“It’s just coffee, it’s just coffee,” Willow mumbled under her breath as she sat nervously, at the Espresso Pump’s counter. Two weeks after the ‘intervention that wasn’t,’ Tara had called, unexpectedly. “Just coffee,” she’d said. The words echoed in Willow’s mind, sounding louder with each repetition.
But Willow knew in her heart that it wasn’t going to be ‘just coffee’. It couldn’t be. After the group get-together – which had been peaceable, if uncomfortable – this meeting had her shaking hard enough to set her water glass to vibrating – like in Jurassic Park when the Tyrannosaurus was approaching.
Not that Tara was anything like a lumbering dinosaur; it was simply that, even after all this time, Tara held a huge part of Willow’s heart. Love is not love. Which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove. And there really wasn’t anything she could – should – do about it. Time alone would dictate how her heart would heal.
A sage green skirt caught her peripheral vision, and Willow looked up, sharply. Sure enough, there was Tara, wearing a beautiful gauze peasant blouse embroidered around the neckline with multi-colored flowers and leaves. Her hair was held back in a loose pony, with long tendrils curling gently around her ears.
Willow’s heart leapt into her throat as the intensity of her feelings nearly knocked her from her seat. “Tara,” she gasped, unable to hold back.
“Hi, Willow,” her ex-love said with a smile that nearly broke Willow’s heart. “I hope you don’t mind that I didn’t bring Lyric with me. Rupert is enjoying a little father-daughter time, and I thought it would be easier if we weren’t distracted by her antics.”
She nodded, dumbly, knowing that the very presence of the little girl would only have served to rub salt into the wound that was Tara moving on – to a man; that man no less – and leaving her behind.
“Are you okay?” Tara asked, looking at her with concern. “You look a bit peaked.”
“I’m fine, Tara, really,” she replied. “Just having a little trouble dealing with things.”
“Things like my husband, Rupert, and our daughter – a physical representation of our physical union,” Tara nodded sagely, obviously gauging the effect her words were having on her ex.
Hanging her head in shame, Willow nodded. Obviously Tara could read her like an open book. She swiped at her eyes before gathering what little courage she had to look at her directly. “I really thought it would be easier with just the two of us,” she began. “But it seems to be worse. I feel… I still…”
Tara took pity on her and chimed in. “You still have feelings for me. You still love me. Is that it?”
Willow couldn’t believe she’d said the words out loud, and searched Tara’s face for any signs of derision or disgust. All she found was compassion. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I can’t help it. I never stopped loving you.”
“Oh, Willow. I love you, too,” Tara exclaimed, reaching out to cover her hand on the table. “It was never lack of love that drove us apart. It was always a trust issue. It’s just… yes, I do love you, but I’m not in love with you any longer. Once you broke trust, and then broke it again and again, there was no hope – at least in my mind – for us to continue as a couple.”
Choking back a sob, Willow struggled to gather her composure. They were in a public place, after all, and she didn’t want to air all her dirty laundry to all and sundry. But then, without warning, she felt the warmth and strength of Tara’s embrace and the dam burst. Public be damned. Her tears fell, the sobs ripped from her throat, and Tara’s hold remained steadfast.
When they finally separated, there was nothing but warmth and understanding in Tara’s eyes. “It’s okay, Willow,” she said softly. “You’ve been holding that all in for a long time now, haven’t you?”
Willow nodded, hiccoughing softly in the wake of her emotional outburst. “So what do I do?” she asked, pitifully. “It hurts so much.”
“You should be talking this out with your psychiatrist. But I do know it’s painful,” Tara admitted. “Do you think it was easy for me when I walked out? But that’s the thing with human emotions. We feel them. We live with them long enough for our hearts to heal little by little, until we can get through a day without the worst of the pain.
“It’s where you failed before,” Tara continued. “You didn’t want to feel the heartbreak of a broken relationship, so you tried to change things with magicks. Regardless of what other people wanted, you thought you had the moral high ground to enforce your will on everyone else.”
“I haven’t done anything since you left me,” Willow insisted. “I swear I didn’t… and I won’t! Never again!”
Tara smiled as she put her hands on Willow’s shoulder, looking her directly in the eyes. “And that’s progress. It’s the road you need to continue down. I’m proud of you, Willow. I know it’s not an easy thing; letting go of your need to control everything around you. But you know that’s what destroyed your relationships in the past.”
Willow nodded. “You’re right. I know it was all my fault, and again, I’m so sorry for all the pain I caused in trying to get my way.”
“One day, Willow,” Tara said reassuringly, “I’m sure you’ll meet someone who will make you happy just for being themself,” Tara continued. “Maybe soon – maybe later… but it’s the natural course of things if you put yourself out there to be seen. What are you doing these days?”
Willow shook her head to clear her thoughts. She was utterly amazed by this new version of Tara sitting beside her. Tara had never, ever been this verbose. And she had to admit it was nice seeing her out from under the Scoobies’ shadow. Or at least her version of the Scoobies.
Pulling herself back to Tara’s question, she said, “I’ve gone back to college. Even as screwed up as I was, I hated the fact that I had left my education blowing unfinished in the wind. And my mother actually settle on a course selection. She actually tried to comfort me over our breakup. She didn’t do it well, of course, but at least she showed me she cared. It had been a long time since she bothered, if you remember.”
Tara simply nodded and smiled, encouraging her to open up.
“I had signed up for an Art History lecture class, b-but I had to drop it,” Willow sighed. “There was no pleasure in it without you.” Before Tara could object, she continued. “I know, I know… I shouldn’t be blaming you for not being there… that’s not it, at all. I just realized that half the pleasure of that class was talking about things with you – and with that gone, I could barely be bothered to attend class.
“I needed to find something of my own to enjoy… and I did – I got back into computers. Programming and tech support – troubleshooting. I’m good at it. I was before we met so there were no ghosts to try and avoid. Dr. Metzger said it was a much healthier choice for me, and I agree.”
“That’s good,” Tara acknowledged. “Dr. Metzger sounds like she’s good for you, Willow. And that makes me happy. It’s all I’ve ever wanted for you, you know. Happiness and inner peace.”
Willow smiled – a little half-wobbly affair of a smile – but heartfelt, nevertheless. “Me, too,” she said softly. “N-not for me to be happy, but for you. To be too.”
“I am happy, Willow. Content with my life as it is. And my most fervent hope is that you will find your other half, if you want. And the peace that comes with doing the best you can, and letting others, as well.”
Just then, an alarm sounded from Willow’s watch. “Oh my Goddess,” she exclaimed. “I didn’t realize how late it is. I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Metzger, to help me work things through after we’d met, and I don’t want to be late.” She stood and asked, meekly, almost afraid of Tara’s reply. “Will we meet again?”
“I don’t see why not,” Tara replied, much to Willow’s jubilation. “Maybe next time, we can meet in the park, and I can let Lyric get to know her Auntie Willow.”
This time Willow’s smile was blindingly bright, and her heart thumped loudly. For a change, it wasn’t in that old ‘you are my everything’ way it used to beat, but in a new ‘she still wants me in her life’ way.
This, she could live with.