew she was in trouble. Her Mama rarely called her by anything other than her nickname, unless she was in trouble. She dragged herself out of her room, head already hanging down, and lumped down the stairs to find her Mama waiting.
“Sophie,” said Willow, soft but firm. “Look at me, Bug.” The girl lifted her eyes, but kept her head bowed. “Do you remember when we were talking about Lewis and Clark this morning and you’d told me they’d drowned?”
“Do you remember me asking you if you’d flushed them?”
“Yeah.” Sophie scuffed the toe of her shoe on the floor, and clasped her hands behind her back.
“And do you remember what you said?”
“That I hadn’t done that,” she admitted.
“Mm-hm,” Willow nodded. “But that wasn’t true, was it?”
The redhead eyed her despondent daughter. “Why did you lie?”
Sophie raised her head, her lower lip in full pout mode, her eyes the size of an anime cartoon cat’s. “‘Cause I didn’t wanna get it in trouble ‘cause I know I’m not ‘posed to play in the toilet.”
“That’s right,” affirmed Willow, “you’re not. But, here’s the problem, kiddo… if you had told the truth this morning, you would only have been in a little bit of trouble. But, because you lied, you’re now in a lot of trouble.” The young girl shifted uncomfortably on her feet, and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Because now,” her mother kept on, “thanks to Lewis and Clark’s little side-quest there is a flood in the basement and your Mama gets to call the emergency plumber and, possibly, the insurance adjustor.”
“I’m sorry, Mama,” Sophie stated meekly.
“I know,” the redhead acknowledged. “I accept your apology, but… actions have consequences. And so, here’s the deal – for the next five days: no T.V., no laptop, except for school work, and all homework must be done at the nook table in the kitchen. And, your mother and I will have to discuss whether or not you get to go to Brodie’s birthday party on Sunday.”
“Ok,” Sophie agreed, sullenly.
“Do you have homework tonight?”
“Ok, go upstairs, grab your backpack from your room and bring it down to the kitchen.”
Sophie nodded sadly and hauled her crestfallen frame back up the stairs to do as told.
Willow shook her head again and stepped back into the kitchen. Glancing at the clock she realized that she had less than three hours before they’d need to leave for Sophie’s class. She hoped it was enough time to get the plumber out, the repair complete and the floor drained and dried.
She knew she could fix the whole problem with a wave of her hand and a few silent words. But she and Tara had promised each other that they would only use magick for dire situations. Not because Willow was at risk of falling back on old habits. More because they wanted to live a “normal” life and give Sophie a “normal” childhood. If their daughter saw them solving problems with a figurative “nose-twitch” it could seriously warp her understanding and expectations of the world and life in general.
They didn’t keep the truth of the ‘things that go bump in the night’ or the existence of magick and other worlds from Sophie. But they weren’t overloading her with information either. Rather, they were teaching her slowly and to the level of her comprehension as she grew. They didn’t know if their daughter would ultimately have magical aptitude. They assumed she would, but it was still a little too soon to tell.
Willow walked over to the phone and picked up the handset. So much for a brief respite.
Hours later, after the plumber had come and gone… after the rush to collect Tara and make it to Sophie’s class on time…. After their daughter had successfully tested up to “yellow-belt” and her mothers had agreed (in recognition of her achievement) to reduce her punishment from five days to three (and, yes, she could go to Brodie’s birthday party)…. After they’d come back home and Tara had made dinner and Sophie and Willow had helped with the dishes… After their daughter took her bath and after they’d tucked her into bed… Willow and Tara finally settled down for the night.
Tara was already in bed, propped up against the headboard, a book in her hands. But she wasn’t reading. Not really. She held the book at arms-length, drawing it nearer to her face, then away, in small incremental moves.
Willow watched her, a slightly amused expression on her face, and then approached her side of the bed, climbing in. “Whatcha doing?” she asked, knowing full well.
Tara dropped the book into her lap and sighed. “Trying to see how long I have until I give in and go four-eyed.”
The redhead rolled onto her side, and rested her arm across Tara’s legs, peering up at her. “Are you really that upset about wearing glasses?”
Tara set the book aside onto her night stand and looked down into waiting, patient, green eyes. “You’re going to think I’m being silly.”
“Mm… maybe,” Willow answered softly, “but I doubt it.” She curled her finger into the hem of Tara’s nightshirt. “Tell me.”
“I’m thirty-seven,” said the blonde.
“Yes,” acknowledged Willow, “this is a statement of fact.”
Tara looked to her hands resting loosely in her lap. “My mom was thirty-seven when…”
“Oh,” said Willow, understanding the significance. She sat up a little more and placed her hand over her wife’s. “Hey, it doesn’t mean anything. You’re fine. Healthy.”
Tara shook her head. “That’s not what I’m worried about.” She cast her gaze to the wall by the bedroom door. There, in a delicate frame, was the only picture Tara had of her mother. It showed a young woman, late-teens, sitting in the sun on a clover-covered hill. Blonde hair, long and straight, parted in the middle (as was the fashion), a crown of daisy-chains resting on her head, smiling blue eyes and mouth open, caught mid-laugh. “People always used to tell me that I looked like her. And when I look in the mirror, I can still see her, hiding in my face.” Willow smiled and squeezed Tara’s hands. “But I only knew her up to this age. My age. I don’t know what she would have looked like as an old lady. I don’t know what she would’ve looked like in glasses, or if she’d ever have needed them.”
“I get it,” said Willow gently. “You’re afraid that if you start wearing glasses, when you look in the mirror, you won’t see your mom anymore.”
Tara nodded, “it’s a little bit like losing her again.”
Willow pushed her body up into a cross-legged, sitting position, swiveling her body to face her wife.
“I think…,” she began, but drifted off. Suddenly her eyes gleamed. A clear sign she was having an idea. “Hang on a sec.”
She bounced from the bed and scurried out the bedroom door and down the hall. As Tara listened, she heard her wife padding down the stairs and then what sounded like several drawers being opened and closed followed by a soft, “a-ha!” Then footsteps on the stairs again, a seconds-long side trip into the bathroom and then Willow re-emerged into their bedroom with a small mirror in one hand and a pair of sunglasses in the other.
“Sweetie,” smirked Tara, having an idea now what her wife was up to, “I know what I look like in sunglasses.”
“Yes,” said the redhead, “but these glasses were in the junk drawer, and their lenses are all scratched up and useless. So…” she pressed her thumbs into the lenses and popped them both out of the frames. “Voila, fake glasses.”
“See,” she pressed on, walking over to Tara’s bedside, “I don’t think your mom is gonna disappear just ’cause of a pesky old pair of glasses. So I think you should give it a try.” She held the frames out for Tara to take.
The blonde merely looked at her, unmoving.
“Ok,” said Willow, trying again. “Close your eyes.”
“Do you trust me?”
“Well, then.” Willow watched as Tara gave her one last look, and then reluctantly shut her eyes. “Ok. No peeking.” She placed the small mirror in Tara’s hands. “Alright, picture your mom.”
“Now, imagine her in glasses.”
Tara’s brow furrowed. “It’s not that easy.”
“Just try,” Willow urged. After a second she asked, “got an image?”
Grudgingly, Tara nodded.
“Ok, hold still, keep your eyes closed,” her wife instructed, and carefully slid the glasses onto her face. She lifted Tara’s hands up so that they held the mirror at eye level. “Hold onto that image… and then open your eyes.”
Tara took a deep breath and then let her eyes drift open to see the reflection in front of her. She gazed for several long moments.
“Is she still there,” Willow asked cautiously.
Tara’s features wrinkled up. She started to nod “yes” even as tears threatened at the rims of her eyes. She lowered the mirror and raised a hand to her mouth to stifle a sudden, gasping sob.
Willow reacted quickly, wrapping her arms around her lover. “Hey, hey, it’s okay,” she soothed. “She’s still in there so it’s ok, right?” She felt Tara nod again, this time against her shoulder. “Are these happy tears?”
“Sort of,” came the muffled reply. Tara sniffed a few times, and pulled back slightly from the embrace, pulling her hand up to wipe at her eyes. “More relief,” she added. She pulled the empty frames off of her face and again wiped at her eyes, then her nose, and then laughed a little in spite of herself. “Thank you.”
“Yeah,” said Willow, drawing the word out a bit in a sing-song fashion. She considered a moment and then noted, “See, I think that you still will get to see your mom as you get older, because she’s a part of you forever. And nothing can change that. Not glasses, or… grey hair…,” she said the word teasingly, knowing her wife’s ever-projected ‘grey-by’ date. “Or wrinkles, whenever they show up… she’ll always be there. The best part is you do get to see your mom as an older woman because you’ll get to see her through you.”
Tara looked down, and then up into Willow’s eyes. “Will… you always make everything good… better. That’s the magic I fell in love with.”
Willow’s expression softened to one of extraordinary warmth. She gently pulled Tara to her and they kissed, long and slow.
“Well, I think we’ve met our ‘lesbian drama’ quotient for the evening, don’t you,” the redhead joked when they’d broken apart.
“Definitely,” Tara agreed with a chuckle.
Willow stood and walked around to her side of the bed, climbing in again. She reached over and turned off her bedside lamp. Tara did the same, and then hunkered down to her usual position, snuggled up against Willow’s side, her head on her shoulder.
They each took a deep breath and exhaled, starting to relax. They lay silently in the dark for what felt like several minutes until Willow spoke up again.
“Just so you know…”
“I like you in glasses.”
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