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Adult Confidential (Chapter 36)
Rawr
laraghwrites
*******

TITLE: Adult Confidential

WRITER: Laragh

CHAPTER RATING: PG-13

DISCLAIMER: Willow, Tara and any other characters from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise belong to Joss Whedon, FOX, ME and a whole host of other entities, none of which are me.

PAIRING: Willow/Tara (from Buffy The Vampire Slayer)

SUMMARY: They’ve graduated, now they’re faced with the big, bad world of adulthood…the second part in the prequel series of Hacker Confidential and Family Confidential (and follow-up to College Confidential)

SPOILERS: Perhaps minor references to the show or stealage of dialogue, but nothing that would spoil the series.

FEEDBACK: Yes please

Chapter 36

********



Tara watched Willow pack her work bag, an all-too-familiar sight.


The days had turned into a monotonous drudge of coming home from work, eating while Willow showered and dressed for work, going to sleep alone and maybe fitting in a quickie in the intervening time between when Willow got home and Tara had to get up for work again.


She knew Willow’s work schedule was going to be difficult, but it was really starting to get her down. Willow had been so happy when her first pay check showed up and took so much pride in helping contribute towards bills that Tara hadn’t burdened her with her feelings. She did, however, try to coax some time out of her girlfriend whenever she could.


“We’re doing an Easter egg hunt for some of the kids in group homes this Sunday. Want to come along? I thought you could show the kids your science trick with the egg in the bottle.”


Willow tucked the granola bars she was able to eat behind the counter when there were no customers about, into the side pocket of her bag.


“I have to work that evening and the night before. I’ll be catching up on sleep. Sorry.”


“Well could you take a day off for Passover, then?” Tara suggested hopefully, “You could make your Bubbe’s Matzo Ball Soup.”


Willow looked up, jadedly.


“Tara, I can’t. I’m sorry. Some other time.”


“Every time seems bad for you lately,” Tara commented, her hands turning anxiously in front of her, “We haven’t had any time together in weeks.”


Willow bristled, thinking Tara was referring to her last day off when there had been promises of a steamy night, but she nodded off before anything had happened.


“Look, I’m sorry I fell asleep the other night but I had a long week. I’ll have a day off sometime next week and we can hang out, okay?”


Tara put her hands on the back of a chair to stop them fidgeting.


“You’ve been saying that for six weeks.”


“It’s not my fault our days off have clashed,” Willow returned sharply.


Tara straightened up at the abrupt tone.


“I’m not blaming you.”


Willow zipped up her bag, aggressively.


“Have you forgotten my paycheck let us pay off all of our bills in advance? I didn’t take a single penny for myself.”


Tara didn’t know when the tide had turned into a fight, but she didn’t like it.


“You insisted we do that, I told you to buy yourself something nice!” she defended, her voice starting to tinge with upset, “Why are you attacking me?”


“Because I’m working my ass off for us in a dump and you won’t get off my case!” Willow replied with frustration.


“I’m asking to spend one god damn day together,” Tara said though a breath of annoyance but tried to rein it back in, “I miss you.”


Willow sighed.


“Tara, I’m given shifts, I have to work them. I don’t have any control over this. Don’t you understand? I understand when you have to be on call. You were on call on freakin’ Thanksgiving and Christmas last year.”


Tara held up her hands helplessly.


“I’m just worried. I see what happened when I was overworking happening again. What do you want me to do, just sit back and keep my mouth shut?”


“Well, that'd be a good start,” Willow snapped.


Tara looked like she’d been slapped.


“If I didn't love you so damn much I would!”


She marched into the kitchen, just trying to get away, and ended up fussing over folding and refolding a dishcloth.


Willow knew she’d gone too far but with a furtive look at her watch, she didn’t have the time to address it.


“I have to—”


“Just go,” Tara interrupted without looking up.


Willow put her bag over her chest, took a step towards the door, then looked back.


“I love you, and I’m sorry.”


Tara didn’t answer, and Willow lingered on. She needed to go, but she couldn’t leave that spot.


“Don’t go to bed mad, right? That’s your rule.”


Tara continued staring downwards.


“Maybe it’s easier than going to bed alone.”


“Do you think I don’t miss you too, I can’t stand—” Willow started but had to catch herself when she almost burst into tears, “I can’t do this now. I have to go.”


“Bye,” Tara said, sadly.


Willow still couldn’t make her feet move.


“Are you mad at me?”


Tara just dejectedly shook her head. It broke Willow’s heart in two.


“I’ll see you later?” she said, shifting between one foot and the other uncomfortably.


“Bye, Willow,” Tara echoed, eyes still downcast.


Willow watched as Tara’s eyes creased shut and then as the tears spilled out.


“Tara.”


She strode over and kissed Tara’s cheek, then gently wiped her tears away. Tara leaned into Willow, then pulled her into a tight hug.


“I-I love you,” she said through a sniffle.


“I love you, too,” Willow replied softly, and pulled back to look Tara in the eye, “The next chance I get we’ll sit down and talk properly, okay? I promise.”


Tara nodded but wasn’t too convincing. Willow stalled for a moment, then put up a single finger.


“Wait there,” she said and disappeared into the bedroom, returning moments later with Tara’s bunny, Mr Hoppy, whom she presented to her, “Will he do until I come back?”


Tara offered a hint of a smile as she took her soft toy and held it to her chest.


“Yeah.”


Willow rubbed Tara’s arm gently and affectionately.


“Have a good night, okay?”


Tara nodded.


“You too.”


Willow kissed Tara’s cheek one last time, squeezed her shoulder and reluctantly headed out into her nightly grind.





Tara woke up early, so early that Willow wasn’t even home from work yet.


She’d showered and washed her hair the night before so she wouldn’t have to face the spray of water so early, a shuddering thought. She was very much appreciating that decision as she forced herself out of bed. Somewhat groggily, she just about managed to pull on the bright dress and leggings she’d left out, chosen for their festive Easter colours.


Originally she had been asked to come along to the Easter egg hunt the group homes of the area ran for all the kids as a chaperone, but since she had so much free time lately, she’d also offered to set up and help run the day too.


She’d spent multiple evenings making crafts, planning tasks like egg and spoon races and pin the tail on the bunny, writing clues for the hunt and sourcing places in the city she could buy the supplies to pull it all off. That was before the meetings where she had to beg for the budget and then work with the miniscule one given. She'd put a good chunk of her own money into it too.


Her first task was to prepare the gallons of lemonade to quench the thirst of the energetic kids and frazzled adults that would be there. It was another job she’d hoped to get through the night before, but their fridge was packed and wouldn’t have been able to hold it all.


She reasoned it was a good complaint, as there had been weeks of scarcity when opening the fridge brought nothing but a mouldy block of cheese staring back at you, and so she didn’t grumble as she took out the lemons and sugar syrup. She had actually managed to make that early, which cut some labour out of her task.


She had several large Tupperware containers and a cool box to transport it all, and a big bowl to juice the lemons into.


Tara blinked a few times at the mountains of lemons gracing the kitchen counter, then just pushed on and got them juiced.


Her hands ached when she was done, but there was no time to waste and no Willow to offer a quick massage. She spread the lemon juice between the containers, added in ice, then the syrup and water to fill. She made sure it tasted fine, then scooped a small jug out and left it in the fridge for Willow to have when she came home.


She made Willow up a sandwich, as she did every day her girlfriend worked, since she preferred to eat light and crash and have a dinner in the afternoon or early evening. She left a note with it, as she also did every time, and mentioned the lemonade.


Willow loved when Tara made homemade sweet tea or lemonade, so Tara hoped it would be a nice treat for her.


She transferred each of the containers to the cool box, sealed it up and took the handle to pull it behind her. She was glad it had wheels, as there was plenty of weight even just tugging it.


She grabbed her purse, made sure the keys to the office were there and lugged her gallons of lemonade down to the street and onto the T. Thankfully it was early enough that it wasn’t too busy and nobody paid attention to what she was doing.


When she arrived at the office, she signed out the car and got the lemonade tucked away in the trunk, much to her arm’s relief.


As she drove out, she thought of where she could stop to grab a coffee and realised it wouldn’t be too out of her way to visit Willow’s store. She’d never been there before, but she knew where it was it relation to the T stop so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find.


As long as it took on public transport, it was actually only a 15 minute drive with no traffic and it made Tara wish they had a car to ease Willow’s commute.


She parked on the curb and made sure to lock the car as she stepped out. The street was kind of shabby but seemed mostly residential and so Tara hoped, safe. Tara was glad the mornings were getting brighter earlier so Willow didn’t have to walk the streets in the dark. She had made it a condition that Willow text her when she arrived every evening for the same reason.


She looked up at the store and the signage that had worn away.


It was a pretty desolate place and as Tara walked in, everything seemed to creak. It wasn’t actually a bad place, just seemed to sag with years of deterioration and lack any kind of brightness; in its decor or its energy.


Willow’s description of ‘dump’ seemed accurate; the placed seemed to have just been dumped there and left with little attention since.


She went over to the coffee machine and knew before it had even finished pouring she wasn’t going to drink the mud-like liquid that came out, but was too polite to leave it. She brought it to the girl at the counter and sought the cash from her wallet.


“Willow here by any chance?” she asked politely.


The girl tendered Tara’s change and handed it back.


“She left about an hour ago.”


Tara nodded; she had figured that already since she knew Willow worked alone. She tilted her cup in acknowledgement.


“Thanks.”


She waited until she was outside to dump the cup and drove to a more reliable chain store with a branded machine. She thought of texting Willow to tell her of the encounter with the sludge-disguised-as-coffee and give her a laugh, but she didn’t want to risk it in case her girlfriend had just nodded off.


Instead, she drove straight on to the group home she'd been working with and around the back. There was a shed in the yard where Tara had been gathering supplies. She quietly turned the car off, popped the trunk and put the back seats down to open up the space. As she was doing it, the back door to the normally rowdy but now completely silent house opened.


A tall man in slacks and a shirt with a dishcloth over his shoulder stuck his head out and waved.


“Hey Tara. Early riser?”


Tara straightened up and wiggled her fingers back.


“Hey Caleb. Just going to get everything set up. I know the kids are still asleep, I’ll be quiet.”


Caleb kicked a wooden wedge in the door to keep it in place and walked out.


“Let me help. Oh wait, you need the key.”


He slipped inside and returned with a small padlock key, which he used to open the shed.


“Once the kids got wind there was chocolate in here, we had to lock it up. You may be down a piece of candy or two.”


The shed was filled with collapsible tables and chairs, crates of candy and crafts, and lots of old boxes with cheap or homemade games.


They had to pack the car like it was a game of Tetris, slotting things into wherever they would fit. Finally everything was in and the car was practically bulging.


“I think every inch of space in this thing is taken,” Caleb said as he wiped his hands off each other.


Tara puffed out a breath.


“I’ll be happy if it isn’t run off its wheels.”


“We’re bringing the kids down at 11, right?” Caleb asked.


Tara nodded.


“Thanks for the help.”


“Happy to,” Caleb replied, lifting his hand in acknowledgement as he headed back to the house, “See you then.”


Tara got back into the driver’s seat and could just about see out the back enough to drive. The park was close by and she was able to find parking, but it was even harder to lug everything out than it had been to put them in.


She set up the tables around the area they’d marked off for the egg hunt and laid out the various crafts; the colouring pages, the bunny ears making, the egg painting and the baby chick made out of felt station, accommodating kids of every age and concentration level.


The games were very easy to set up; Tara just had to put markers down to mark out race lines and write little placards indicating the various games. She pinned a drawing of a bunny she’d done to a tree for pin the tail on the bunny and finally only had to hide the eggs for the hunt.


She took a five minute break to down one a glass of her lemonade before taking the little woven basket of eggs on her arm and began spying out hiding places.


A while passed before she took the last small chocolate egg wrapped in foil and hid it under a bush. Her hand reached in for another, but when it just brushed against the material, she realised she was finished.


She stood up from her knees, brushed herself off and went over to fill up the now empty basket with more candy – the prize for the winner of the hunt.


The moment she finished, she spotted someone walked towards her.


“Hey Tara,” Alice greeted warmly, two Styrofoam cups in her hand.


“Oh, hi,” Tara replied.


Alice had a look around, nodding.


“Here to help.”


Tara smiled to herself; it was typical Alice would show up the second everything was done.


“I just finished planting the eggs, but the kids will be here soon.”


Alice looked relieved not to have to exert herself on a Sunday morning.


“Great, gives us a chance to down these before the chaos.”


She thrust one of the cups towards Tara, who took it and held its warmth between her hands.


“Thank you, I appreciate it. There’s some chairs over here.”


Alice unfolded two chairs for them and sat with her face towards the sun.


“Need to absorb some of that energy before the mob arrives,” she said, then pushed her shades on top of her head and looked at Tara, “How have you been?”


Tara nodded non-committedly.


“I’m okay.”


“Once more with feeling?” Alice asked with a smirk, but it left when Tara didn’t reply, “That bad?”


“No,” Tara replied with a sigh, “Just…finding Willow’s job difficult to…work around.”


Alice nodded.


“Night shifts suck, we know that.”


Tara tapped her fingers against the cup, looking down.


“I asked her to get today off, or Passover, or any day when I’m off too. She couldn’t, or wouldn’t;I don’t know. I would just like one evening alone with her,” she said, then lowered her voice, “And maybe to actual cuddle after instead of rushing off to grab a shower before work.”


Alice’s face was sympathetic.


“Ouch. That kinda ‘bad’.”


Tara blushed.


“I just miss her,” she said, then wasn’t sure if she was annoyed or relieved when she saw the first mini bus roll up, “Looks like the kids are here.”


Alice glanced over, then back at Tara.


“If you want to try and set up some split shifts or something, let me know. We’ll work something out.”


“Thank you so much,” Tara replied genuinely, “I need to have a really long chat with her.”


Alice patted Tara’s knee.


“Good luck.”


Tara nodded.


“I think we’re both going to need it,” she said, then her eyes widened as more kids appeared and they all ran towards them, “And I think we’re both going to need it too!”


Immediately there were little hands and feet everywhere, exploring everything set up and trying to steal candy. There was an initial five minutes of craziness, but the carers were great and got everyone organised and split into groups depending on what they wanted to do.


Alice took over the games area with some carers and Tara stuck with the crafts, as she’d designed most of them.


She had a lot of fun helping the kids choose colours to make the brightest egg and fastening their crafted bunny ears around their heads. Some of the teenagers sulked off into the shade, but others joined in and helped the littler kids. Tara made sure to make her appreciation known and slipped them some of the extra candy with a wink.


Tara found the egg hunt the most enjoyable, where the whole park was filled with laughter and elation. There were some minor fights over who found an egg first, but they were resolved quickly by the wonderful care workers.


Tara was exhausted by the time it was all coming to an end, but smiling from ear to ear too. She was happily packing things away as Alice came back, looking plainly exhausted without so much of the enthusiasm.


“They bring so much joy, don’t they?” Tara said gleefully.


Alice didn’t seem so convinced as she helped Tara.


“You want kids?”


Tara nodded without hesitation.


“Yeah, I do. You?”


Alice shrugged one shoulder.


“I’ve flirted with the idea, on and off. I think so, though. Need to find a man, first,” she said with a self-deprecating smile, “Want to grab a bite?”


Tara checked her watch and was about to refuse when she changed her mind.


“Yeah, sure. Willow’s not around, anyway. Caleb said they can take this stuff back in the minivan.”


They got everything packed up and Tara drove the car back to the office with Alice tailing her. She signed the car back in and came back down to hop into Alice’s passenger seat.


“It’s really nice of you to help out with the kids so much,” Alice commented as she indicated onto the road again.


Tara just smiled.


“I’m glad I’m able.”


“Still,” Alice reasoned, having become more involved herself even since Tara started working with her, “Are you good with Thai?”


Tara nodded, hungry after the busy day.


“Good with anything.”


Alice took them to a vibrant Thai restaurant in the city and immediately ordered them some wine.


Tara took a long sip when her glass came and sighed.


“It’s nice to have dinner with an actual other person.”


Alice looked at Tara with, able to see her friend really wasn't herself.


“This is really getting you down, isn’t it?”


Tara folded her arms gently on the table.


“It’s so hard to talk to her without knocking her confidence. She’s so lost on this career path and I can’t seem a way to find her.”


“She has to find herself,” Alice replied sagely.


Tara inhaled and nodded.


“Yeah, you’re right,” she agreed, “I just don’t know how it can be healthy to support something we both hate.”


“She doesn’t like the job?” Alice asked, not having seen much or any of Willow herself lately.


“She called it a dump, and it is. And she was always a morning person. I know she hates working nights,” Tara replied, pained, “But I guess she has to deal with this when I’m call too and I messed her around with the stuff with Abigail. It’s selfish of me to complain.”


Alice reached across and squeezed Tara’s hand.


“No it isn’t,” she said surely, “But tonight, just try to relax and have a good time. I’ve ordered us a tasting menu.”


She threw Tara a wink, who cracked a smile and clinked their glasses together.


“That’s something I think I can do.”


They were served delicious food and plenty of it. Tara indulged in bites of every soup, salad, noodle dish and curry that was presented to her. She would have loved to share it with Willow, but the never ending wine that seemed to be poured into her glass did a sufficient job of making her forget.


As she swigged another bit of wine, she stared at Alice with her glassy eyes.


“Why am I drunk and you’re not?”


“I’m driving,” Alice replied bemusedly, “But you’re drinking enough for both of us.”


Tara blushed and pushed her glass a smidge away.


“I never asked for a top-up.”


“The wine gods must be on your side tonight,” Alice said, still grinning, “When was the last time you let your hair down?”


Tara pushed a breath out between her lips.


“Probably the last time I had decent sex,” she answered wryly, “If calendars even go back that far.”


Alice pursed her lips to stop from laughing and Tara grimaced and dropped her head into her hands.


“That’s not fair,” she groaned, slapping her cheeks slightly, “Don’t tell Willow I said that.”


Alice made a lock and key motion on the side of her mouth.


Tara pushed her mango rice dessert away and rubbed the corners of her eyes.


“I think I need to go to bed.”


Alice rested her chin on her hands and smiled across.


“I think that’s a good idea.”


Tara tried to fumble her wallet out of her purse, but Alice tapped her hand and stopped her.


“My treat for all the good work you’ve been doing.”


Tara dropped her wallet back and eyed Alice gratefully.


“Thank you. I really enjoyed it.”


“I can see,” Alice replied, happy to see Tara letting off some steam, “If it wasn’t a Sunday I’d take us out for shots.”


Tara snorted.


“Unless you want to carry me home, that’s probably never a good idea.”


Alice paid, offered Tara the mint and put her arm around her.


“I’ll carry you home if you don’t throw up in my car.”


“That sounds like a deal, Alice Kenter,” Tara agreed, grateful for the help when she was slightly unsteady on her feet, “Thanks for being a good friend.”


“Tara Maclay, you make it easy,” Alice replied fondly and kissed Tara’s cheek.


Tara eyed Alice blearily.


“I know I haven’t had a good lay in a while but no offense, you’re not my type.”


Alice burst into laughter on the street and had to stop them for a moment lest she stray them into traffic while she was distracted.


She got them to the car and strapped Tara into the passenger seat. Tara rested her hands on the belt and put her head against the window.


Alice sat in the driver’s side, belted up and started messing with the radio.


“What’s your drunk song?”


Tara swung her head towards Alice earnestly.


“I don’t get drunk that much.”


“You can borrow mine,” Alice replied, flicking on some Shania Twain with a smirk.


“Let's go girls.”


She drove off, tapping her fingers against the wheel.


Tara grinned and her head started to sway in beat with the song. She hummed for a while, and it didn’t take long for her to join in.


“The best thing about being a woman is the prerogative to have a little fun…”


In seconds both of them were in the throes of the song; Tara even adding complimentary jazz hands and some riffing.


Alice was in hysterics watching Tara and just about managed to join in again.


“Man! I feel like a woman!”


Tara was a giggling mess and Alice just kept chuckling with her. She parked on the street and made sure Tara got all the way up to her apartment before patting her on the back and leaving her to it.


Tara was smiling and humming as she stepped into the apartment but it waned quickly when the dreariness of the empty space assaulted her.


There was a goodbye note on the table and Tara appreciated the gesture, at least knowing she was in Willow’s thoughts.


It wasn’t very late but there was nothing compelling enough to keep her up, so she headed for the bedroom.


She kicked off her shoes and collapsed into bed, hoping the alcohol would keep her warm in lieu of Willow.

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