“HARDER TO BREATHE”
How dare you say that my behavior’s unacceptable
So condescending, unnecessarily critical
I have the tendency of getting very physical
So watch your step ’cause if I do you’ll need a miracle
You drain me dry and make me wonder why I’m even here
This Double Vision I was seeing is finally clear
You want to stay but you know very well I want you gone
Not fit to fuckin’ tread the ground that I am walking on
When it gets cold outside and you got nobody to love
You’ll understand what I mean when I say
There’s no way we’re gonna give up
And like a little girl cries in the face of a monster that lives in her dreams
Is there anyone out there?
‘Cause it’s getting harder and harder to breathe
Abel Teller was not a fan of watching his mother leave him behind.
The eleven-month old screamed bloody murder before Tara even turned the corner. And he’d left Tara’s supervisor with a lovely scratch along the lense of her glasses to remember him by when he’d knocked them off her face in a fit of pint-sized rage. The keys he’d weaponized had fallen to the floor, lost and forgotten all about because Abel was much too focused on achieving the impossible: flying out of the unfamiliar redhead’s arms and landing into those of the green-eyed brunette walking back towards them—with a peculiar cross between frustration and amusement twitching the corners of her mouth.
“Cut it out,” Tara crooned, sweeping him into her arms before he could wiggle any further out of Margaret’s. Kissing the top of his head over and over, Tara bounced him in her arms for the ten minutes it took to settle him down. And when he stubbornly refused to accept the keys Margaret hurried to wash off and hand back to him—clinging tighter around his mother’s neck instead—the determined doctor knew that it was time to move on to one of the nuclear weapons in her arsenal.
Tara bought a pack that looked the least dangerous (for poor Margaret’s sake) from the vending machine.
After suggesting that they ‘hang out’ in Tara’s office, Margaret spent the length of their walk from the Nurse’s station trying to convince her that she’d made the right choice accepting Alex Chambers’ job offer. When that hadn’t worked, St. Thomas’ most highly regarded clerical employee resigned to making herself comfortable in her rolling chair, while Tara powered up the laptop on her desk.
“I’m coming right back, I promise,” Tara cooed, needlessly assuring the baby boy in her arms. Abel was content with the piece of cookie she’d forked over, alternating between relishing the sweet vanilla flavor and rubbing at his itching gums when he wasn’t biting with the two teeth peeking out at the front of his mouth. He was a drooling, giggling mess by the time the first music video on the Nick Jr. playlist she’d made for him was finished.
Both women laughed when he mushed the keys Margaret tried handing him away—again—this time, reaching to grab at the bag of cookies still in Tara’s hand when she finally settled him down into the tickled redhead’s lap. “He’s a handful, isn’t he?”
“Yeah,” Tara answered, eyes brightening at the little boy dancing to the Backyardigans song that had started playing next. “He’s my handful…”
Margaret swallowed hard, switching the cookies to the hand balancing Abel on her knee. The elder woman reached up to adjust the glasses sliding down the bridge of her nose, sighing as she squared her shoulders, preparing for round four. “Tara—”
“I’ll call you when I’m on my way back,” Tara blurted, turning on her heel to leave. The final backwards glance she tossed over her shoulder was for the little boy squinting his eyes with determination as he tried to wrestle his snack from her worried supervisor’s grip. “Thank you,” She added, forcing her anger down to smile.
Fear, skepticism, and pity—it was all there, reflected on Margaret Murphy’s face. But she was still willing to help, if not root for what Tara wanted. And that was what mattered.
Opie Winston turned his head at the sound of the door to his dorm room being pushed open. Reflexively, he pulled at the sheets bunched up around them, swiftly covering up the pretty blonde sleeping soundly and naked next to him. “You ever hear of knocking, Shithead?”
Even though he could already see the incredulity shining in the young prospect’s eyes, Rat-boy had wisely chosen not to speak the words clearly reflected in his expression aloud. Opie was well aware that most, if not all of his club brothers—and many others—had already seen everything his porn star girlfriend had to offer.
But it still didn’t put him above punching someone in the mouth for pointing it out.
“Sorry, Man.” Rat scratched at the side of his neck, taking a few steps inside the room. “It’s just you’ve been gone all day and then we had church. Then I had to go to the store for Piney and pick up those ‘scripts for Hap’s mom and Bobby’s kid. Then your girl shows up here and now my girl’s bitchin to me about never being around even though I just took her ass on a vacation. So yeah…we uh…well I haven’t had the chance to ask what you wanted me to do about Gemma. I’m usually on Tara’s tail right about now. Shit, her shift just ended unless she’s doing some kind of operation…So…?”
Opie gently pulled his arm from around Lyla’s waist as he sat up, leaning his back against the headboard. He reached over the phone he’d taken from the clubhouse kitchen, grabbing the lighter and carton of cigarettes on the nightstand next to it. “Gemma call you and Phil about Tara again?”
Ratboy walked further into the room, stopping at the edge of the bed. Lyla had choesen that moment to roll over, turning her back to the naked man lying next to her. As she snuggled against the pillow tucked underneath her head, Opie snapped his fingers twice, drawing the ogling prospect’s attention away for her breasts.
“Huh?” Rat blinked several times before actually acknowledging the death glare he was shooting him. “What? Oh right—yeah, No. Not today she didn’t. She actually called and told me she didn’t need me to come finish the painting the guest room like Clay wanted me to. Said I could finish it tomorrow. She’s got some shit to take care of tonight.” Opie cocked an eyebrow when the younger man paused, carefully considering his words before throwing caution to the wind. Rat leaned forward, lowering his voice when he asked, “Dude, you think Gemma’s fuckin around on Clay? ‘Cause I mean, she doesn’t let me or Phil have the night off no other time and I mean, I know there’s the prison clause and all—”
“That’s none of your business,” Opie interrupted. He threw the sheets off his legs, unaware that he’d exposed Lyla’s ass until he looked up from the boxers he was pulling his legs into to see the prospect’s eyes were once again where they weren’t supposed to be. “Tara been going by that hotel?’
“Nah, it was just that one time a couple weeks back,” Rat answered, quickly averting his gaze as he caught the deadly bite in the brooding biker’s tone. “I told you, Man. The ‘Doc blew out of there like she couldn’t leave fast enough. Whatever this Chambers asshole did with her—or to her—I don’t know, but he obviously—”
“You obviously don’t know shit so keep your mouth shut,” Opie barked. His nostrils were flaring when he gestured with the lit cigarette between his fingers, pointing it at him as smoke blew out through his nose. “Just go make sure Tara and the kid get home in one peace. We can’t expect this bullshit with the Russians to get settled overnight. I’ll come take over in an hour or two. No more reporting shit to Gemma. If the matriarch wants to know she’ll ask her. And stop going around gossiping like some chick, Idiot…or you’ll be prospecting for Gemma’s flower club instead.”
“Right…My bad.” Rat braved a final glance at the naked woman tangled up the bed sheets before scurrying towards the exit much like the animal the club named him after.
Shaking his head, Opie slid back onto the bed. A wry smirk crept its way across his mouth when he turned to glance at the blonde in bed with him. “Did you get all of that, Baby?”
For a moment, it seemed he was mistaken—until Lyla finally gave up the pretense, turning back around to face him, grinning as she met the knowing look in his eyes. “It’s not like I’ll ever know what’s going on otherwise.”
“I only tell you what you need to know,” Opie explained, chuckling despite himself at the unabashed expression on her face. Blunt as his words were, the soft lilt of his voice somehow assuaged the stern warning behind them. If anyone could tell a woman to stay out of his business and come out of it unscathed it was Opie Winston.
Lyla sat up with him then, moving in close enough for him to wrap his arms around her. When he tilted his head down to kiss her, she smiled against his mouth, entwining her fingers with the hand he rubbed against her stomach. “They’ll get through it, won’t they?” Lyla asked, tipping her head back to read his expression. “Tara and Jackson, I mean,” She continued, when he stopped staring at her lips to raise his eyebrows. “I know Ima fucked things up but…I don’t know… they have the kind of love I always wanted with someone…it would be a shame if it didn’t work out. It’s just too…I mean…they’ll get through this…right?”
“I hope so,” Opie answered, looking down at their joined hands on his chest. “Some people are only at their best when they’re with the right person…and you only ever get one of those…”
It was only for a second or two—one minute, at the most. And that was quite long enough. The smile spread across her blushing face vanished when she followed his eyes. Lyla’s mouth pulled down at the corners, her blue eyes narrowed in anger as she yanked her hand away from his. Opie’s gaze slipped away from the tan line where his wedding band used to be to glance up at the half-naked women rushing to add her jeans and blouse to the panties and bra she’d quickly snatched on.
Opie’s eyebrows threaded together, he balanced the cigarette he’d been reaching for back on the edge of the ashtray next to him as he sat up straighter. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Lyla hissed, bending over to swipe her sandals from underneath the bed. “I need to take Piper home.”
“The kids are already sleeping. They’re in the room next door,” Opie reminded her. He shook his head slowly when she continued to ignore him, walking around the edge of the bed, looking for the purse he’d already spotted on the floor next to him.
“What the fuck did I do now?” Opie griped. He slid down to the foot of the bed, grabbing a hold of her arm. When the clubhouse landline started ringing, he leaned back, snatching the cordless phone off the nightstand. Lyla scowled at the hand he still kept curled firmly around her wrist while he clicked the phone on, pressing it to his ear. “Collect call?” Opie mumbled to himself, staring quizzically at the time blinking red on the digital clock on top of the TV. His thumb pressed against the acceptance key while Lyla huffed in frustration. “Since when do they let you use the phones this late? I thought Alvarez said we’re out of favors until…”
Lyla tapped her foot impatiently for a minute or two, before finally deciding she’d done enough waiting for the night. “Get the fuck—off me!” She growled, easily yanking her arm free of his grip. She’d stormed all the way over towards the door, tearing it open to stomp out into the hallway before even looking back to glare at him. Only then, did it occur to her that he’d let her go—and had yet to notice she was leaving.
The deadly look abruptly darkening his hazel eyes was the biggest tell of all, if there ever was one when it came to the club’s most enigmatic member. That and the subtle fear layered beneath his rage was enough to abate all of the bitterness she felt. Concern took its place as she crossed back over the threshold, folding her arms over her chest as she walked back into the room. “…Opie?”
Opie’s eyes snapped towards her, he didn’t even bother lifting the phone away from his ear. “Get out,” He barked, turning his back to her as he stood up. “What do you mean you don’t know?” The angry biker bellowed, digging his free hand into his scalp. “Who was watching his back? What the FUCK happened, Clay?!”
“Jesus!” Wendy hissed, pulling her hand away from the steering wheel. Parking close enough to the curb couldn’t have been further from her mind as she yanked the stick-shift of the rental car into park. The anxious blonde turned in her seat, gaping wide-eyed at the lawyer sitting in the passenger seat next to her. “What the Hell are you doing?!”
Ally Lowen’s eyes remained focused on the task at hand. “Relax,” She replied, assessing that the gun she was holding was properly loaded. “I’m just checking it.”
“We got a meeting with the mafia that I don’t know about?” Wendy quipped, eyebrows shooting up her forehead. “What is wrong with you? You can’t go in there with that. She’s on house arrest for Christ’s sake. Gemma is about Gemma first—
always. She’s not going to fuck herself over to spite anyone. So you tell me , what can she really do to us and get away with right now?”
Lowen’s mouth twisted left to right, condescension clear in her expression when she cut her eyes in Wendy’s direction. “Now you see, that shit right there? That’s exactly why I said this was a bad idea,” Ally fumed, shaking her head as she slipped the gun back into her purse. “We tried it your way when you went to Tara. And now you want to step right into the lion’s den with the only real threat to you right now. You can lock a lion in a cage long as you want, Babe. It’s still a fuckin lion.”
“Are you done?” Wendy nodded her head up at the house she’d parked in front of. There was no way to be sure but something told her she hadn’t imagined seeing Gemma peek out through the blinds of her living room. “I’ve made up my mind. We find out where her head is at and then we decide how to handle them both.”
Wendy reached over her to her side of the car, slamming her hand down on the button below the dashboard, pushing the compartment open. “Put the gun away.”
“I already did,” Ally seethed, snapping it shut. Yanking at the handle, she pushed her car door open, climbing out onto the sidewalk before the blonde gaping at her from the driver’s seat could protest any further. If Wendy was waiting for her to leave the gun in the car, she’d be waiting a long time. “Are you coming or not?”
Shaking her head, Wendy stepped out into the street, clicking the locks on the shiny black rental as she joined her rattled girlfriend on the curb at the end of the driveway. Strained silence fell between them as they made the slow approach, down the walkway and up the stairs before settling in on the porch. After taking a moment to collect herself, Wendy was reaching a hand up to ring the doorbell when the front door opened, revealing Gemma—and the gun she was holding at her side.
“Gemma.” Wendy’s nails dug into the skin of Ally’s forearm, stopping the gasping lawyer from pulling the hand she’d immediately shoved into her purse out until she felt her slowly release what she’d been holding onto. “I see house arrest hasn’t stopped you from showing your invited guests how happy you are to see them.”
Gemma’s answering snicker was absent of any actual mirth, the smile tipping up the corners of her mouth didn’t meet the menacing look in her olive eyes, and her finger seemed to tap dance against the trigger of the gun in her hand as she waved it in gesture—ushering the two of them inside.
Gemma continued with gesturing the gun in her hand, urging the pair of them towards her kitchen. Her smile grew dangerously close to crinkling the corners of her eyes when Ally Lowen paused every two steps to look back at her, stopping short in front of the blonde stepping on the backs of her shoes in the process.
Wendy seemed to have more faith in the club’s oldest philosophy ‘brain over bullets’.
Sure, Gemma Teller was more dangerous than most full-patched members. But the woman was all about self-preservation. Gemma would never do anything to risk her freedom. Murdering two people in the middle of her dining room was as risky as it got. Gemma wouldn’t go that far, not in her own home—the home she was currently not allowed to leave. Even if she was standing in front of the lawyer and ex-daughter-in-law that had been plotting to take her grandson from her.
Gemma wouldn’t go there, Wendy thought. The muscles in her face strained as she struggled to convey the words in her mind through her expression when Lowen’s fingers twitched with the urge to reach back into her purse.
“So,” Gemma started, cutting through the silence. She nodded her head at the lawyer standing next to seat Wendy had pulled out for her, gesturing with the gun in her hand, pointing the barrel of it back and forth between the two of them. “This is the reason you showed up on my doorstep talking all that shit about suing Jackson for custody…”
Wendy stilled Lowen’s hand once more, this time pulling the straps to the designer handbag down her shoulder. She dropped the purse on the floor, before plopping down into the chair next to it.
There was an almost-knowing glint in Gemma’s eyes as she followed the bag until it disappeared from view, with a loud thud against the hardwood floor. But if she’d caught on, the lack of concern in her haughty expression didn’t give any indication. Gemma stepped forward, her hard, olive eyes fixed on the criminal defense attorney who had yet to take the seat next to her girlfriend. “You been breaking that attorney-client privilege shit Rowan told us about. Did you forget who the criminals are in this relationship? You’re the one that has to follow law.”
“We showed up like you asked,” Wendy hedged. With great resistance, the exasperated blonde managed with only crossing her arms, keeping her eyes straight ahead at the woman taunting them from across the table. “And you wouldn’t have asked us to come here if you didn’t have some kind of play you want to make against the chick pulling on your baby boy’s puppet strings. There’s only reason you’d call me here instead of sending one of Clay’s lackeys to scare me out of town—or worse…I’m guessing Tara is the one holding all the cards right now. Why else would you need me—”
“I don’t need you for shit,” Gemma growled, clicking the safety off the gun. Ally, who’d finally sat down, albeit on the edge of the chair next to her, jerked sideways—brown eyes wide with fear and outrage when the blonde sitting next to her once again blocked her from getting to the weapon concealed in her purse.
“You’re right,” Wendy challenged, raising her eyebrows as she gestured from the heart pounding away in her chest to the woman standing across from her. “We need each other.”
When Gemma dropped the hand holding the gun at her side, Lowen dared dropping her gaze to the briefcase she’d placed on the table to make reaching inside her other bag easier. Unsnapping the silver buckle, she pulled several thick manila envelopes, a legal pad, some pens and a notary kit from inside, spreading everything out on the table. “Jax called my office three times today, asking to speak to me,” the jumpy lawyer stammered. “Tara must have told him—”
“—about you trying to steal his kid from him?” Gemma barked, brandishing the gun in her grip as she focused her eyes on Wendy. “Maybe I should tell you all about what happened to last man who tried to take Abel from us. This bitch must have skipped over all the important chapters when you had your head between her legs.”
“Look, Gemma. I’m here because I want what’s best for Abel.” Wendy shook her head, once again bringing a hand to her chest, pressing her palm against it. “I’m not the one who wants to take Abel away. Full custody means I’ll have more say in his wellbeing and how he’s raised but it doesn’t mean you and Jax don’t get to see him. I’m looking into apartments nearby Charming. I put in for a transfer and they accepted me so now I have a job at the St. Thomas clinic working as an aide—”
“Yeah,” Ally Lowen snorted, interrupting. “Until Tara tries to enforce that restraining order against you. How many feet did it say you have to stay away from her?”
Wendy sighed, rolling her eyes. “I don’t want to uproot Abel’s life, Gemma. I want to give him stability—something he hasn’t had since he was born. And I know that it’s my fault. He had a rough start to begin with because I let him down. But things can’t keep going the way they are. He was kidnapped and taken to another Country for Christ Sake. All of the enemies the club has? How long before he’s collateral damage—again? He needs some distance from all of this shit…at least until Jax can get it together and handle all of the club shit that’s making this town bleed. And Tara…”
“Jackson doesn’t want you to taking Abel on,” Gemma reminded her, crossing her arms. “And I don’t either. I don’t trust you or this lawyer gash your screwing. At least I know Tara wouldn’t kill her kid over a twenty-dollar fix.”
“We’re not the ones trying to take Abel from you,” Ally Lowen interjected, finding her voice again. Her hand shook as she slid one of the documents from the pile across the tale for Gemma to snatch up. “You’re right. It wasn’t a slip up…Tara has been trying to adopt Abel. And Jax knew about a lot of it but he doesn’t know that she’s been having me look into family law in Chicago, Oregon and Seattle. She’s got job offers from multiple hospitals. Once she gets legal custody of Abel she can file with the courts to declare your son an unfit parent just like Wendy can and should.”
“But unlike me,” Wendy commented, steering Gemma away from the obvious dig about her son. “Tara doesn’t plan on sticking around. Once she has sole legal and physical custody of Abel—and your other grandchild—she’s free to go wherever she wants and you and Jax can’t do shit about it.”
“Jax will never believe me if I tell him the truth,” Lowen added, shaking her head. Her body trembled a little less, and her voice gained the tiniest hint of confidence as she transitioned into attorney mode for the jury of one. “You know that. She’s the one holding all the cards right now and even you can’t get through to Jax. I know he’s been shutting everyone out—including his own mother. She’s got him, just like she had him when she left years ago..and he almost killed himself chasing after her. He’s going to side with Tara automatically, no matter what…unless….”
Gemma shrugged her shoulders, tipping her head to one side several seconds after the scheming lawyers sentence trailed off. “Unless what?”
Wendy chose that moment to nod at the gun still in Gemma’s hand. “You wanna put that away so we can actually sit down and figure this shit out?”
“I don’t know if I should,” Gemma sneered, hard eyes bouncing between the two of them. “If this conversation doesn’t go the way I want it to I might need it.”
“You’re not going to shoot anyone,” Wendy challenged, staring pointedly at her. “If you were you would have done it already. Or sent one of your prospects to botch the job.”
Gemma smirked at that, shaking her head as she turned briefly to walk around the island countertop, jiggling the handle on the top drawer open until it finally slid open. “Don’t push your luck, Bitch,” the outlaw matriarch warned, dropping the gun back inside. Gemma chuckled under her breath when she looked up to see relief wash over Wendy’s face, a shaky hand raking through her hair, and the labored rise and fall of the woman’s chest as she finally released the breath she’d been holding since they first walked in.
Margaret Murphy jerked her head up as the office door flew open.
Chief Nursing Officer Brenda Swanson was shortly followed by two interns from St. Thomas’ new surgical program. “Thank God!” Swanson exclaimed, clutching her chest as she struggled to slow her heavy breathing. “What, did you lose your pager?”
“Not exactly,” Margaret answered, smiling wryly. The little boy fast asleep in her arms had been responsible for the scattered remains of the pager on the floor next to Tara’s desk. It was some other Murphy’s law—the way she ran out of cookies at the same time the internet decided to fritz, causing his Nick Jr playlist to buffer. It was too late to console him once the spoiled to realized he had been conned. Abel twisted, turned and wailed until he’d fallen asleep—just twenty minutes before the intrusion.
“We’ve got two GSW’s on their way in,” Swanson explained. “One of them is a V.I.P.”
The head of Nurses turned, snapping her fingers at the two wide-eyed interns standing next to her. “One of you!” She barked. “Take the baby. Chief wants Murphy running point on everything.”
“Everything?” Margaret stood up from Tara’s couch quickly as she could manage without stirring the child who’d only recently fallen asleep in her arms. “What’s going on? Who’s the V.I.P?”
“Some correction’s officer got shot at Stockton Prison,” Answered the intern with the last name Yang embroidered on her lab coat.
“What?!” Margaret narrowed her eyes. “He got shot in the prison? How the Hell did that happen?”
“They’re twenty minutes out,” the other intern added, grinning and all but rubbing his palms together. “My first cardio surgery—sounds like an awesome one, too. I heard he was shot three times in his….”
“No, awesome is my guy,” Doctor Yang boasted. “He has an actual preexisting heart condition and he’s…”
Swanson shoved the two babbling interns aside, holding her arms out for Abel after neither intern stepped up to do so. “Chief wants you in charge—says you have to make sure the San Joaquin County police department doesn’t make a mess of his hospital. I’ll take him,” She urged, swiftly pulling Abel out of her arms. “Is the daycare still opened? Whose kid is this anyway?”
“He’s uh…” Margaret Murphy’s auburn bangs bounced along her forehead as it shook, she scrambled for an alternated explanation before finally conceding to the truth—the current one at least, according to her. “Doctor Knowles,” Margaret replied, staring at the little boy who so far hadn’t stirred. “She had to step out to…”
Margaret paused when Swanson held her hand up in a gesture for silence. Her brown swept across the green screen of the pager beeping on her hip before her head snapped back up. “They’re here with Vic’ one,” She announced, turning to follow the interns who were already scrambling and shoving at each other as they left the room. “The officer should be here any minute so I’m going to drop this one off with my assistant—”
“No,” Margaret interrupted, walking briskly. “Tara left him in my care. He goes where I go…Didn’t you just say they were here already?”
Even with Abel in her arms, Margaret still needed to double her efforts in order to keep up with the women speed-walking down to the end of the third floor hallway in three inch pumps.
“They’re coming down now,” Swanson announced, staring up at the glowing, upside down triangle above the elevator doors when they’d finally reached the Emergency Room. “What the Hell is taking them so long?” She wondered aloud. Switching Abel to her other arm, she check the bracelet-watch dangling from her wrist. “I hope he’s not dead. That would be about eight thousand dollars down the drain.”
“They airlifted him here?” Margaret asked.
Both women turned to see the interns that were standing with them running across the room, still shoving each other as the sliding glass doors to the ER blew open. A crowd of men and women in uniform flooded into the bright room—Stockton C.O’s, San Joaquin County police officers, and the EMT’s reeling in the masked man with blood soaked into his uniform.
“No, they didn’t,” Margaret replied, needlessly pointing at the barely conscious officer getting his clothes cut off of him. “He’s right there.”
“Not the officer,” Swanson answered. “They medevacked the other one to get him here faster. He was here ten minutes ago. I don’t know what the Hell is taking them so—”
The elevator doors in front of them slid open.
“Son of a bitch!” yelled the Doctor walking backwards, out of the elevator.
“What the Hell did you do?!” shrieked the intern straddling the patient’s waist, pressing the gauze in her hand hard against the unconscious man’s chest. “His B.P’s dropping again!”
“Page Doctor Namid—”
“I already told you he’s not answering his frikkin page! He’s gone!”
“What do you mean he’s—”
“—Then page someone—anyone else!”
“What am I idiot? That new guy—Chambers—he’s on his way down now!”
“You called a pediatric surgeon for a thirty-three-year-old man with a GSW?” growled Dr. Yang. Margaret hardly noticed one of the doctor’s that had run down the stairs to the ER with her. “Seriously? Seriously?! Move! I’ve got this—I’ve got him—you two idiots are going to kill him! Move! Oh great, look here he comes! Doctor Poacher!”
“Oh my God,” Margaret gasped, slapping a hand across her mouth. The chaotic scene within the four metal walls had poured out into the narrow corridor as the army of medical personnel wheeled the incoming trauma patient out, arguing amongst themselves as they rushed him towards the nearest trauma room. Blood-soaked gauze plip-popped to the floor, in front of her left shoe, falling away from his chest as they rolled past her.
Margaret’s head was shaking, her eyes jumping back and forth between Abel Teller—sleeping safe and soundly in her coworker’s arms, and the man she knew to be his father—flat-lining, only a few feet away from where they stood. “That’s…T-t-t-that’s—”
“Lord have mercy,” Margaret hissed, trailing after them. She’d nearly reached the door when someone’s bumped her shoulder hard, hitting her elbow with the pager going off in the pocket of his lab coat when he beat her to shoving the door open. Margaret jerked her head back, narrowly avoiding the revolving door swinging towards her face, catching it with shaky hands. Looking behind her at the woman still cradling Abel in her arms, she pointed a stern finger in warning. “You stay right there,” She ordered, before walking inside. “Don’t you move from that spot!”
Doctor Alex Chambers was shoving two nurses aside as Margaret approached the foot of the gurney, leaning over it to assess the damage. “EMT’s said he was stable when they lifted him. What the Hell did you idiots do?” He barked out.
“He was already crashing when we pulled him out of the chopper,” the shortest intern explained, rushing to the front of the pack to assist the irate surgical attending. “He would have been dead if we waited for that ancient elevator to, t-t-to—so I made a judgment call. I cracked him.”
“First year intern, two weeks into the program and you thought it was a good idea to cut open a man’s chest on your own? Damn it—he’s crashing again! Somebody get me the paddles. Now!”
Margaret couldn’t stop blinking—the scene grew more bleak with every shot snapped between the up and down of her fluttering eyelashes. “H-H-he can’t die…you can’t let him die…not like—”
“Charge to 300…CLEAR!”
Margaret stepped forward, looking on in horror as Jackson Teller body jumped from the third round of defibrillation. “Doctor Chambers—”
“We’ve got a rhythm,” Doctor Chambers muttered, ignoring her completely. He pulled the stethoscope from his ears, roping it back around his neck, looking up to glance at the wide-eyed interns, nurses and hospital aide standing in the room with him. “Barely—but it’s there. What can anyone tell me about a previous heart condition?” He demanded, waving a hand towards Jax’s exposed chest. Margaret squinted hard until she could see the faint scar underneath all the blood staining his abdomen. “Do you know anything useful? Like where the Hell your head of cardio is?” He barked, fixing his glare on no one in particular. “What the Hell kind of hospital are you people running here? We should already be headed into the OR right now!”
“You ‘Docs are wasting your time,” Spat the glaring officer standing in the corner. “This fucker’s done for as soon as he’s back inside. He tried to kill one of ours! If Torres doesn’t make it this shit-bird is gonna fry—extra crispy.”
“Who the Hell let him in here?” Doctor Chambers shouted, not even bothering to look over at C.O Taylor. “Why are we still standing here waiting—And where the HELL is Doctor Namid?”
“He took the week off, Sir,” Said the Doctor closest to him, with the name Bailey sewn into her lab coat. “He’s—”
“HE TOOK THE WEEK OFF?!”
“Yeah, he DID!” Doctor Bailey snapped, her voice booming as she glared up at him. “Maybe if you weren’t so busy stealing all of our doctors for your private practice he’d be here instead of on a plane to Chicago—to check out his new condo…..Sir!”
“Doctor Chambers.” They all looked towards the door, gaping at the Nurse sticking her head into the room. “The O.R’s ready.”
“About damn time,” Margaret heard him mumbling under his breath. “St. Redneck…ha, she wasn’t lying…understaffed…program full of idiot interns…” Bailey yanked one side of the railing up, Doctor Chambers the other—and the two of them were already wheeling Jax back out into the hallway with an eager assist from Doctor Yang, who was pushing from the head of bed. “Page Doctor Knowles,” She heard him instruct the intern trailing alongside of him. “I’m going to need—”
“Tara’s not available!” Margaret blurted out.
Alex glanced up, finally acknowledging her presence. “Look, I know she went home for the day,” He responded, briefly glancing towards the large elevator as the doors swished open, “and I hate to take her away from her kid but I need someone who’s done a cardio—”
“I’ve done one!” Doctor Yang shouted, chin jumping up and down like a bobble head doll. “Doing one I mean…I’ve been on Doctor Namid’s service since the program started and I’m—”
“—an intern,” Doctor Chambers sneered, cutting her down with the look in his eyes alone. “Get me Knowles now. She needs to be here to scrub in before I get to the good stuff…if this poor guy even hangs—what are you doing? Mrs. Murphy, you—”
“You can’t let him die,” Margaret implored, shoving her arm between the doors, blocking them from closing. “This man cannot die tonight.”
“M’am, we need to get down to the OR,” Doctor Bailey urged, gently shoving her arm out of the way.
Margaret shoved it back in, just before the doors snapped shut, sticking her head inside. “You have to do everything you can for him,” the desperate woman urged, staring at the DOC Stockton prison uniform cut to shreds around Jax’s chest. “Please…please don’t let him die.”
Not like this, Margaret thought as she shook her head. She still remembered how it felt, waking up from her high to find the man she loved lying dead next to her. No one but her husband knew that the pain of being left behind was what really led to her overdose. Instead of dialing nine-one-one she’d jammed a needle full of what they’d had left over into her favorite vein—turned to throw her arms over him, and clung onto a man who was already beyond saving until the drugs shut her system down completely. Her nosey neighbor had saved her, but it was only from death. Margaret Murphy still lived with the regret of not being able to walk away on her own every day.
Tara needed to leave her own.
She couldn’t be left behind—she couldn’t be forced to blame herself for all the times she wanted to walk away when it was Jackson Teller’s own problems that led him here. Tara needed whatever this was between them to end on her terms.
It had to.
“I’m going to do everything I can,” Doctor Chambers promised, gently easing her hand off the left door to the elevator.
Margaret wasn’t even conscious of stepping back. She was too lost in her own haunting memories to register the curiosity in Alex Chamber’s eyes as he glanced up and down, from her horrified expression, to the patient he’d be operating on—until the steel doors snapped completely shut.
“I hope he pulls through,” Swanson said, suddenly appearing beside her. Margaret turned to see the thoughtful Chief Nurse glancing down at the eleven-month-old who’d miraculously managed to stay sleep despite all of the chaos and shouting. “For the kid’s sake, I mean. Even criminals love their children, ya know? Ooh…I wonder who’s lawyer that is….the C.O or the Felon…whoever’s side she’s on…that one means business…”
Margaret followed Swanson’s line of vision, turning her head to look towards the hallway that led out into the main lobby. A dark-haired woman with sparkling green eyes and red, matte-stained lips was scrolling through the blackberry in her hand as she headed in their direction. The flustered hospital supervisor balked at the woman who continued looking down at her cellphone—even after the final click of her designer heels against the floor, when she stopped walking, standing directly in front of her. “Are you Margaret Murphy?”
“I am, Yes,” Margaret answered, straightening her posture, adjusting the glasses teetering close to the tip of her nose as she nodded her head up and down. “And you are?”
“Alicia Florrick,” answered the pretty woman. Alicia smiled at her, swiftly tucking her cellphone into the breast pocket of her navy-blue skirt suit’s jacket as she held her other hand out to her. “I’m actually here to track down an old friend from college. She wasn’t home when the cab dropped me off at her place and she’s not answering her phone so I figured she’d be at work. But according to the lady at the front desk, she went home for the night about a half hour ago—I’m sorry, is he yours?” Alicia Florrick’s eyes crinkled at the corners from the strength of her smile when she leaned forward to gape at the bright baby-blues peeking at her from the little boy slowly waking up against Swanson’s chest. “He’s adorable.”
Margaret stepped forward, subtly blocking the beautiful stranger from poking at the oddly quiet bear-cub while he was still quiet. “Who did you say you were looking for?”
“Tara,” Alicia responded, still wriggling her fingers at little Abel. “Doctor Tara Knowles. Any chance you can tell me where she is?”
“I finally got a hold of that Nurse I’ve been tapping at St Thomas,” Ratboy announced, walking further into the clubhouse chapel as he snapped the prepay phone in his hand shut. “Says she saw Tara leaving the hospital about an hour or so ago, but she didn’t see Abel with her. She thinks the ‘Doc left him in daycare but her friend told her she saw that evil redhead bitch holding him.”
Filip ‘Chibs’ Telford frowned, the muscle in jaw jumping as he forced a question he didn’t really want to ask from his mouth. “You sure the ‘Doc hasn’t been by that hotel again?”
“No, Man. I already told y’all. Why would I lie to about that?”
“If Gemma asked you to,” Opie countered, raising an eyebrow in challenge. “That’s why.”
“Man come on, I ain’t afraid of Gemma!”
“You should be, Dickhead,” Happy Lowman growled, smacking him in the back of his head as he walked past, stopping in front of Chibs. “Piney’s on his way back down from the cabin. He gave me his proxy though. Says he’s voting ye on the deal with Putlova. And since y’all voted nay on gutting that motherfucker—“
Chibs smirked. “It’s all about timing, Brutha.”
“Right,” Happy growled, rolling his eyes. “I guess I’m in then…waiting this shit out or whatever but in the meantime—”
“Shit!” Opie launched the disposable cellphone in his hands across the room, tugging at the beanie on his head as it split in two, crashing to the floor. “I swear this chick’s been a pain in my ass since ninety-six!”
“Well maybe she already knows,” Filthy Phil suggested, bravely stepping forward to speak to the senior members standing around the redwood table. “They probably called her first thing…maybe she just needs a minute to process.”
“They’d only do that if she was his wife, Idiot.” Opie glared at him from across the table. “Next of kin and Power of attorney would go to Gemma—yet another Old Lady that doesn’t know how to pick up her goddamn phone. Clay says the warden told him they were airlifting Jax to the closest hospital to the jail. That’s St. Thomas. If Tara knew, she’d be there right now. But Kozik says she nowhere in sight and he can’t even find her supervisor. That bitch is always popping up, like fuckin whack-a-mole every time anybody wearing a Kutte walks off the elevator. Where the Hell is she?”
“She’s gotta be at Gemma’s,” Fil commented, shaking his head. “That’s the only other place she could be right now.”
“No,” Happy barked, touching on the unspoken source of the tension whirring throughout the room. “It ain’t…not with the enemies we got.”
“Ope’.” Chibs called stepping forward. SAMCRO’s acting President placed a hand on the shaking man’s broad shoulders, patiently waiting until he looked up at him. “No reason to go there yet. Tara’s probably fine. We just need to get her and Junior back here with Lyla and the kids until we know for sure that Jackie boy was the only message they plan on sending us.”
Opie’s eyes dropped back down to the floor between them. “When I was inside…Donna and the kids—he kept them…he kept…I can’t believe this shit, Man.”
“Aye.” Chibs clapped him hard against the back. “Let’s go get Abel and his stubborn ‘Ma…bring them back here. We’re gonna keep them safe, Brutha…especially the lass… Jackie-boy’s gonna need someone to play doctor with him when he pulls through this shitee.”
“Yeah,” Opie conceded, shaking his head as they turned to head out of the clubhouse. The modest pack of them walked towards the row of Harley’s lined up in the parking lot. “We gotta find her ass first.”
“I’m sorry, Gemma…I am…sorry Gemma…I didn’t mean all of the things I said the other day…I just didn’t…Look, I’m sorry about everything…I felt threatened by you…I guess I’m back to feeling the way I did when me and Jackson were sixteen…And it’s just that I feel like you only want me around because I’m a glorified babysitter. Like you said, I have no say in Abel’s life…because you feel!—well, no you….I’m sorry but I just want some resp… I’m sorry for calling you a…”
Tara slammed her palm against the steering wheel, narrowly missing the horn. Her truck slowed to a stop behind the shiny black Camry parked in the space directly in front of the house. “I’m sorry you’re such an overbearing cunt,” Tara grumbled, gritting her teeth as she twisted her keys out of the ignition. “Damn it…”
She’d lingered at the corner of the block for the fifteen minutes at least before she’d finally decided to keep making the turn, driving down the street. Not even being parked only a few feet away from Gemma’s front door made it easy to accept the unpleasant reality of the situation she found herself in. Of all the things she’d instinctively learned from Gemma Teller, feigning emotions like concern—or having any fucks to give was a talent she’d yet to fully master. And Jax was the only one to ever accept her and all of her motives at face value. Until recently, he’d only looked beyond the surface, exploring deeper with the best of intentions.
Gemma was the polar opposite—especially when it came to women named Tara Knowles.
“How the Hell am I going to do this?” Tara asked herself, shaking her head as she stared out through the windshield of her truck. The answer to her question came when the cellphone she’d been ignoring all day buzzed inside the drawer of the dashboard where she’d stashed it after driving back from Stockton to the hospital. The smartphone vibrated against her palm when she leaned over, pulling it out of the glove compartment. Abel’s toothless smile beamed up at her from the touch screen. The red phone icon flashed across the screen, blocking Abel’s face with a memo about the thirty-two missed calls and new voicemails. Sighing at herself, the carelessness of not turning the ringer back on when Abel was nearby, Tara skipped checking the log of who called and when, sliding the menu over to the voicemail app. Relief washed over her at the absence of Margaret Murphy’s name or St. Thomas’ main number’s addition the long list of messages.
Assuming that any one of the dozen voicemails from Opie were all variations of the same, Tara clicked one at random, opting to indulge in one final source of procrastination before she’d head out to earn herself an Oscar award.
“I’m gonna put the phone down now…… Jax? … yeah, I’m here, Bro…”
Tara’s eyes slid shut as she sat back in her chair, tilting her head up towards the roof of the truck.
“…When you’re done just hang up…I’m not going to pick the phone back up so…”
It seemed as though minutes had passed with neither one of them saying anything. Tara opened her eyes then, leaning forward to check that the phone resting on her thigh hadn’t died in the middle of the message. After one final awkward exchange—before she could press the seven key—Tara recognized the familiar clunk of the clubhouse phone being placed on the bar counter.
And then there was only Jax.
“…Babe…I need you to come back up here…I don’t want to end it like this… I don’t want it to end at all… but I can’t keep—”
Tara sat up rod-straight in the driver’s seat. She’d barely caught her phone before he flew out of her lap, but in her haste she’d tapped several keys—one of them being the |END| button—before she tossed the phone on the dashboard, behind the steering wheel.
It wasn’t possible.
She was seeing things.
Gemma would never stoop so low, not even at her most desperate. Flaws and all, Gemma Teller loved her grandson—Tara knew she did. And just as deeply as she loved her precious grand-baby, she hated the woman who’d ejected him from her womb two months earlier than she should have even deeper.
“What the Hell?” Tara shook her head, failing to clear the nonexistent fog clouding her vision. She was still squinting her eyes, straining to see through the blinds of Gemma’s front window as she made her way around the truck, stepping onto the sidewalk.
It didn’t make any sense, so there was just no way.
There was only one woman Gemma despised more than her, and it was the woman she’d clearly imagined when she glanced up towards the house to see some blonde walking from the back hall where the first floor bathroom was. Maybe it was Ima, the porn star—they were scheming to embarrass her because screwing with her during Abel’s pickup drop-off schedule hadn’t worked out. Tara was willing to accept any other explanation. Tara just couldn’t seem to wrapped her head around Gemma working with Wendy Case.
Or Ally Lowen.
She just wasn’t ready to believe it.
Not until she’d used the spare key under one of Gemma’s prized potted plants to enter the dark house—not until she’d followed the light shining from the Teller-Morrow dining room, crossing the threshold to see the three of them sitting together.
“What, did you fall in?” Gemma sneered, glancing up at the blonde reentering the room after excusing herself to use the bathroom. Wendy rolled her eyes at her, aiming and narrowly missing the garbage can by the door on her way back around the table to sit down.
“Here’s the thing, Ladies.” Ally Lowen crouched over the table full of paperwork between them. “Everybody’s stories need to stay aligned. If Jacks—”
“Is this bitch serious?” Gemma cocked an eyebrow at Wendy, jutting her thumb towards the scowling lawyer sitting next to her. Turning her eyes on the other woman across the table from her, she said, “I’m Gemma. You really gonna sit there and try to give me lessons on how to scheme? And when it comes to my son? How the Hell did you get through law school?”
“The same way your son made it through your—”
“—Ooo-Kay!” Wendy intervened, effectively saving Lowen—who may have gotten a little too comfortable—from a bloody nose. “Sign and stamp, sign and stamp. Affidavits, not your egos. I got a voicemail from one of the Prospects. That’s what I was checking when I stepped out. I have no idea how the Hell he even got my number but he says Jax already put me on the list and that I better be up there to see him tomorrow morning.”
“That could work,” Ally commented, nodding and pursing her lips.
“No, it’s perfect,” Wendy responded, nodding with more vigor. “I can approach him first and explain everything that’s been going on. Then he’ll either call you or Gemma—or both of you, to confirm. If he doesn’t go for it after all of this shit? I’m sorry, Gem but your son is a lost cause.”
“Lost in between Tara’s legs,” Lowen remarked, smirking. “I guess first love really does die hard, Huh?”
“That’s funny,” Gemma bit back, twisting her mouth to one side. “Especially coming from the biggest…”
Even Gemma herself jumped at the sound of her voice when Tara stepped from behind the wall.
Tara’s words were barely above a whisper, but the whirlwind of emotions flashing in her moistening eyes was the thunder that followed the lightning. It spoke volumes beyond the capacity of a human voice—it was the banshee screaming, hauntingly in the background as whatever the diplomatic intent behind her sudden appearance was shriveled up and died on the living room carpet.
“What are you doing here?” Gemma seethed, glaring over at her. Concern temporarily bled over the anger coiling inside her when the pregnant doctor stopped walking to lean against the kitchen island, slowly rubbing a palm against her stomach. “Something wrong with my grandchild? With one of my grandchildren? Where’s Abel?”
When Tara glanced up from the floor, she fixed her eyes on the two women sitting side by side, across from Gemma instead of responding. Tears glittered the silently crying doctor’s eyes, trickling down her face as she lightly shook her head at the blonde gaping at her as if she couldn’t believe she’d been caught.
“You stupid…Junkie-wh-h-ore,” Tara half-whispered. Dropping her eyes to stare at the joining of their hands, a bitter smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “I guess now I know the reason behind all of your slipups lately,” She mused, addressing the brunette awkwardly adjusting the collar of her blouse. “Good job, Counselor…playing the matriarch and the doctor against each other…picking the winning side when you got tired of standing in the middle. Smart…or at least it would be…if Gemma wasn’t planning to fuck you both over the second she uses you to get rid of me.”
“This shit isn’t on me,” Wendy argued, shaking her head. “I came to you first because I understand how difficult this is…I never wanted to hurt you…But Abel needs me…he needs to be with his real mother.”
“He’s not your son!” Tara screeched, swiping the stack of mail on the counter the floor. Envelopes and magazines cascaded across the floor, floating above Gemma’s feet, but the elder woman made no move to pick them up as she slid her chair back, standing in front of it. “What’s the master plan here, Wendy? You and your new lawyer go crying to Jax about how I’m the hand that rocks the cradle? ” Tara snapped, slapping a hand against her chest. “You’re damn fuckin right! I’m the one who’s been here—I’m the only one who gives a shit about what’s best for either one of them—Jackson or Abel—and you’re trying to paint me as the crazy one?”
“You think you can just walk into my house unannounced?” Gemma barked, walking towards her. The anger burning in her olive eyes intensified when they followed the movement of Tara’s hand—stopping short of the growing bump the green-eyed brunette rubbed her palm against. “By my count, you got about four more months until I can put an end to the amnesty you’ve been taking advantage of.”
“Six more months,” Ally Lowen corrected, her lawyering nature breaking through.
Gemma jerked her head in her direction. “I wasn’t talking about my house arrest,” She hissed, cutting her eyes towards the brunette still pressing a hand to her swollen stomach. “Her eating for two is the only thing restraining me right now.”
“What about your son?” Tara asked, walking backwards a couple steps.
Tara’s eyes were granite, but her mouth was fluid—it wriggled at the corners as she smiled. “You know I actually came to here to apologize to you…to beg you to talk to Abel’s birth m—to get you to convince the junkie who almost killed your grandson to do what she tried to do almost a year ago…I wanted you to remind her why she left…to show her that you and me, we could at least be a team when it came to protecting Abel. But you know what? Fuck you, too.”
“Gemma!” Wendy shouted. Both her and Lowen jumped up from their chairs when Gemma lunged forward.
Tara didn’t even flinch.
No, instead she continued to smile, slowly shaking her head as she reached a hand inside her purse, slapping the thick, orange, manila envelope she pulled from it down onto the counter.
“I don’t know what that is, but I’m not signing anything, Tara.” Wendy stepped forward, brushing shoulders with Gemma, Lowen moving to stand by her side—the three of them forming a line in front of the counter between her and them. “I don’t have to and I’m not going to. I tried to reason with you but you wouldn’t listen to me. This isn’t about using Gemma to beat you because I’ve already won. I’m just giving her the same chance I tried to give you. I’m doing it for Abel’s sake…because in spite all her flaws and the dysfunctional bullshit I know his grandmother loves him. And you know what? I get to make that call because I’m his mother—legally and biologically. Those guardian papers you signed wouldn’t be enough even if I had approved of them.”
“I’m sorry, Tara,” Lowen interjected, frowning. “But you have no case here. The courts would never give Abel to you…no matter what Jax wants.”
“Get out,” Gemma demanded, pointing towards the living room.
Tara made no move to leave. Instead her skilled fingers traced along the corners of the envelope on the counter between them, almost absently as she fixed her eyes on the ugly orange folder. “I’m not asking you anymore,” Tara murmured quietly. “I’m done asking…now I’m telling you.”
Wendy’s eyebrows bunched together, her brown eyes squinted at the finality in the young doctor’s expression. Ally Lowen turned her head towards her, checking that she was just as confused before her eyes bounced over to Gemma for the same. But Gemma’s eyes were busy following Tara’s line of vision—slow on the uptake as she considered what she was staring at on her side of the counter.
It was too late to react when the light bulb in her head finally went off.
“Holy Shit!” Ally Lowen shrieked, colliding with the blonde veering back against the kitchen table at the same time. Gemma flinched, but remained right where she stood even as her eyes widened slightly.
Tara clicked the safety off the gun she’d pulled from the kitchen drawer, aiming it at the blonde shaking her head.
“What the Hell do you think you’re gonna do with that?” Gemma challenged.
“Everything you taught me,” Tara answered. Her free hand pulled at the string holding the folder shut, shaking the neatly bound pages inside free, along with a pen. “When push comes to blood, this is how you handle it. But blood doesn’t really matter this time because he’s mine…and no one’s taking him from me.”
“Sit down and shut up!” Tara screamed, waving the revolver in her hands between the three of them. “All of you! Sit down! You—over there!”
“You don’t want to do this, Tara,” Lowen warned. “I know you think Jax can protect you from anything but he can’t. Not from this line you’re about to cross.”
“Did I forget to tell you that you’re fired?” Tara asked, turning the gun on her only. “I am done taking advice from you…you conniving Bitch. Sit down—now!”
“This won’t change anything,” Wendy told her, stopping in front the chair closest to her. “Even if I sign…it’s under duress…it won’t hold up in court. Jesus, Tara. You’re going to go to jail! They’ll take your license for this!”
“Jail?” Tara laughed. “Who’s going to press charges against me? You?”
“You really think that order of protection you filed is going to hold up after the hearing?” Wendy asked. “After we testify to what happened here tonight?”
“Gemma’s not going to testify shit,” Tara barked, swiveling the gun back on her. “And as for you and your new girlfriend?” The wide-eyed doctor smirked. “How do you see that working out for you, Huh? What’s Jax going to think—how do you think his brothers are going to react if you send the pregnant…mother of their Vice President’s children to jail? You think the cops can slip you into Witness Protection fast enough for you to keep breathing? I don’t know, Wendy… maybe you should ask the last person that tried to rat on one of us. You’re going to need a fuckin Ouija board.”
Gemma slid a hand up to rest on her hip. “Oh, so now you’re one of us again?”
“For better or worse, Darlin’.” Tara goaded, winking at her. “I’ve got the crow above my ass to prove it. It doesn’t matter where I go or how long I’m gone for. I’m Jackson Teller’s Old Lady and anybody that fucks with me is gonna answer for it…even you, Granny Goodness.”
“You think you can threaten me?” Gemma challenged, raising her eyebrows at her. “You really think Jax loves you that much? My son got a long just fine the ten years you left, and he’ll be the next time you disappear. Him and my grandson. So you can quit playing Gangster. You were never one of us…you never could be. It’s over.”
“Everybody needs to calm the Hell down!” Wendy yelled, shaking her head. “Tara, please…Let’s just take this down a notch, alright?…Think about your baby.”
Tara’s eyes barely moved from Gemma’s face when she swiveled the gun towards the woman standing to the left of her—squeezing the trigger.
Wendy screamed, clutching at left shoulder. The straps on the purse Lowen had been reaching for underneath the table slipped through her fingers when she stood upright, gazing in horror at the blood splattered across the shiny Oakwood surface. “What’d you think of that? Huh, Gemma? WAS THAT OLD LADY ENOUGH FOR YOU?!”
“Jesus Christ!” Ally shrieked.
“Jesus is off the clock,” Tara said through her teeth. “Your savior’s bleeding all over Gemma’s hardwood floors right now. And all she has to do to end this is sign on the dotted line like I asked her to five minutes ago!”
“Are you out of your goddamn mind?!” Gemma pointed down at the blinking anklet around her leg. “You think you’re the only one who matters! You’re not sixteen years old anymore. He grew up! He’s a man now—the man I raised him to be. I’m the one he sacrificed for. He’s serving time so I don’t have to do any. That was the deal he made with that that ATF cunt. What do you think Jackson’s going to do if you get his mother sent to jail?”
“Find someone else to do his laundry?” Tara offered a half-hearted shrug, turning back towards the two women huddled and whispering in the corner next to her. Her wild, green eyes locked on one person—and one person only. “You walk back into my life…after I saved yours…you call me a whore…you tell me my son is yours and that you’re taking him from me…that I’ll never be a part of his life if I don’t do what you say…You stand there and you threaten to take Abel from his mother? The woman who would die—who would kill to protect him…” Tara slapped the papers in her hand down on the table, clicking the pen on top of it open. Her other hand held the gun to her head, pressing it hard against her leaking temple. The sweat trickling down met with the tears of pain pelting across Wendy’s cheeks “…Sign the papers.”
“This won’t hold up in court,” Lowen stressed again.
“Shut up.” When Wendy finished scribbling her signature on the final page, Tara snatched the pen from her trembling hand, tossing it at the lawyer next. Turning the gun on her, she said, “You get sign as a witness…first and last, then initial…let’s go.”
“You can threaten them all you want,” Gemma seethed, breaking through the silence as Tara gathered up all her paperwork. “Jax is never gonna cut me off…the club would never choose you over me. And it ain’t got shit to do with my Old Man. Their loyalty is to me and my son. There is no either or. And when Clay hears about this shit?” The matriarch smirked, completely unbothered by the weapon pointed at her face. “…And you thought you were done before.”
“You know, you’re probably right…” Tara tipped her head to one side, squinting her eyes at SAMCRO’s matriarch, gesturing towards with the barrel of the gun. “But this is the Before. What happens in the After, Gemma? How do you think your son and his loyal club’s going to feel…when he finds out that you and your new husband killed his father?”
Does it kill?
Does it burn?
Is it painful to learn,
that it’s me that has all the control?
Does it thrill?
Does it sting,
When you feel what I bring,
and you wish that you had me to hold?
When it gets cold outside and you got nobody to love
You’ll understand what I mean when I say
There’s no way we’re gonna give up
And like a little girl cries in the face of a monster that lives in her dreams
Is there anyone out there?
‘Cause it’s getting harder and harder to breathe