Author:  Meltha

Rating:  G, nothing objectionable

Feedback:  Yes, thank you. Melpomenethalia@aol.com

Spoilers:  I suppose "Hush," although technically there's one for "The Body" as well.

Distribution: Fanfiction.net, the Bunny Warren, and the 500 Club.  If you're interested, please let me know.

Summary:  Tara is heading to UC Sunnydale and reflects on her life.

Author's Note:  The sixth in the Jewel Box series, a collection of 500 word fics (in response to The 500 Club) and an idea taken from Challenge in a Can www.dymphna.challenge.com.  In this case, it's Tara, jewelry, and strength. 

Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy.  Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you.  Thank you.

Quiet Strength

Bus rides weren't her favorite thing… never knowing who might sit in the next seat, the wheels never cushioning the bumps in the road.  Tara knew she'd have a sore back by the time she got to California, but she didn't care.  Looking out the window at the passing roadside restaurants and two-bit gas stations, she noticed that no sooner had she seen them than they were part of the past and behind her.  She liked that feeling. 

Optimistic might not quite describe her mood.  After all, she knew no one in the state.  Her fingers gently pulled the slender silver chain around her neck until she held the pendant between fingers, and she remembered the day it had been given to her.

"Happy birthday, honey!" her mother had called in the autumn morning air. 

Tara's tenth birthday had dawned clear and radiant, the sun sparkling through the yellow birch tree in the yard.  Her mother had known to look for her outside not because of the beauty of the day but due to her father's drinking the night before.  He had come home reeking of whisky, and the loud fight that followed frightened the girl.  Tara had heard it through the thin walls and never fallen asleep afterwards.  At sunrise, she had climbed out her bedroom window and sat in the hencoop, feeling safer in the tiny shed.

Tara came running, though, when she heard her mother's voice.  No matter how many times she heard her father scream "demon" and "damned" and "worthless" or how often she heard her mother cry, when morning came Tara knew Momma wasn't evil; Momma sometimes seemed like the only person she knew who wasn't.

"Here's a special present for my girl," she'd said, giving her a small box wrapped in colorful paper.  Eagerly, she'd opened the gift and found inside it a miniscule stone as golden as the autumn sun.

"That's a topaz, November's birthstone.  I saved the egg money a good while for it, but I couldn't afford a chain," the woman had explained apologetically.

"That's okay, momma.  I love it!" Tara had said happily, holding the flashing stone up to the light.

"Carry that with you.  The topaz symbolizes strength, just like the kind that lies deep inside you, sweetheart."

When Momma died a few years later, the stone was in Tara's pocket.  The little money that her mother had put aside for her went partly to buy the chain that encircled her neck.  She didn't wear it all the time, but she always kept it near her.  She had worn it to take the scholarship test for UC Sunnydale, and she was wearing it again today as another part of her life opened.

The bus hit a nasty bump, and Tara was jolted back to reality.  She'd be there soon.  What she'd find when she reached her new "home" was uncertain, but she remembered what her mother had told her and was filled with a strange, cautious hope.