“Luv U Better”
***Has been edited*** >> (New Version)
Back in the day I was your number one pick,
Now your heart’s half-broken and that’s hard to fix
I had to dig deep inside myself
because I can’t see you bouncin’ with somebody else
It’s a long journey back to the place we were,
when I was too embarrassed to admit I was in love
And you were my good girl that wouldn’t give it up
…I can’t let us self-destruct
Baby smile today
Cause’ I been imaginin’ more ways
… I’m gon’ love you better
“Hey, look…I think she’s waking up.”
Tara blinked several times before her vision completely cleared. She let out a series of coughs, aggravating the sandpaper walls of her throat. Reflexively she moved to raise a hand to cover her mouth, but her arm stopped short when she felt—then saw the I.V taped to the top of her hand. The room tilted and all the dark colored figures blurred into the stark white hospital room as she sat up fast.
“Easy there, Doc.” His voice, almost as gravelly as her mouth felt made her ignore the stiffness in her neck to raise her head. Her eyes were met with the unhappiest face out of all the leather-kutte wearing men crowding around her bed. “The redhead Doc says you might have a mild concussion.”
“The redhead Doc should be working on her second glass of an exceptionally good bottle of pinot.” Tara turned her head towards Dr. Addison Montgomery, her boss, and OBGYN.
Immediately Tara’s hand flew to her stomach, her eyes scanning the crowd of concerned faces. “Where’s Abel?”
“Is that your oldest?” Dr. Montgomery stood up from the stool rolled to the side of her bed. “Your friend Alicia offered to take care of him while I found out why my patient is running herself ragged like I would have warned her not to had she bothered to show up to the last three appointments she cancelled.”
“Is Thom—is my baby okay?” Tara’s palm pressed against her stomach.
“Both mother and baby are doing great,” Dr. Montgomery announced. “If you two want to stay that way you’re going to have to take better care of yourself. When is the last time you’ve had anything to eat or drink? Your blood sugar is way too low and you’re dehydrated.”
“So what’s the verdict, Doc?” Piney asked. He bumped shoulders with Happy—who was standing at the foot of her bed—as he took a step forward. “You saying she passed out because she needs a cookie and something to drink?”
“Prospect!” Happy barked, turning his scowl towards the SAMCRO-hopeful standing behind him. Ratboy’s fingers were poised over the bottled water in his hand, stopping mid-twist. “Give me that,” Happy growled snatching it from his hand. “There’s a machine with chips and cookies and shit out in the hall. Go get the Doc something.”
Tara waved her hand at the bottle Happy held out to her. “No, thank you. I’m good. I appreciate the…I appreciate this but I’m okay. And if I can get this thing out of my hand and go be with my son I’ll be even better.”
Happy tossed the bottled water into her lap. “Redhead Doc’s orders.”
“I do have a name you know.”
Happy looked from the IV bag tapped into Tara’s veins, over to the doctor fighting a smile. Grunting, he nodded towards the bottle of water still in Tara’s lap. “You might have to add the shit to her bag. Her head’s hard as a fuckin brick just like her old man.”
Happy bit back a curse as they watched all the color drain from Tara’s face. “Jackson…You said he was shot? How is…how the Hell did that even happen?”
“I’m going to head home, Tara,” Dr. Montgomery interjected. Concern twisted her features as she gave the pregnant doctor’s shoulder a light squeeze. “Once you’re good and hydrated I recommend you do the same. Whatever in your life is causing you stress, you need to think about taking a step back. It’s not good for you or the baby. And I don’t want to have a real reason to be here next time.”
“There won’t be a next time if she drinks the goddamn water,” Happy grumbled, glaring at her. Tara snatched the cap of the bottle, and her green eyes narrowed as she tilted her head back, chugging the entire bottle at once. “There,” Tara half-shouted, tossing the empty bottle at him. “Are you happy?”
“Who the fuck else would I be?” Happy’s eyebrow draw together as he turned to stare at the other doctor in the room, the one fighting a smile as she made her way towards the door. “You sure she doesn’t have a concussion?”
Tara rolled her eyes. “Hilarious.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s not being sarcastic,” Kozick remarked.
“I got chips!” Ratboy announced rushing back into the room.
Happy turned to scowl at the bags in his hands. “Where’s the fuckin cookies? Doc says her sugar’s low—the Hell she need with all that salt?”
Dr. Montgomery muffled her laughter with a series of coughs as she made her exit. “Goodnight, Fellas…Dr. Knowles.”
Tara shot out of the bed before the door had fully closed.
Piney rushed to her side, bracing the palm of his hands into her shoulders as she steadied her footing. “You need to take it easy, Tara.”
“I have to find out what’s going on with Jackson.”
“He’s still in surgery,” Opie told her. “Your boss says your doctor friend Chambers is working on him. He’s going to be okay, Tara…unless…”
Tara shrugged Piney’s hands off her shoulders as she turned to glare up at his son. “You got something you want to say, Asshole?”
Opie’s answering gaze packed just as much heat when he said, “You want to tell me why Wendy has a hole in her arm? You think that’s going to help y’all situation?”
Tara’s rapid-fire retort died on her tongue as the door to her hospital room opened and shut behind Wayne Unser. “You alright, Tara?”
“Is this your master plan?” There was an edge to her smile as Tara widened her eyes. “You play good cop while Gemma plants the throwaway when I’m not looking? I guess being forced to put in your papers didn’t get rid of the leash she has on you.”
Unser held both hands up in surrender when every leather kutte squeaked as the men wearing them turned to glare at him. “I don’t even know what the Hell she’s talking about. Someone told me Wendy Case showed up to the ER with a GSW—said she was barely conscious, that they had to admit her ‘cause of how much blood she lost.”
“What the Hell does that have to do with you?” Tara challenged, crossing her arms. “I met the new sheriff the other day. Didn’t they fire you?”
“Aw shit,” Unser hissed, shaking his balding head. “Gemma’s actually telling the truth this time, isn’t she? She’s not the one who shot her. You are.”
“I don’t have time for this,” Tara huffed, snatching out the I.V hooked to her. She shoved her way past the sea of men standing between her and her exit, then yanked the door open. The door flapped shut behind her just as they heard her mutter, “It was a fucking flesh wound.”
Dr. Alex Chambers glanced up from the open chest spread across the OR table in front of him. “Nice of you to finally join us,” He remarked, dropping his gaze back down to the surgical tray to the left of him. Blood stained the fingers of the gloved hand he held out for the suture he’d asked for seconds before Dr. Yang entered the room. “Watch your step, Yang. Honestly, I don’t think you should’ve even bothered scrubbing back in. The fun part’s already over.”.
Blood was everywhere.
It was soaked into the gowns smocked around them, dried into the scrub caps tied to their heads, splashed all over the thin baby-blue sheets draped over the patient—and steadily flowing from the donor IV bags hanging beside the handsome surgeon fixing the hole in his spleen.
“I came back as soon as I could,” Dr. Yang explained, being mindful of the puddles of blood on the OR floor as she walked closer. “One of our doctors collapsed outside in the parking lot. I had to stay with her until Dr. Montgomery arrived.”
“Still no luck getting in contact with Dr. Knowles?”
“—I was under the impression that Tara and Murphy were pretty close,” He continued, twisting the scalpel in his hand. “I’m surprised she didn’t jump at the chance to assist me.”
“Mr. Teller is a former patient here so when I checked his medical records I saw that she’s listed as his emergency contact and power of attorney in the event that…well, luckily she won’t have that problem anymore.”
Alex lifted his head, sparing a glance at the monitors on the other side of the table. “The jury’s still out on that actually. Sure, his vitals are holding steady. And Mr. Teller here is a one tough son of a bitch, but he lost a lot of blood—and you interns made quite a few mistakes. I’ve done everything I can to stabilize him. The rest is up to whatever God his loved ones believe in.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“I figured he was family to her though,” Alex proclaims to the room of four doctors and a scrub Nurse. “Poor Murphy was white as a sheet when she walked in the room. We barely made it down here in time with her holding up the elevator. Maybe he’s her nephew or something. Did it say who he was to her in his files?”
“It says she’s his wife.”
“What?” Alex chuckled, shaking his head as he sutured with well-practiced hands. “No way, Yang. I met Murphy’s husband at the fundraiser thing last week.”
“I was speaking of Dr. Knowles, Sir. Doctor Knowles is listed as wife.”
Christina Yang’s words were followed by a clink—the sound of the scalpel in Alex’s hand falling to the floor.
Right before the shrill beep of Jackson Teller’s vitals plummeting filled the room.
“May you grow up and stand as a man…love…with the pride of your family and name…when you lay down your head…or to rest in your bed…may you stay in the…” Tara was singing the final line of a lullaby for the little soldier sleeping in her arms when she finally noticed him, standing in the doorway.
Alex stood, leaning against the wall, watching her. The smile tipping up the corners of his mouth didn’t quite reach his eyes. “You have a pretty voice…I always thought so.”
Tara’s smile didn’t even crack the surface. Instead it stayed buried beneath the mixture of hope and dread marring her features. “Is he…Is Jackson…?”
“They’re wheeling him into recovery right now. He made it through the surgery. That’s all I can say for now.” Alex walked across the private surgical residents’ room towards her, stopping in front of the couch where she sat. “You didn’t tell me you married him. Jackson Teller…that’s the guy, right? The one you left town to get away from…the one you wouldn’t talk about…”
“It’s a long, complicated story,” Tara admitted, brushing back the hairs sticking to Abel’s sleeping face. “But no…we’re not married…I’m just…it’s—”
“—a complicated story,” Alex finished for her, moving to sit down. Tara’s eyes never wavered from her son’s peaceful expression as she felt the couch beside her. Not even when Alex softly muttered, “You were always a complicated story, Tara…didn’t stop me from trying to look you up off and on over the years…I missed you.”
“I should probably take Abel home,” Tara announced, leaning forward slowly, eyes on the sleeping boy in her lap. “I can’t let this mess with his routine.”
“Wait,” Alex urged, bracing a hand on her shoulder to still her movement. “I’m…I’m sorry I said that. It was unbelievably selfish—your life’s complicated enough and I’m not trying,”—Alex leapt up as his hand slid off her when she continued her ascent. He reached for her forearm this time, turning to face her, his head shaking. “I didn’t mean it the way it sounded, Tara.”
Tara cocked an eyebrow at him, a knowing look shone in her eyes as she adjusted the tiny blonde head tucked in the crook of her neck. “You didn’t?”
She didn’t pull as he slowly slid his hand down her arm to join it with hers. Tara followed the movement, watching as her hand was wrapped within the warmth of his. “Okay maybe I did,” Alex admitted when she didn’t immediately pull away.
“Alexander, I’m grateful to you,” Tara told him quietly. Unable to stop herself, she found her tear-glistened eyes meeting his—green locked with a chocolate-brown. “If you hadn’t saved him…”
“Do you love him?”
“I love my son. I love him more than I’ve ever loved anyone, and I c-c-c-can’t lose him.” Tara’s wounded gaze quickly shifted back to Abel’s face as Alex pulled her towards him, wrapping his arm around her, palm pressing into the small of her back. “I could have lost everything. If you hadn’t…I would have lost everything…Thank you.”
Alex’s answer was a gentle was to gently tip her chin up with his fingers, a brief moment to drink in the relief and gratitude in her eyes, and the happiness twisting up the corners of her trembling lips.
The palm of Tara’s free hand slowly made its way to his chest as he leaned in—and kissed her.
Dr. Tara Knowles—the very woman who’d helped her detoxed, coached her on how to plead for rehab instead of jail time—was the reason Wendy’s shoulder felt even number than the rest of her. The beeping of the monitors by her bedside was a recurring beat that was all too familiar to the recovering addict. It was a sound she’d grown accustomed to after years of needing her stomach pumped and her vitals resuscitated when she would overdose. Her emergency C-section the day Abel was born wasn’t the only time she’d used more drugs than her body could withstand, but it was the day she’d promised—on her child’s life—would be her last time lying in sterilized bedsheets with an IV drip threaded into her veins. She’d kept that promise for eleven months. She was supposed to be getting her one year chip in another three weeks.
“Ms. Case?” Wendy glanced up from the cool, clear liquid streaming its way into her favorite vein. “I understand you’re a little disoriented. The doctor said you lost a lot of blood before your girlfriend was able to get you to the hospital. I’ve already taken her statement, so she decided to venture out to the gift shop—give you a few minutes to tell me what happened. So…who shot you Wendy?”
“You must be the new Sheriff.” Wendy winced as she attempted to push herself to sit up straighter in the bed with her bad arm. “Shit…I think the meds are wearing off.”
“I apologize,” Sheriff Roosevelt answered, grimacing slightly as he eyed the gauze taped around her shoulder. “I asked the doc to lower your dose so you’d be alert enough to give me your statement.”
“My shoulder is fucking killing me,” Wendy narrowed her eyes in pain as the white-hot throbbing sensation increased. “Write that down.”
“Do you mind telling me what happened?”
Wendy’s eyebrows rose towards the light sheen of sweat peppering her forehead. “Do I have a choice?”
“Not unless you want me to assume you were involved in some kind of criminal activity,” Roosevelt warned. “I know you’re the Old lady of SAMCRO Vice President Jackson Teller. I also know that you recently filed for custody of the son you share. Normally he’d be my first pick on the suspects list but I’m aware that he’s serving a fourteen-month sentence in Stockton—or that he was at least.”
“Oh my God.” Wendy clapped a hand over her mouth, her eyes quickly glittering with unshed tears. “Jackson is—I mean, what the Hell happened? Was it the Irish—”
“Jackson Teller is in intensive care,” Roosevelt assured her. “Doc says he has a fifty-fifty shot at coming out of this alive. He was also shot tonight—while in prison. You want to shed some light on what’s happening?” Sheriff Roosevelt pulled a leather notepad from his, flipped it to a fresh page and clicked the pen he’d slid from between the sheets open. “And who did you mean when you said the Irish? Are you referring to the IRA? I’m aware that the Sons of Anarchy have been affiliated with—”
Wendy jumped when the door to her hospital room flew open.
The throbbing pain in her arm shot straight through her temple as she watched three men in leather SAMCRO Kuttes file into the room one by one. She couldn’t stop seeing the gun he’d pointed in her face even as Opie Winston’s arms hung loosely at his sides. Happy Lowman and Kozick looked considerably more trigger-happy, their hands twitching at their waists. All three men ignored the uniformed chief officer standing at the foot of her bed.
“How’s it going, Wendy?” Kozick’s voice was a higher octave than normal, his smile razor sharp as he approached her bedside. No one missed the way she flinched when he dipped down towards her, only to lightly press a kiss to her sweaty forehead. “We’ve been worried sick about you. What the Hell happened? I keep telling Jax he should get you to move out of that bad neighborhood you’ve been living in. Or were you just visiting? Jesus Christ—I hope you’re not using again!” Kozick made a show of lifting his shoulders with the bushy eyebrows above his eyes as he briefly glanced towards Roosevelt. “I know exactly what it’s like to struggle with addiction.”
“I’m well aware of Ms. Case’s past with drugs.” Roosevelt, wedged the fountain pen in his hand between the sheets of the notepad he was holding before tucking it back into his pocket. “Just as I’ve also been made aware that Dr. Knowles filed a restraining order against her,” He continued, eyes bouncing from Wendy to the three biker men crowding one side of her hospital bed. “Assuming my timeline is accurate, this order of protection was filed shortly after you retained counsel from Ms. Lowen.”
“You said so yourself, Chief.” Wendy winced as she made another futile attempt to adjust her body into a more comfortable position. “Lowen’s not my lawyer. She’s my girlfriend. And that whole order of protection situation was a misunderstanding. Tara and I are planning on working it out on our own terms. She’s pregnant…and hormonal. You know how us women are.”
“Is Tara Knowles the person who shot you?” Roosevelt asked.
“Are you fucking shitting me with this?” Kozick exclaimed, waving a hand towards the blonde woman struggling to answer his question without incriminating herself. “Did Tara shoot her—Tara’s the one who helped her get clean! She saved her fucking life. Not to mention—she’s the only reason Blondie here didn’t go down for negligent homicide or some shit for shooting up with a kid in her stomach.”
“There’s no actual law in the State of California that says a pregnant woman can be charged for—”
“Who gives a shit!” Kozick glared at Wendy, until she snapped her mouth shut again. “The point is that Doc’—um, Tara—she’s a healer. She doesn’t go around shooting people. She stitches people back together after they get shot.”
“According to St. Thomas employee directory Doctor Tara Knowles is a neonatal specialist,” Roosevelt hedged, cocking an eyebrow. “She’s a surgical resident in the pediatric department. I don’t imagine there being too many cases involving babies and bullet wounds…but then, I don’t want to assume you’re referring to medical procedure performed outside her work. That would be illegal—cause for a revoked medical license even.”
Wendy’s eyes widened, her lips moving before she could think better of it. No one missed the hope, the thinly-veiled hint of calculation in her voice, in the look she gave the bald-headed officer. “They’ll take her license for helping the club?”
“She hasn’t been helping the club,” Happy barked, his jaw clenched tightly. The threat of danger his harsh features exuded seemed to intensify, without his facial expression changing a tick.
“Tara’s got nothing to do with any club business,” Opie declared, shooting Wendy a rare glare of his own. “Not unless you considered mixing up some oatmeal in a pot or scrambling a few eggs for one of Gemma’s Sunday pancake breakfast’s helping.”
Kozick leaned in towards the handsome Sheriff, eyebrows wriggling. “You know what they say about ass-uming shit, don’t you Chief?”
Roosevelt made a point to roll his eyes at the spiky-haired biker before turning to take in the openly pleading look in Wendy’s eyes. “The doctor says they’re keeping you here overnight to make sure you’re clear of getting an infection. I’ll check back in with you tomorrow…give you a chance to get some rest…get your story straight.” They all watched as the newly appointed Sheriff of Charming County made a show of checking his watch. “In fact, visiting hours are just about over. Would you like me to escort these fellas out?”
Wendy hesitated, weighing her options before finally deciding that a hospital full of cameras and witnesses was the safest place to be threatened. “We’ve still got a couple minutes, don’t we? If it’s alright with you I’d like a moment to talk with them…hear how Jackson’s doing and everything.”
“…Of course,” Roosevelt nodded stiffly. His eyes left Wendy’s to flit towards the three men crowding her hospital room, the warning in his expression evenly matched with the sternness of his tone. “I should probably track down Ms. Knowles. Hear her side of things. And like I said…I’ll be back to check in on you later.”
It was amazing how a single word could change everything. The white-knuckled grip Tara held on her composure—all of the strength in her resolve to be strong disappeared the moment she heard his voice.
“Jackson!” Her tears wouldn’t stop. The sob caught in her throat was in competition with the relieved laughter bubbling up from her chest, propelling her forward until she was pushing the button to lower the railing on the left side of his hospital bed.
“Heyyy, Babe.” Jax’s lazy smile was more languid than normal as he stretched his arm out towards the same row of buttons, tapping until he found the one meant for raising the incline on the bed.
“Jackson, No.” Tara shook her head, worrying the corner of her bottom lip with her teeth as she took in every wince that hissed past his teeth when he tried sliding higher up. “You need to relax, Jackson. You just had major surgery.”
“You’re the one who should be relaxing, Tara.” Jax ignored the dull ache in his abdomen to lean forward, to press a palm to her stomach. “How’s my boy doing in there? You never did tell me when your next appointment was. Are they giving you a picture next time?”
The sonogram that her OB Dr. Addison had given her only hours before burned in the pocket of her lab coat, but she ignored the urge to share any of what she’d been up to while he’d been fighting for his life on an operating table. There would be time to talk about her health scare later. “He’s doing fine. Making me burn calories faster than I can eat them, making me tired, my feet swollen, and turning me into someone who cries when she forgets to cut the crust off Abel’s sandwich even though she knows he doesn’t like it.”
“So basically, he’s driving you crazy the way all of us Teller’s seem to do,” Jax teases, rubbing his hand along her stomach. He lifted his gaze towards the empty recliner chair on the other side of the room. “Where’s Abel? You left him with Gemma? God, He’s probably the only thing that’ll keep her calm right now. I doubt the Fed’s will let her out of house arrest to come up here. Honestly…I’m kind of hoping they won’t.”
You’re not the only one, Tara thought. “Abel is with Margaret.”
Jax’s eyebrows drew closer. “The redhead who was threatening you before?”
“We made amends.”
“You trust her?”
Tara raised a single eyebrow. “Do you think I’d leave Abel with her if I didn’t trust her?”
Jax half-raised his hands in surrender before they dropped heavy at his sides. “No, Ma’am.”
“What?” Tara asked when he shook his head at her. The corners of his mouth twitched until he finally gave into the cocky smile that always got them—her—in trouble. “What’s so funny, Jax?”
“Nothing,” Jax started, a light chuckle escaping in between the dry cough muffled behind the fist he raised to his mouth. “It’s just… I would have gotten myself shot a long time ago if I knew this was the wakeup call I had to look forward to. I’ve missed your smile…Your real one,” He said, sliding the hand on her stomach down to lock his fingers with hers on the bed.
Tara yanked her hand away from his, slapping it over her mouth. She doubled over as far as her pregnant belly allowed for, her face buried beneath her palms. The gut-wrenching sobs making her body shake all over were too pained, too violent to muffle, even with her mouth clamped shut.
“Whoah.” Jax barely noticed the pain shooting through his sides, and for a moment he was able to fight the fatigue, the sluggishness of the anesthesia still in his system to sit all the way forward, to pry her hands away from her tear-soaked face. He pressed a thumb to her chin, urging her head up so she could meet the concern crinkling his eyes at the corners. “Hey, Hey…Tara, Babe. It was a shitty joke, I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry—”
“You should be!” Tara screeched, knocking his hand away from her face. “You should be really fucking sorry, Jackson. Do you have any idea what could have happened? What almost happened? I almost lost two people I love last night.”
“What?” If possible, Jax’s posture straighten a little more. “Someone else got hurt? Opie? Piney?”
“I’m not talking about your club—I’m talking about Abel, Jackson.” The realization in his eyes, the guilt swimming in all the shades of blue, it dried up all of her tears. It relit the fuse that had been hair-trigger sensitive ever since the day Abel was ripped from her arms at knife-point all those months ago. “God, I am so sick of this shit. I’m never there when you need me because you won’t let me—you can’t ever let me be here for you. You rely on everyone else. Porn whores, your psychotic mother. It’s never me.”
“Tare, you’re here with me now,” Jax argued gently. “And I’m not pushing you away. Babe, you’re the only one I want here with me. You, me and our boys.”
“I’m here now.”
“What are you saying?” Jax squinted his eyes at her, a cold feeling settling in his chest at the lack of emotion in her voice, the emphasis her flat tone placed on her being here ‘now’. “You think I’m going to pull away again? Babe, I promise—”
“The only reason I’m here is because the doctor said you would pull through.” Venom she couldn’t swallow down bled into every word on her tongue, the anger and disappointment beat down the love and relief she felt to see him alive until the glare darkening her eyes was all she had left to show him. “I only showed up when I knew you were going to survive. But before…I couldn’t. I couldn’t be here for you—I couldn’t grieve for you, I couldn’t think about you or what I’d do without you and just like all the other times, it’s your fault. I shouldn’t even feel guilty about it, but I still do. I feel guilty when this shit is on you. You made it this way. It’s you, Jackson. You’re making me this way.”
“I’m sorry for pushing you away,” Jax said, not for the first or tenth or last time. “I was just trying to protect you, but I know it was wrong. And I know it’s not an excuse, and I know you said you’re tired of hearing I’m sorry—but shit, Tara, I don’t know what else to say to you. I love you and I’m sorry that my actions haven’t been matching up with my words lately. I want to fix this.”
Tara raked a hand through her hair, frustration making her sound winded when she spoke. “You’re still talking to me about what you want. But this isn’t about you anymore. This is about Abel, Jax. This is about the fact that your mother would sooner see me dead than let me be his mother. This is about that crank whore you married showing up, trying to snatch him away from both of us. If you died…God, Jackson…I love you—and you almost died. And I wanted to cry for you, but I couldn’t. I wanted to pray you’d be okay but all I could think about was losing my son and I…I blame you for that.”
When he reached for her hand again, Tara let him. She didn’t react to the gentle squeeze of his fingers threaded between hers, the incontestable love and want radiating in his own tear-glistening gaze. “I love you, too, Babe. Always have. No more half in, half out. I’m here.”
“You have to trust me, Jax. If you want me here, you have to trust me.”
“I do trust you—”
“Then sign the fuckin papers!” Even Tara flinched at the heightened octave of her voice. But it didn’t stop her, didn’t quiet her down, didn’t keep her from rising up from the edge of his bed to peer down at him, resolution clear in her lovelorn expression. “You have to do this, Baby. Not just because I’m asking—No, you need to do this for your son. You have to do this for us.”
Jax held his hand out, counting the measured seconds before Tara walked forward to slide hers into his. “You’re not just a babysitter.” Jax tightened his grip, with his eyes he begged her not to try to pull away again, to let him finish saying all the words that weren’t ‘Yes’, ‘Okay’, or ‘I’ll sign them’. Silently, he pleaded with her to stay there with him, to listen, to try to understand. “And I’m not just a sperm donor…”
“He’s your son,” Tara argued, already shaking her head. “No one would ever question that.”
“He’s our son.”
“We should get married.”
Tara’s hand slid from his as she slowly sat back down at the edge of his bed. Back at Stockton, he’d hinted at it during their disastrous visitation session. But it wasn’t the first time he’d asked her to marry him. That would have been back when they were nineteen, when they were standing at a crossroad and he could see her feet turning to run in the opposite direction. Tara couldn’t help the smile that tempted her lips as she thought about her sixteen-year old self—the girl who scribbled Dr. Tara Knowles Teller on the dividers in her five-subject notebook during boring AP classes. Nor could she stop the pang in the pit of her stomach, the frown winning out on curving the corners of her mouth when she turned her head to look at him. She could see it in his eyes, that her ghost of a smile, however fleeting, had renewed the hope he had for a hopeless solution to the recurring issue in their relationship. Marriage wasn’t a band-aid, it wasn’t a reset button, a do-over for all the times he’d broken his promise to be back from a club run in time to give her a ride to UCLA for a campus tour. It wouldn’t erase the memory of him telling her Abel wasn’t his.
“Do you remember how it was before Belfast?” Jax’s voice broke the strained silence when her smile didn’t return to match his own disappearing grin. “Before I found out what happened to Gemma? The club divided between me and Clay, Me wanting to go Nomad…”
“I was there, Jax—for all of it,” Tara said. “I wasn’t the one who left this time.”
Jax nodded once, eyes flitting towards the window, staring out into the night, the darkness not unlike the miles of road stretched out in front of him whenever he went for a ride. “You and Gemma were worried about me being on the road on my own. But the truth is…I went Nomad a long time ago, Tara. I’ve been riding alone since I was nineteen, when you left me. I know it’s a shitty excuse, but I got so used to…to trying to survive on my own, without needing anyone ever again…without needing you. I finally figured out how to function without my other half—my better half. And then you came back. And you saved Abel. You saved my son, the only person in this world I’ll ever love as much as I love you…I’m tired of riding on my own, Babe. I don’t want to be a Nomad anymore. I want to be with my family. I’m trying to come home. But it’s not up to me. You’re the one with the gavel. I need you to vote yes.”
“What do you mean I can’t go see him? He’s my son… well right now I don’t know if he’ll be alive tomorrow and that asshole D.A expects me to see sit tight and wait until I get invited down to I.D his body? I don’t want to hear you can’t make it happen. What the Hell am I paying you for?”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Morrow, but Jax’s doctor confirmed that him and the correction officer are both stable. Not that he’s out of the woods, the D.A won’t budge. And if you try to leave, he will send you to County to finish the rest of your probation behind bars. But this is good thing, right? If they approved furlough for you that would mean he’s in worse shape. Maybe—”
Gemma snatched the cellphone away from her ear, tossing it towards the kitchen wall. Her chest heaved as she glared down at the shattered remains of her last prepaid phone. She’d have to get one of the prospects to make a run to the store to buy more disposable cells. It was funny how many she’d gone through since that Doctor Bitch had come to town. Her son’s head hadn’t been screwed on right since he brought Tara Knowles, the town drunk’s daughter to his first clubhouse rager. She’d been twisting him up ever since they were sixteen. Distracting him, letting crazed Irish men kidnap her grandson, jerking her son around so much he lost focus and nearly got himself killed in Stockton.
The bitch was poison.
And now Tara was threatening to take it a step further—she was threatening to unearth a secret that would ruin Jackson and all of SAMCRO—the organization she helped build—for good. As screwed up as it was, Gemma didn’t know what was scarier. That her son might die before she got to see him or that he’d wake up to more of Tara’s lies—accusations and assumptions without a shred of evidence to back it up. Who the Hell had even told her? Clay would never reveal his own betrayal. And Tara hadn’t made it to Belfast for that Irish Gash to poison her the way that Judas Priest had tried to poison Jax. There was only one other person who could have let on. There’s only one way she would have known about fake accident reports.
“Gemma?” Gemma turned her head towards the entryway, her eyes locking on the concerned face of Wayne Unser. “You doing alright? I’ve been calling your name for two minutes? Did someone call to update you about Jax? You know he’s fine right? He made it through the surgery.”
“Rowan says the D.A won’t give me a day pass to see him.”
Wayne nodded once. “Yeah, well…that’s a good thing, Gem. It means he’s not critical anymore.”
“There’s nothing good about this shit!” Gemma slammed her hand down on the counter. “How the Hell does Tara know anything about you faking JT’s accident report?”
Wayne’s eyes widened. “What?”
“She knows something, Wayne. And I sure as shit didn’t tell her. Clay didn’t either. So that just leaves you.”
“I-I-I didn’t tell her anything,” Wayne insisted, holding his hands up, waving them surrender. “I got no idea how she found out. And you need calm down, Gemma. Tara’s smart. She’s probably just fishing to see how you’ll react.”
Gemma stepped back to reach for the handle of the drawer in front of her, pulling it open. Wayne stepped forward, reaching out towards her when she pulled a long, serrated kitchen knife from inside of it. Gemma shrugged off the hand Wayne placed on her shoulder. “Wayne…Call an ambulance.”
“What?” Wayne looked down the at the carving knife in her hand. “For what? What the Hell are you doing? Gemma what the Hell!”
Gemma winced, her eyes squeezing tight as the blade sliced through her arm. Blood glinted along the knife as she pulled it back, wiping her prints off the handled before tossing it to the kitchen floor.
“Gemma, what the Fuck?”
“Make the call,” Gemma demanded, watching as the blood gushed from the wound along her forearm. The open wound couldn’t compare to the gash she’d have in her heart from the knife Tara threatened to twist in it. “I need a doctor.”
Alicia was waiting for her in her office when she turned the key in the lock, pushing it open. Abel sat beside her, content as could be, drawing on a mini-coloring book with a crayon from the box on the one empty spot remaining on the couch. “You’ve got some explaining to do, Knowles.”
Tara rushed towards the woman rising to stand, enveloping her in as tight a hug as her stomach allowed. “I was wondering if it was really you I saw or if maybe I was hallucinating.”
“There was something in your voice on the phone,” Alicia told her, pulling back after one last squeeze. “It sounded like you needed more than a teleconference about adoption and custody trials. And Tara…I’m going to need more than the cliff notes you gave me over the phone…What happened?”
Tara’s answering laugh lacked any actual mirth. Her smile was tight as she moved to sit down next to Abel, leaning over to kiss the top of his head. Alicia sat down on the other side of the quiet child, watching the way Tara’s eyes were fixed on the downy soft blonde hair she ran her hands through while Abel continued to color. “How long ago did Margaret hand him over to you?”
“It took a lot of convincing to get her to let me take him,” Alicia admitted, grinning. “She didn’t leave until they finally gave up on trying to page her to announce her presence being needed in the E.R over the intercom. That’s a loyal friend you’ve got there. She also mentioned something a Gemma Teller…something about not letting her anywhere near him if she showed up. Teller…the same last name as Abel and Jackson…this the infamous Biker mom that you said rivaled any of the shit my mother-in-law Jackie puts me through?”
Tara couldn’t even fake a smile. “That’s the one.”
“You got a twenty on you?” Alicia asked, holding her hand out when Tara nodded. When the other brunette pulled a twenty-dollar bill from the breast pocket of her scrubs, Alicia barely spared the money a glance before unsnapping the briefcase resting by her leg, tossing the crisp bill inside and turning all the way around, legs crossing, to face her. “That makes it official. I’m hired, which means attorney client privilege starts now. Tell me everything I need to know.”
“Jesus, Alicia.” Tara combed a hand through her hair, pulling it all over to one shoulder. “I don’t even know where to begin.”
“Well…how about I start with what I already know.” When Tara nodded, Alicia uncrossed hers, folding her hands in her lap. “I know why you left Chicago. Joshua Kohn, the FBI creep you met at the bar the night of my bachelorette party. He kept violating the restraining order until he finally chased you away, only to follow you here. The last note in his file was that he was suspended but no one seems to be able to tell me what’s happened to him since then. His supervisor says he’s been missing.”
Tara looked down, her green eyes fixed on the paper in Abel’s lap. All the swirls and scratches of red scrawled along the page from the crayon in his hand. “He left Charming…after the suspension he just…left.”
Tara wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but when she looked up the expression on her old college roommates face made it clear she didn’t believe her. “Anything you tell me is privileged, Tara. And not just because it’s the law, but because you’re one of my oldest friends and I came here because I want to help you. But you have to shoot straight with me.”
Shooting is what got me into all of this shit, Tara thought. Before she could divulge anything there came a knock on her office door. “Dr. Knowles?” The door was already being pushed open as she stood up. “Ah, finally. How are things, Doctor? I hope you and the baby—”
“We’re fine,” Tara answer, a tight smile fixed on her face. Sheriff Roosevelt’s inquisitive stare didn’t seem to be focused on the health of her pregnancy so much as it was judging how to approach whatever subject he’d come to broach with her. “You and your wife settling in to Charming alright—Oh I’m sorry, this is my friend Alicia. She’s visiting from Chicago. Alicia, this is Charming’s new Sheriff.”
“Nice to meet you,” Alicia said, smiling in response to the polite head nod he tossed her way before turning his focus back towards Tara.
Tara folded her arms across her chest. “Did you need me to make a statement or something?”
“Uh, yes—actually could we maybe talk privately for a moment?” The Sheriff cut his eyes towards the other green-eyed brunette in the room—the one in the power suit, with the briefcase in her lap. “It shouldn’t take long.”
Tara squinted her eyes at him, briefly casting a glance at the little boy who was uncharacteristically content on his own as he colored. “What’s this about?”
Alicia shook her head when the Sheriff turned to look expectantly at her. “Correct me if I’m wrong but this seems to be the kind of situation she should have a lawyer present for. That lawyer being me, of course.”
Roosevelt sighed, nodding once before reaching inside of his jacket. Alicia’s eyes grew wide with surprise as she watched him pull a revolver in a plastic evidence bag from his pocket. “One of my deputies found this on the driver’s seat in your car. You must have dropped it when you ran out into the parking lot. Tara…you want to tell me why you’re driving around with a gun?”
One more chance baby and don’t say No,
because I’ve got another side to show…
Some say love is painful,
It helps you grow…
Well it’s time for the pain to go, \
Baby smile today
Cause’ I been imaginin’ more ways
… I’m gon’ love you better