Home Again

You Can't Go Home Again

Willow fingered the napkin nervously. The waiter shot another meaningful glance her way and then looked, for what seemed like the tenth time, at the clock over the bar. True, she’d been sitting at her table alone for the past hour and true, she’d been nursing the same glass of beer the entire time, but the place wasn’t exactly packed.

She sipped the tepid lager and ripped another strip off her napkin. It was a nervous habit, normally reserved for peeling the label away from the bottle; since beer was generally served in glasses here in England she’d had to improvise.

The front door of the little bar flew open and there he was. Oz: slightly disheveled, obviously concerned over his tardy arrival and smiling, a broad white smile.

Willow stood and waited while he crossed the room to her table. She took a second to meet waiter’s surprised eyes and then turned to greet Oz’s arrival, her arms opening for his embrace.

“Wow,” he said. “Wow.”

“Wow yourself,” she said, laughing.

The disapproving waiter arrived and stood expectantly.

“I’ll have what she’s having,” Oz said.

“So will I,” Willow added.

The waiter returned to the bar to pour the beer.

“You look amazing,” he said. “It’s been so long…”

“Too long.”

Oz smiled. They stood for a second more before Oz gestured to their seats. Their beer arrived.

“I don’t even know where to start,” Willow said.

“Let me,” Oz said.

Willow smiled. “You wanna talk?”

“I know. It’s a new development. You’re sorta the test case.”

“Happy to oblige.”

Two beers later, Willow and Oz had managed to dispense with the details of mutual friends, their memories unfurling like ribbon from a spool.

“Do you want to walk a bit?”

“Sure. Do you think the waiter would take our picture?”

They posed, side by side, in front of a potted plant. The waiter was efficient and snapped two pictures on Willow’s digital camera before bidding them a good afternoon and going over to the table to see if it was true that Americans were extravagant tippers. Apparently not.

“Did you want to see Giles? We could go to the Watcher’s Council office,” Willow suggested.

Oz shrugged. “I’d rather just walk, if that’s okay.”

“No, it’s okay, I just thought…”

Oz led Willow through Camden Market, down to the canals. It was a perfect afternoon, not as rare as one might think in London. The sun was high in the sky and made lacy patterns on the pavement as they walked under the canopy of trees. Canalboats floated past, their drivers tipping hats at people who shared the watery path with them.

“Should we stop?” Oz said as they approached a bench.

“Sure. If you'd like.”

Willow dropped her knapsack on the pavement and settled onto the bench.

“Here’s the thing,” Oz said.

“There’s a thing?”

He smiled and sat beside Willow.

“Isn’t there always?” He said smiling. “Look, Willow, I heard about Tara. I should have…written…or called.”

Willow shook her head. “No, Oz. It wouldn’t have…you couldn’t have…God. It seems like a million years ago now.”

Oz reached for her hand, smoothing his thumb against her palm.

“Did you hear about after?” She said, shifting her eyes to his stroking thumb. “Warren?”

“I won’t judge, Willow.”

“I think about him every day.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Willow lifted her head and met Oz’s pale eyes. “You’d let me? You’d want to hear all that?”

“Would it help?”

Willow shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“But maybe not.”

*

Oz walked her home. Her flat, three small rooms over an Indian take-away, smelled of curry.

She crossed the room and shoved open a window and then turned to face Oz.

“Do you want to stay?”

He smiled.

“I want to leave here knowing that you’re gonna be okay,” he said.

“Wait here for a second,” she said.

Willow went into her bedroom and returned with her hand clasped tightly around something. She uncurled her fingers, revealing the Witch Pez he’d given her back in school.

“It’s, like, my good luck charm.”

“I’m glad,” he said.

“I’m glad we didn’t wait for Istanbul.”

He hugged her and for a minute it was so easy to believe that if she wanted to she could kiss him. But then he stepped away, his eyes serious.

“I’m glad we saw each other,” he said.

“Me too,” she said and then, because she needed to hear him say the words she asked, “When are you leaving?”

Oz smiled.

“Pretty much now.”

The End

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