Tara Maclay had never known a life without violence. As far back as she could remember, her father had always abused her and her mother. He called them evil, told them that they had demon in them. He said that their magic came from the blackness in their souls. He beat them constantly and even encouraged his son to do the same. Tara couldn’t count the number of times that she had been to the emergency room.
When Tara was thirteen, her mother finally got the courage to leave her abusive husband. She and Mr. Maclay separated and eventually divorced.
Tara went with her mother, but Tara’s older brother, Donnie, who was fifteen, stayed with his father. Tara and her mother had a hard life; they were very poor and got no support from Tara’s father; but at least they were safe from the abuse. Free from her husband’s control, Mrs. Maclay taught her daughter everything she knew about magic. Although they sometimes had run-ins with Tara’s father and brother, the four years that Tara had alone with her mother were the best of her childhood.
During her time with her mother, Tara discovered that she was different from other girls. And not just because she could do magic. The main difference was that she wasn’t ‘boy crazy’ in the least; in fact, she didn’t like boys at all. If there was any pining to do, she would do it over another girl.
That girl came in the form of an exchange student from Australia during Tara’s sophomore year. Genie blew in like thunderstorm, knocking everyone, including Tara, right off their feet. Genie was beautiful and brazen, confident and charismatic. She had everyone wrapped around her little finger in no time flat.
Over the course of the semester, Genie left a trail of broken hearts, never dating the same guy twice. Still, all the boys would practically drool when she passed by, which in turn caused all the girls to glare in jealousy.
All but one, that is. Tara didn’t glare. She stared, her eyes drawn to Genie by some unknown force. Whenever Genie would look Tara’s way, Tara would immediately drop her eyes. Tara was sure that Genie didn’t even know she existed.
One day, as Tara worked at a table in the school library, a shadow fell over her books. Tara looked up to find Genie standing beside her.
Hey,” Genie said, smiling.
Hey,” Tara replied uncertainly, wondering why Genie was speaking to her.
I hear you’re the local Latin expert,” Genie said, in full flirtation mode.
Ummm, I don’t know about th-th-that,” Tara said nervously.
Well, are you ‘good’ or not?” Genie asked seductively.
Well, yeah, I have an A if that’s what you m-m-mean,” Tara replied.
I’m failing Mr. McCluskey’s Latin class. Do you think you could tutor me?” Genie asked, moving to sit on the edge of the table right in front of Tara.
Sure, if that’s what you w-w-want,” Tara said.
Oh, I want,” Genie said, whispering those last words into Tara’s ear.
Genie rose and walked a few feet away. Then she turned to the now-blushing Tara.
Three o’clock tomorrow okay?” Genie asked. “My place?”
Tara gulped and then nodded.
The tutoring appointment at Genie’s turned into an eye-opening, head-spinning, gut-wrenching, life-changing milestone event when Genie suddenly pushed the Latin book aside and kissed Tara right on the lips.
Tara simply froze in place, unable to move even the tiniest muscle.
Genie continued to kiss Tara for a moment, but then she pulled away and smirked.
You know, this would be a lot more fun if you kissed me back,” Genie said.
Tara opened her mouth to speak but no words came out. She cleared her throat and tried again.
I…you…why…” Tara stammered, never managing to form a coherent sentence.
Wow, I’ve actually rendered somebody speechless. That’s a first,” Genie joked. Then she looked at Tara and asked, “You wanna know why I kissed you?”
Because I wanted to, okay? You’re cute, and I like you. Don’t you like me?” Genie asked, adding a little pout to her expression.
“Ummm…sure…I l-l-like you,” Tara responded.
“Then kiss me,” Genie said, moving closer.
This time when the wild exchange student kissed her, Tara didn’t freeze. She kissed her back. And with that one kiss, Tara learned the truth about herself: she was gay. There would be no boys town for her. Ever.
Tara continued tutoring Genie for the rest of the term, and while Tara taught Genie about Latin, Genie taught Tara about kissing—and about many other things. Genie didn’t stop the dating game with the guys, though, so Tara knew that Genie wasn’t interested in a deep relationship with her or with anyone else. And Tara herself didn’t love Genie in the sense that she was ‘in love’ with her, although if they had had more time together, she very well might have fallen in love with the free-wheeling Aussie girl. But May came, and Genie returned to Australia, and Tara started her sixteenth summer a much wiser young woman.
Late that summer, Tara’s mother became very ill with cancer. The doctors tried to treat it, but she didn’t respond to treatment and quickly deteriorated. Amazingly, Tara’s father and brother softened up during the stricken woman’s last few months and were actually quite supportive. Unfortunately, shortly after Tara’s seventeenth birthday, when Tara was a junior in high school, her mother finally died. Since Tara was still a minor and had no other living relative, Tara was forced to go live with her father and brother again.
Though the relationship with her father and brother had improved during her mother’s illness, Tara was worried about sharing the same house with them. Tara’s fears were well founded, for that was when her nightmare truly began.
Her father started to beat her again and tell her that she was evil. He told her that her mother had been evil too and that that was why she had died. He told her that it was the magic that had killed her.
The abuse that Tara had endured years before had come back multiplied. Now, both her father and her brother beat her on a regular basis, and there was no target but her. When Tara’s mother was alive, she had often intervened on Tara’s behalf, taking beatings that Tara knew were meant for her. But now Tara’s mother was gone.
Tara did her best to keep her father and brother happy. She kept her magic hidden, and she did everything she was supposed to do: clean house, wash clothes, cook dinner, care for the horses. But no matter how hard she tried, her father would find something she had done wrong; he would find any excuse to berate her and beat her down. And Tara’s brother followed his father’s example to the letter.
Tara got a break in her senior year when Donnie married and moved out. The number of her abusers was thankfully reduced to one instead of two. Although Tara was glad to have Donnie out of the house, Tara knew that Donnie’s aggression was now being taken out on his wife.
Amazingly, through all of the abuse and terror in her daily life, Tara managed to excel academically. She made excellent grades in school, and when she took the SAT, she made remarkably high scores. Her high school counselor, Mrs. Grady, encouraged her to apply for scholarships at various colleges, and no one was more surprised than Tara when she was actually offered several substantial scholarships.
Tara ran home to tell her father, expecting him to be happy and proud of her. He was anything but. That night, Tara received the worst beating of her life.
Her father accused her of trying to leave him, of thinking she was better than he was with her uppity college aspirations. He reminded her that she was nothing but a demon-spawn and that nothing good would ever come of her. For the first time ever, Tara stood up for herself, denying that she had any demon in her.
“I’ll prove it!” Tara’s father said as he seized his daughter’s arm and dragged her into the kitchen.
He threw Tara to the floor and told her not to move. As soon as he turned his back to get something out of the cabinet, however, Tara scrambled for the door. He grabbed her by the leg and yanked her back, slamming her against the cabinet. Before she could move again, he wrapped his hand around her throat and squeezed.
“I said, ‘don’t move,’ bitch!” Tara’s father said menacingly.
Terrified for her life, Tara didn’t move, and her father went back to what he was doing. He took a wooden box out of the back of the bottom cabinet and set it on the counter. He took a small key from his pocket and used it to unlock the box and open it. He put the key away. From the box, he pulled out a small and very worn black book with a cross on the cover. He also pulled out a silver knife and several bottles and jars. He took a bowl from the cabinet and set it beside the box. He opened the black book, turned to a particular place, and ran his finger down the page. He chose several ingredients from the containers and mixed them up in the bowl. Then he turned to Tara, brandishing the knife.
“No,” she whimpered, trying to scoot away.
But her father grabbed her arm and jerked her to her feet. He shoved her against the counter, holding her in place by pressing his own body against her back.
“Daddy, please,” Tara begged but to no avail.
“Shut up!” he said as he squeezed her arm in an iron grip. “I’m going to prove to you what you are.”
Then he sliced the knife along her palm. Tara cried out from the pain, but her father wasn’t done.
“Heavenly Father, God Almighty, Lord of All,” he yelled in a loud voice, “if this one be of the devil, reveal it to us now!”
Then he pulled Tara’s bleeding hand until it was over the bowl he had prepared. When her blood hit the mixture, it immediately flamed up, and both she and her father pulled back. The flame went as quickly as it came, replaced by an eerie smoke that was dark gray. Tara’s father held her tightly, forcing her to look at the gray smoke.
“You see,” he said, “if you were demon-free, the smoke would be white. Pure white.”
Tara’s father released her, and she backed away.
“No,” Tara said, shaking her head, not wanting to believe. “No!”
“That’s why I have to beat you…to keep the demon at bay,” Tara’s father said as he moved closer.
“I can see when it’s coming out in you,” he said, scanning Tara’s body with disgust in his eyes.
“Like tonight…when you come in here talking about college.”
He moved even closer. Tara backed up some more, but then found herself trapped against the refrigerator.
“When you come in here talking about dumping your responsibilities to go off to some sin-filled university.”
Tara’s father was right in front of her; she had nowhere to go.
“When you come in here talking about leaving me!”
It came so fast that Tara didn’t even see her father’s fist when it slammed into her jaw. She crumpled from the blow, but her father grabbed the front of her shirt and held her up with it as he pummeled her face. When his arm grew tired, he dropped Tara to the floor and kicked her repeatedly. When his rage was spent, he calmly washed his hands, put on his coat, and left the house.
In the next hour as she lay bruised and bleeding on her own kitchen floor, Tara made a promise to herself: she would escape this place, or she would die trying.
After a short stint in the hospital and several weeks at home, Tara finally returned to school. She explained her injuries by saying that she had fallen off her horse and gotten her foot caught in the stirrup and been dragged by the horse. Knowing the dangers that come with horse riding, no one questioned her story. And with the help of her teachers and counselor, Tara managed to finish her work for graduation.
As she prepared for graduation, Tara forged her escape plan. She was already eighteen, a legal adult. So, if she could just get away, then she knew her father couldn’t make her come back, not legally anyway.
Secretly, she accepted one of the full scholarships she had been offered, the one to UC Sunnydale. It was less expensive than the other colleges, and its full scholarship had included a personal stipend; therefore, it offered her the best chance at supporting herself. When Tara mailed her acceptance letter, she included a change of address form, saying that all correspondence with her should be sent to the enclosed address. The address itself was bogus, one that she had picked at random from the Sunnydale phone book in the library. She knew she could change it when she got on campus.
Next, Tara began hoarding her lunch money, and any other money she could find, until she had saved enough for a bus ticket. Then, she began packing her things into small boxes and bags and stowing them away. She knew she wouldn’t be able to take much with her, but she wanted to be ready when the time came.
There was one more thing Tara had to do; she needed an accomplice. So, the day before graduation, Tara went to see the only person she trusted: her high school counselor, Mrs. Grady.
Mrs. Grady liked Tara a lot, but she worried about her. She knew things weren’t right at home, but despite her best efforts, she could never get the girl to open up to her. When Tara walked into her office that day, Mrs. Grady discovered very quickly that something had changed.
Tara walked in as usual, shoulders slumped, head down, her long blonde hair half-covering her face. “M-M-Mrs. Grady?” Tara said, staring at her feet, only occasionally venturing a look in her counselor’s direction.
“Yes, Tara, what is it?” Mrs. Grady asked.
“I…ummm...” Tara said, faltering for a moment. Then she gathered her courage and looked her counselor in the eyes. “I need your help.”
Fortunately, Mrs. Grady did just that: she helped. She listened carefully as Tara detailed her plan, and after a few moments of contemplation on the matter, she agreed to it in its entirety. They made an appointment for the following day.
On the day of graduation, Tara left home several hours before the ceremony was set to begin. She explained to her father that all of the graduates had to be at the school extra early for robe check and line up. She also reminded him that if he wanted to get a decent parking place, he should get there really early.
After leaving her father, Tara didn’t go to the school. Instead, she backtracked to her house and then hid out in the barn until her father left to attend the graduation. As soon as she saw his truck leave, Tara ran from the barn and into the house. She rushed to her room and gathered her belongings. By the time Tara had moved her boxes and bags to the driveway, Mrs. Grady arrived. They quickly packed her car and set off down the highway.
Mrs. Grady drove Tara thirty miles away to the next town over, where Tara planned to catch a bus to L.A. Tara had told her that she didn’t want to buy her bus ticket in her hometown for fear that her father would track her.
When they got there, Mrs. Grady took Tara to the post office first, where she shipped all of her boxes to herself, care of general delivery at the Sunnydale post office. After all of her mailing had been done, Tara was left with only a rolling backpack and a carry-on.
After the post office, Mrs. Grady took Tara to the bus station. Mrs. Grady carried Tara’s bags into the bus terminal while Tara headed for the ticket desk. Tara told the ticket clerk what she wanted, and when the clerk had printed out her ticket, Tara paid him. She frowned when she saw how little cash remained. She’d get by, she told herself.
After tucking her ticket into her pocket, Tara joined Mrs. Grady, who had been waiting for her in the sitting area.
“You’d better get back,” Tara said softly. “You’re going to be late for graduation.”
“Don’t worry,” Mrs. Grady said. “I’ve got a cover story already prepared.”
“Oh?” Tara asked curiously.
“Yeah, I’m gonna tell ‘em I was abducted by aliens!” Mrs. Grady said.
Tara laughed, and Mrs. Grady was pleased that she had made the girl smile, if only for a moment.
The speaker above them crackled and then growled as the bus driver got on the microphone: “Bus number 1357, south bound to Los Angeles, will begin boarding in five minutes.”
“That’s me,” Tara said, rising from her chair.
Mrs. Grady walked with Tara as she headed for the door leading to the loading area. Tara stopped and turned to Mrs. Grady. Tara tried to speak but couldn’t, so she just threw her arms around her counselor and hugged her.
When Tara went to turn back around, Mrs. Grady stopped her and placed something in her hand. It was an envelope full of cash. Tara looked at it in shock.
“No, I couldn’t, it’s too much--” Tara objected, trying to hand the envelope back.
Mrs. Grady pushed it back into Tara’s hand. “You’re going to need it, Tara, more than you know.”
Tara reluctantly accepted the cash and stuck it in her pocket. “I’ll pay you back, Mrs. Grady, someday, I promise,” Tara insisted.
“No,” Mrs. Grady said, “it’s a gift, freely given, with no strings attached.”
Mrs. Grady paused. “Well, there is one string,” she added with a wink.
Tara looked at her feet nervously, wondering what the condition was going to be.
Mrs. Grady lifted Tara’s chin so that she could look into the young woman’s eyes.
Find happiness,” Mrs. Grady commanded gently.
Tears filled Tara’s eyes.
“Thank you, thank you so much,” Tara cried, hugging her counselor once more.
“Bus 1357 now boarding,” the bus driver called from the doorway.
Tara swung her carry-on over her shoulder and pulled her backpack toward the bus driver and then handed him her ticket. After she passed through the doorway, Tara looked back once and waved at Mrs. Grady. Then she left her backpack with the loaders and boarded the bus.
Once in Los Angeles, Tara did quite well for herself, thanks to Mrs. Grady’s generous gift. She found a youth hostel where she could stay for cheap, and she lived on take-out and fast food. While she was there, she sent her father a postcard.
It read: “Daddy, I’m sorry I had to leave. Please don’t try to find me. I’ll be okay. Tara.”
Tara told herself that she was sending the card only to lay a false lead. But she knew better. There was a part of her that still loved her father, a part that felt compelled to apologize to him and to assure him that she was okay.
Tara stayed in L.A. for two weeks before finally moving to Sunnydale. Once there, she claimed her boxes at the main post office and moved into the dorm, ready to begin the summer term.
By the time the fall semester started, Tara had finally begun to feel somewhat safe, like she had actually pulled it off and had successfully escaped. She had aced her summer classes and was excited about the new courses she was taking. She was very lonely, though, her shy nature making it difficult for her to meet people and make friends.
A few weeks into the term, she was delighted to learn that there was a real Wicca group on campus. After summoning her courage, Tara went to one of the meetings. It wasn’t what she had hoped, but it was better than nothing. The girls were nice, for the most part, and sort of magical, but it was nothing like what she and her mother had practiced back home. These girls were more into bake sales and bacchanals than being witches.
All that changed late in the fall semester, when a beautiful redhead joined the Wicca group. Tara would never forget the first time she saw her. Actually, she should say the first time she ‘felt’ her.
Tara was writing in her journal, waiting for the meeting to begin, when she felt the energy in the room change; it was a quick chill, then a flush, as if someone had opened a door on a cold winter day and then shut it again quickly. Tara looked up.
And there she was, the beautiful redhead, a study in contradictions. Her body language showed nervousness, which Tara attributed to the fact that she was new to the group. Her aura, though, said ‘power’—and so much more. This girl was not like the others. Tara knew that she had to meet this girl.
And meet her she did, and after that, Tara’s world was never the same. For the first time in her life, Tara would leave the shadows and walk in the light.
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