Authors: Maya Sheppard
“I’ll take you back to your car.”
In the office, Marah met with Luke.
“Shayne Michaels showed up so he could help Renee. She was able to provide a statement to the police. Apparently, what she told them didn’t jibe with what neighbors – eyewitnesses – reported. Whatever the truth is, this case is undergoing a huge change. Both parents are going to be charged with Melissa’s murder,” Marah said.
“Expect a change of permanency plan, Marah,” Luke said.
“But Luke, what if Renee gets out? She can still get Scott back!”
“Marah. Think. Murder charges. She’s going to be sentenced to more years than she has left on her case here. Besides, you know federal law as well as anyone – a parent charged with the death of a child must – not an option – involuntarily relinquish parental rights or have them taken away.” Luke lookea at Marah, knowing she wanted to fight for her client. “Marah, Scott’s your responsibility now. Fight for Melissa. Renee will have an attorney fighting for her.”
Marah looked away from Luke, wanting to deny the truth of his words. She gave him a brief nod and asked him, “Is this all? I have a lot of work to do.”
“Go ahead. One thing . . . I’d like to meet with Shayne so DFCS and the mental health agency can decide on coordination of services for Scott. I’ll let you know what foster home he’s being placed in.”
“I’ll set it up and let you know,” said Marah.
After setting up the requested meeting, she sat back in her comfortable office chair and went into a reverie –
Those eyes! So blue, so soft. I wonder why, if he looks so young, he’s already graying? I remember hearing that his wife died a few years ago. That had to put a lot of stress that caused him to start going gray – but, with his blond hair, it looks . . . good. He must work out because he’s got some good muscles going the . . . Stop it! He’s off-limits. Remember . . . you were hurt . . . David cheated on you several times, then he left you and Daisy. My God, how could a father leave his little girl behind? Oh. That’s right. He’s a selfish bastard. Whatever you do, just stay away from men, no matter how inviting their blue eyes and blond-gray hair happen to be. Just remember David. That’ll make it easy.
On the appointed date of the meeting between Shayne, Marah and Luke, Shayne was escorted to Luke’s office. He sat at the conference table, waiting for Marah. As he waited, he thought about her tight, petite body and her unusual coloring. He mused that people with dark-brown hair usually didn’t have hazel-yellow eyes that could darken with emotion. Remembering Marah’s stipulation that their time at the coffee shop had to be for professional purposes, Shayne idly wondered who had hurt her. He came to the present when he heard a notebook slapping the table. Its owner – Marah – slid gracefully into her seat.
Marah gave Shayne a remote smile as she tipped her travel mug to her well-shaped, dark-pink lips.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“Busy, just like you. We’re going to be very busy over the next few months as Renee and Tom go through the court process,” Shayne warned.
“Oh, believe me, I know. I’ll be a bit busier, because the agency wants to strip both parents of their parental rights – which is what I want to discuss before this meeting gets started. Do you have any kind of professional opinion about mom? Do you think she can rise to the occasion and protect Scott?”
“Hmmmm.” Shayne allowed one finger to play around his lips as he thought. “Only if she’s not influenced by a man who’s stronger – or who
– emotionally stronger than she is. From what news reports have said, she reverted to form and didn’t step forward to protect Melissa when Tom started attacking the child.”
Marah felt an unreasonable anger – cognitively, she knew Shayne was right, but the emotional side of her wanted him to say that Renee would step up and protect her one remaining child. She sighed and shifted restlessly in her seat, then leveled a glare at him.
“Come on. Don’t tell me you don’t believe in her, either! She’s a mother!”
“A mother who allowed an abusive parent to kill their child. Marah, I’m going to report things exactly as I see them. There’s one child remaining and he’s even less able to defend himself than Melissa was! She’s been abused – she and Tom have a well-documented history of domestic violence and he’s got her well-trained. And, just like a show dog, sorry for the comparison, she performed to his expectations. I’m sorry if that’s harsh – but it’s exactly as I see it. It’s our responsibility to make sure that Scott isn’t exposed to that same treatment. Got it? I know you care for your clients, just as I do, but . . . I don’t believe Renee has it in her to protect her son. And that’s exactly what I’m going to say, when I’m asked,” Shayne said. As he spoke, his bright blue eyes became glacial. Luke walked in, preventing Marah from saying what she was thinking.
Marah ground her lips tightly shut and uncapped her pen. She turned away from Shayne, presenting him with one slim shoulder.
“Okay, Shayne, the Jones family has lost a child. What is your assessment of the mother’s ability to take care of Scott? I realize she’s likely to remain behind bars for longer than we have remaining on the case, but we need to document everything for the feds,” he said.
“Renee has a history of emotional and physical abuse at Tom’s hands. He’s ‘trained’ her to respond to his cues. She responded according to his expectations that day – she didn’t actively intervene to prevent Melissa’s injuries, and, for that reason, she contributed to her death, however unwilling she was to do so,” Shayne responded. As he spoke, his eyes drilled into Marah’s.
Come on, Marah. You know I’m telling the truth here. Deny it all you want, but eventually, you’ll have to admit I’m right.
Marah read his message. She shifted in her seat.
“Luke, we just took custody of Scott – if I go every week and review the protection techniques, I know she’ll pick up on them! Please . . . give me that time,” Marah pleaded.
“Marah, how long have we been working with this family?” Luke asked.
“Over a year, but, Luke – when we first took custody, Renee learned fast. She was motivated then, and I know she’ll be motivated now . . .”
Shayne leaned forward. “Marah, I confronted her gently in session – I’ll give you a copy of my notes – and she confirmed that Tom had begun his pattern of tearing her down again. I started reviewing what we’d worked on, but it was too late – she lost ground fast just before Tom attacked Melissa.”
Luke spoke. “So, you’re saying that Tom began, at the least, emotionally abusing Renee again, if not beating her physically? Did you see any marks or injuries on her?
“She came to one session wearing large, dark sunglasses that she refused to take off during our session. I reminded her that one of my few rules about sessions was that I needed to be able to see her eyes, or I’d end it right there. When she took them off, she had a small mouse under one eye – so, yes, he did start hitting her again. I asked her if she had filed a complaint with the Laurelville police, and she said she couldn’t, or he’d go back to jail and lose his job. He made her quit her job as an educational assistant when he got out the last time, she she wasn’t bringing anything into the household. She felt ‘stuck,’ according to what she told me.”
“Did you see either Melissa or Scott before Melissa was killed?” asked Marah.
“I went to the apartment for a family session. They were shadows of themselves. Quiet. If I can use a literary description, they were ‘solemn little mice.’ I did see something highly unusual from Melissa – she wanted to play with a doll during our session and Renee told her ‘no.’ Melissa got rebellious, went to her room and got the doll anyway. It was like she was asserting herself and her own boundaries, despite what Renee told her. I watched both parents and didn’t see anything that would indicate she was in any danger – Renee gave up and let her bring the doll into our session. I’m wondering if Melissa might have tried to do the same thing when she tried going outside the day she was hurt and killed – saying, ‘It’s sunny outside and I wanna play, so I’m going outside.’ Before she . . . died, she was becoming a spunky little girl, and she may have tried to use what I taught her about speaking up for herself – at the wrong time on the last day, unfortunately,” Shayne said.
“You think she might have misread Tom’s mood or body signals?” Luke asked.
“It’s possible – she was only three, and even though she was learning fast, she still needed to realize when it would have been too dangerous to stand her ground against him. Ironically, it would have been much safer for her to run next door to a neighbor and let them know that daddy was getting really mad again.”
“Shayne, in your latest sessions with Renee, did you see her continuing to use what we had taught her about protecting herself and the children? Or did you see her giving up to Tom’s demands?” Marah asked.
“Frankly, it was getting much harder for her to stand up to him and intervene for the children. I found I had to review more frequently with her why and how to do so. We went over the ‘cycle of violence,’ and I asked her what stage she and Tom were in – she said they were in the ‘honeymoon’ stage. Obviously, that ended pretty fast. In hindsight, I am thinking Tom was actually in the ‘fantasizing’ and the ‘build-up’ stages because of how fast things appeared to go down. If he’d been in the ‘honeymoon’ phase as Renee had said . . .”
“We would have had more time to intervene,” Marah said.
“Do you think she was lying, either to you or to herself?” Luke asked.
“To both herself and me. She’s still very dependent on him. And she sacrificed the kids to hold onto him,” said Shayne, looking straight at Marah.
Marah, looking at Shayne, caught his look and the message it contained –
You know as well as I do that she made the conscious choice to give that child up to hold onto an abusive monster.
Looking into his solemn blue eyes, she returned a message of her own –
She was thinking from a position of fear – that doesn’t make her a monster.
Setting her pen flat on the table as a preface to her words, Marah said, “A new custody time frame would still give us nearly a year to work with Renee. If we need, we can terminate Tom’s parental rights to Scott. I want that time to work with Renee so she can get stronger and be a more effective . . .”
“Marah, regardless of a new time frame, her time behind bars is going to make that a moot point. She’s also facing murder charges, don’t forget. Shayne just told us that she made the choice to stay with Tom even though he had begun to abuse and manipulate her, rather than escape to the women’s shelter with the children. The D.A. is going to make that a part of the prosecution case against Renee – meaning she’s going to face a significant sentence behind bars. Scott will be an adult by the time she gets out,” Luke said.
“Luke, she froze out of fear. She still needs our support. I’m not giving up on her,” Marah said stubbornly.
The meeting stalled at that point, so Luke decided they would pick up at that point when they had more information. As everyone stood, Shayne asked Marah if she had a few moments to spare.
“Come to my office and let’s talk,” said Marah.
In her office, Marah sat behind her desk, making it a barrier. They discussed the Jones case and Shayne spoke about his thoughts on the parents’ actions. Marah took notes, nodding to indicate she was listening to him. Silence fell as Shayne shut his notebook.
“Will you have dinner with me on Friday night?” he asked.
“No. I won’t. We’re mental health and helping professionals working on cases we hold in common. It’s important for me to maintain professionalism.”
“ . . . It’s the best policy for me. It’s my preference,” Marah said, with a short tone to her voice.
“But . . . we’re not in supervisory . . .”
“Mr. Michaels! I told you – no! Please leave. I have too much work to do to keep answering the same questions over and over,” she said, with anger sending sparks out of her yellow-hazel eyes.
Shayne, focusing on her unusual eyes, noticed that they communicated her emotional state.
“Okay. I’ll let you know if anything develops on my end, regarding the Jones family.”
“Thank you. I’ll walk you out to the front office.”
That night, Shayne drank a chilled beer after eating dinner. He thought about his wife, testing the fact of her death against his feelings, much as someone would push his tongue into a sore tooth. While he felt a nostalgic love for her, the old pain didn’t rip his soul apart as it had in the past. His thoughts moved to Marah and her insistence that they “keep things professional.” His instincts told her that their work wasn’t her only reason. As he thought, he acknowledged that he had been rejected by other women. His professional knowledge tipped him off to the fact that Marah was hiding behind her profession as a way of avoiding entering a professional relationship.
She’s antsy about men in general, not just me. Someone hurt her – she’s assuming that we’ll all hurt her, somehow. I need to find a way of showing her that she’s wrong, that I’m not out to hurt her – not intentionally, anyway.
In her own small, well-kept home, Marah fed Daisy, her daughter, then sat on the love seat with her, snuggling and reading several of Daisy’s favorite books to her.