"Smart girl like you, what are you doing here?"
She never knew how to answer.
Tara didn't know her dad's cousin well. She'd met her before at the occasional family get-together, but it had been years. She was pretty sure that she'd been in a training bra the last time she'd seen Emily Knowles. After a couple of days of quiet dinners, she'd finally said, "Thanks for letting me stay here."
"It's not a problem," Emily said, even though Tara had her doubts. Emily was divorced, no kids, and she worked overtime a lot. The apartment they shared in San Diego was small and Tara's crap in the spare room, even if it wasn't much, was already starting to feel crowded. "Sounded like you needed a fresh start."
"What do you mean, you're leaving?" Jax sounded more hurt and scared than Tara could have imagined, standing by her dad's truck.
"Gotta hurry," Dad said. "Tara, come on." He gave Jax a dirty look, but Jax didn't notice at all. He was too busy looking at her.
"I can't stay here any more," she said, suddenly unable to look back at him. She needed to keep her resolve, keep her mind on why that was. On the nights she'd spent in Charming's jail waiting for Dad to come pick her up since they couldn't afford bail money. On her grades. On the idea that maybe, just maybe, with a little work and distance she could actually make something of herself, be someone, and not be Jax Teller's delinquent girlfriend.
"I need to go," she said, making her voice hard, even though it was killing her to hear the pain in his voice. "I need to—I'm sorry, Jax. I don't have a place here."
"I need you," he said, nineteen and beautiful and God, she couldn't look at him right now.
"Goodbye, Jax," she said, climbing into the cab of the truck without looking. She didn't look in the mirror when they drove off. She couldn't see through her tears, anyway.
"So, what are you planning to study?" Emily asked when she saw Tara filling out the loan papers.
"Eventually, medicine." Tara skimmed the paperwork, looking for anything she'd missed on this particular page before moving on to the next. "I'm planning to declare my major in human biology right now, but I might change it later."
"Medicine. Huh." Emily slid across from her, coffee mug carefully held away from the papers. "Well, you're smart enough."
Damn right she was smart enough. Smart and disciplined, and if she could just get the paperwork filled out, she'd show them.
"You looked into any scholarships?" Emily said after a sip from her mug.
"Filled out four that are due soon, and I can do more after I get this done," Tara said without looking up.
"Good," Emily said. "I'll leave you to it."
"Someone's gonna see us," she said, giggling, already too much stolen Jack Daniels into bad judgement.
"Nobody's gonna see us," Jax insisted, even though his bike was loud in the dark and someone had to have heard them come out to the park. "Come on, it's a beautiful night, you're beautiful..."
"Quit it," she said, but she kissed him back anyway. He tasted like smoke and whiskey, and Jax underneath it all.
"Come on," he said, pulling away. "Check out the view over here."
"Don't give me that 'check out the view' shit," she said, following along and clutching the bottle. "You're gonna try and talk me into doing all sorts of dirty things with you once we're out of view. Come on, tell me I'm wrong."
Jax stopped, shrugged, and gave her that look that she couldn't resist, all puppy eyes and mischief. "So..."
She rolled her eyes. "Like it's stopped me before," she said, grinning and launching herself at him.
He let himself be tackled, said, "Shit, you got Jack all over me," and kissed her neck.
"Should I lick it off?" she said, giggling again. She tugged at his shirt, not waiting for an answer. He wiggled under her to get the back loose from against the ground, and she pulled it off over his head, kissing a sloppy drunk line up his chest. He fumbled with her shirt, less smooth than he usually was, his hand caressing the crow tattooed on her shoulder. She paused, suddenly feeling stone cold sober.
Sam Crow. SAMCRO. Jax's crew. "You and me forever," he said, grinning.
"Yeah," she said, and if she was just a little less into it than she had been before he didn't notice. She felt him undo her bra, shrugged out of it, moaned, and--
"Jesus Christ!" he yelped, and she whirled around, Jax clutched to her against the bright light suddenly in their eyes. She couldn't see whoever held it, but she heard a man's voice say, "You kids definitely want to be putting your clothes back on. You been drinking?"
"No," Jax said in defiance of the now-empty bottle next to them.
"Uh-huh," the man said, and she recognized the voice now. The same officer who got them for petty theft three months ago, she was positive. "Teller, right?"
"And you, the Knowles girl? Aren't you still in school? Jesus, I thought you were smarter than this."
Tara reached for her bra and shirt, slipped them on angrily, ignored the disappointment in the cop's voice. She didn't need this.
Two years in and she finally felt comfortable moving out of Emily's apartment. "You don't have to go," Emily said. They still weren't close, but they were used to each other. Like roommates who rarely saw each other.
"It's something I need to do," Tara said. She didn't explain any more than that. Emily didn't need to know that she needed to prove that she could do it on her salary, and that she could make it without even her meager support system. She didn't need to know that this was preparation for moving wherever she got accepted when—not if, because Tara
be accepted—she got into a medical school.
And she thought that she might want to start dating again, just to try it out. Someone who wasn't him. She couldn't take a guy home to her aunt's apartment.
She moved out right before junior year, and her new apartment was tiny and it was probably only a matter of time until she looked for another roommate, but at least she was here first.
"Your mom hates me," she told Jax.
He shook his head, too busy with his cigarette to answer. "Nah," he said finally. "She's just protective, that's all."
"She could be protective a little nicer."
"She's had to deal with a lot of shit." He sounded pissed now, and she gave up for now. God forbid he actually admit that his mom was less than perfect, that every time she saw Tara with him she glared at her like she was judging her and finding her wanting, like Tara was trash.
Tara's dad might be poor, and her mom might be dead, but she was anything but trash. She'd show Gemma Teller Morrow, just like she'd shown every teacher and guidance counselor up until now.
"How's your shoulder feel?"
She recognized a blatant attempt to change the subject when she heard it, but she really didn't want to fight. "Itchy," she said. "Never let me get drunk and get your friends to give me a tattoo again, okay?"
"Okay. But in all fairness, you were really pushy about it," he said, grinning.
"You should've heard yourself." He pitched his voice high, in some kind of really annoying impersonation that sounded nothing like her. "It's a crow because you're a crow, Jax! This is how much you mean to me, Jax! You and me forever.'"
"Shut up, I do not sound like that." She slammed him in the shoulder with her own shoulder, which realistically did very little good but made her feel better.
"You really did." He leaned over and kissed the top of her head as she leaned over, fuming. "You and me forever."
Four years without Jax. Four years since Charming. And now, medical school. Chicago. Everything that she'd been driving toward.
A really fresh start.
Med school was challenging. She excelled at it, working best under pressure. Top of her class. Promising internship ahead.
She celebrated her graduation at a bar with a few friends, finally letting loose. Sometime late at night, or maybe early in the morning, she found herself at one of the rougher bars in the city. It reminded her of home. Of Jax. Irrationally, she wondered if she'd see him lurking in the corner.
"Hey," someone said, tapping her on the shoulder. He was tall, dark-haired, good looking in a bland sort of way. "You seem like a smart girl. What are you doing here?"
"I, uh, don't know," she said. "Celebrating got a little out of hand."
He smiled. "I'm Josh."
"Tara," Ms. Stowe said, looking at her sitting sullenly at the desk. "You're too smart to be here."
Tara didn't say anything. Ms. Stowe sighed and handed out the day's assignments.
The guy next to her, some blond guy she was pretty sure she'd seen around before but never paid much attention to, leaned over and whispered, "This your first time in detention?"
She nodded. He grinned. "What'd you do?"
"Fighting," she said reluctantly. She wouldn't admit to why. You could only get called white trash so many times before you lashed out.
"Nice," he said admiringly. "You get used to it."
"I'm not planning to come back," she hissed.
He shrugged. "I'm Jax. Teller."
She looked at him. Nice eyes. Nice smile. She let herself smile a little back. "Tara Knowles."