I was walking past the Summers' house on my way to Willow's. I'm staying with her over the summer because I don't want to be apart from her. Our relationship is still so new and I'm still so insecure, worried that if I leave she might find someone else or decide that, actually, now she comes to realise it, this is just a phase for her. These thoughts always make me miserable but I can't tell her my fears because I don't want to seem needy and pathetic. Deep down I know I'm being foolish - she says she loves me - but I can't help feeling inadequate. How can someone like Willow love someone like me? When I think of myself I always picture my awkward high school self - fat, stuttering, shy Tara with the train tracks on her teeth. Well, the braces are gone, at least, I reassure myself. But I feel ugly beside Willow and wonder how she can bring herself to look at me, never mind kiss me. And she does, kiss me, until I'm so drugged on the taste of her that I can't see straight, can't even remember my own name. That thought makes me smile.
So I'm smiling to myself as I walk past Buffy's house and I happen to glance towards the lounge window. The curtains aren't drawn yet so I can see right in. Buffy's mom is dancing and I stop to watch. She's alone, swaying and twirling with graceful poise to the music. I can hear the quiet refrain of something Latin, salsa maybe. I know I should go but my feet refuse to move. The silk nightie she wears clings to her as she dances, accentuating curves ripened by maturity and I can't drag my eyes away from her. She's beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I want to dance too but I'm clumsy and lack any sense of rhythm. Then she's gone, like a fleeting apparition and my heart sinks.
I hear the back door open so I sneak around the side of the house, keeping close to the walls because I've watched TV shows and that's what you're supposed to do when you're spying on someone. Peering around the wall into the garden I watch her deposit a bottle of red wine on the steps and take a sip from her glass. I'm fascinated by the mere sight of her, swaying sinuously again now to the music that filters out into the night. Spanish guitars and bongo drums lend an air of the Mediterranean and I find myself moving to that infectious beat too. The moonlight makes her blonde hair glow silver and I want to touch it, her, to convince myself that I'm not dreaming her.
Unwittingly, I knock over a plant pot with my foot and she stops suddenly, peering into the darkness. "Is someone there?"
I shrink further back against the wall, praying fervently to any god that would listen that I won't be discovered. My heart is hammering as she takes a few steps towards me. "Hello?"
She wraps the loose dressing gown tighter around herself. Another few steps and Mrs. Summers is standing right next to me. I hold my breath and close my eyes, resorting to that childhood logic of 'if I can't see them, they can't see me.' But I can feel her eyes on me now, questioning. Slowly, I open my eyes again.
Her head is tilted slightly, exposing the elegant length of her neck. "Tara?" she asks, a frown marking her features.
I nod because I don't trust myself to speak. At times like these I'm only able to muster an unintelligible mass of stutters. She remembers my name and that thought alone makes me unaccountably happy.
"What are you doing?" There is bemusement in her voice, not anger or reproach.
I have to lie, there is no way I could tell the truth without sounding insane. "A v-v-vamp chased me," I manage to say, quite convincingly I think. "I was h-hiding."
She looks concerned, her hand comes to rest on my shoulder and I almost jump out of my skin at that unexpected contact. "Are you okay? Were you hurt?"
I shake my head and all I can focus on is the heat of her hand through my T-shirt. "Come inside, you look like you could use a drink," she says and smiles at me. In a daze, I follow her into the house and it feels like I'm cocooned in this place that is essentially *her*. This is where she lives, breathes, this is her home. The kitchen is bright but traditional with a few pieces of interesting art that jar with the normal impression of a suburban home. I sit at the breakfast bar and she pours me a glass of the wine retrieved from the garden. Apparently, she doesn't care that I'm underage and I don't object because the wine warms my belly, as does her presence. She drains her own glass and refills it. I sip mine carefully because I'm unaccustomed to the rich, fruity flavour.
"You know, dear, you shouldn't be walking home alone at night," Mrs. Summers says but I don't hear anything after the 'dear' part. I'm so secretly pleased that she'd used a term of affection about me. "So, Buffy tells me you're Willow's friend."
I nod as I sip my wine. Then I realise that she meant 'friend' in the way that people of her generation do. As in 'special friend.' I do actually choke on the wine and as I cough, she rubs my back soothingly. Except it isn't soothing at all, it just panics me more.
"It's great that kids can be so honest nowadays," she continues once I recover from my coughing fit. "When I was your age, it just wasn't talked about." She takes a swallow of red wine as she ruminates over that. A smile flits across her face. "Don't tell Buffy this, she'd 'wig out' but... when I was in college, I dated a girl for a few months. It was the best sex I ever had." Obviously the wine has loosened her lips and I stare at her in mute shock.
She must see the startled look in my eyes because she pats my hand gently. "I'm sorry, honey, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." She heaves a great sigh. "It just feels so good to finally say that out loud, Tara."
I snap out of my amazement to nod enthusiastically. "I t-think that's g-great."
She smiles at me again but I'm distracted by the tiny circles she's tracing on the back of my hand, making my skin tingle. "You're so sweet," she murmurs softly. I'm caught by her hazel stare and can't look away. "And so pretty."
"N-no, I'm not," I say, shaking my head. She reaches out to tuck an errant strand of dirty blonde hair behind my ear and I duck my head bashfully.
"You're such a blushing, delicate flower," Mrs. Summers says whimsically, while stroking my cheek with her fingertips.
I don't know what to say. No one has ever complimented me like this before, not even Willow. The thought of my girlfriend makes me feel suddenly guilty and I know that I shouldn't be here, shouldn't be letting Mrs. Summers, well, seduce me. That's what she seemed to be doing. And I know she's only doing it because she's lonely and drunk. But I still think she's beautiful and I'm wondering what it would be like to kiss her, even though it would be very bad and very wrong. So I push off my seat, intending to leave but she takes that as her cue.
She's kissing me and I can taste the wine on her lips and, beneath that, her dark red lipstick. And I want more of it, so I open my mouth to her sweet and so very warm tongue. She's gentle and teases me because she's had thirty-odd years years to perfect this art and she knows exactly what to do. I'm not sure what to do with my hands and I don't know what she'd like me to do so I just put them around her waist. She presses closer to me and I assume I did the right thing. Something inside my head, call it my conscience, kicks in and I break the kiss. She's staring at me, her skin flushed, her eyes dilated with a combination of alcohol and passion and I really, really want to do this... but I can't.
"I h-have to go," I tell her in a rush of words and make for the back door.
As soon as I get outside, I'm running and I can hear her calling my name into the night in frustration. But I don't look back because I'm a coward and I've betrayed both her and Willow tonight.