Authors: Maya Sheppard
“Okay, Lovebug, it’s time for your bath. You spent a lot of time outside and you are dirty! Come on. Let’s get some water into the tub and wash all that dirt off and bring my little Daisy back!” In the bathroom, she added lukewarm water to the tub and helped Daisy undress. After bathing her, Marah dried her and helped her into her pajamas. As she helped Daisy brush her teeth, she forced her mind away from Shayne yet again – she had been pushing him out of her mind all afternoon long.
“Pick one more book, and make it a good one! I’ll read to you, then it’s lights-out.” After reading the book, Marah tucked Daisy in and gave her a soft kiss on her forehead. In the kitchen, she heated water for some tea and thought about her ex-husband, remembering the serial affairs he had embarked on before and during their marriage. Musing on the hurt she had endured, she muttered to herself, “That’s it. If I’m not going to be hurt like that again, I need to rule out any relationships. Period.” She was surprised at the sadness she felt at this thought. Sipping the hot tea, she chalked the sadness off to the realization that, to protect herself, she was giving up on relationships.
It’s a natural reaction, Marah. You’ll get over it, eventually.
After her realization that she would have to rule out romantic relationships, Marah threw herself into mothering Daisy and into her work. Because of Melissa’s murder, the Jones case took up the bulk of her work time and she found herself meeting with law enforcement, legal and mental health professionals, advocating one more chance for Renee. Each meeting focused on Renee’s possible mental state and even her mental health in the days before Melissa was killed.
“She froze. She had seen Tom’s moods in the past and she knew what was coming. She opted to try and get him to cool down. I had told her that the time period right before an abused spouse escapes a violent relationship is the most dangerous for her – she knew that, so it’s a given that she would choose to wait until things were calmer in the home. Look. Scott’s only 18 months old. We can identify, home study and license a relative and put him into long-term kinship care. Once Renee is released from any prison sentence she may –
– receive, they can live under the same roof again. Juries are unpredictable – they may say that she wasn’t an accomplice to Melissa’s murder – we don’t know what’ll happen,” Marah said during one lengthy meeting.
Shayne nodded. “Even though I worked hard with her to get her to understand the cycle she and Tom were in, she did freeze. She’s human. Ms. Wilkes is right – there’s no saying what any jury will decide and she could be freed and able to take care of Scott. It’s a given that Tom’s going to spend many years behind bars, so he’s effectively out of the picture. That gives DFCS and me more time to make Renee stronger.”
Marah looked at Shayne, stunned. While his chiseled face was solemn, his sky-blue eyes held the light of hope and certainty that he could achieve his goals with Renee.
“I understand your position, Marah, and I know that you hate to give up on your clients. I’m going to have to break the stalemate here. I don’t want to make the decision today. It’s still early in this case. Scott continues in foster care and the legal system will move forward on Renee’s and Tom’s cases. Shayne, I want you to complete a psychosocial assessment on Renee. I’ll have Marah write a letter, formally requesting that your agency interview and assess her situation. I’ll use that to make a final decision regarding TPR or continuing to work with the mother,” Luke decided.
Marah exhaled silently, relieved that Luke had seen her position.
Later that day, Marah answered a text from her best friend, Riley Michaels, Shayne’s sister. Riley had invited her and Daisy to go to the Farmer’s and Crafts Market that weekend.
Marah: Yes, Riley sounds good. What time?
Riley: Starts at 8. How about getting together @ 9? Get the best merchandise! Lunch after?
Marah: We’ll be ready! Pick us up @ 9.
Riley: Got it. C U!
Marah’s busy schedule left her little time to relax. While the Jones case took the bulk of her time, she still had responsibilities to the other families in her caseload – she worked on home visits and court reports. As a result, she got home at the end of every day, wrung out and ready to drop. By Friday, she was ready for a relaxing weekend.
She and Daisy met Riley as promised, visiting the different vendors’ booths at the Farmer’s Market. Marah bought some small items she needed for the house, a small toy for Daisy and bags of fresh vegetables and fruit. While she was paying for the fruits, she was shocked to see Shayne ambling through the different booths.
“Marah! Riley! Hey, how are you?” Shayne hugged his sister and gently shook Marah’s hand. Squatting down to Daisy’s level, he shook her small hand, smiling at the little girl – except for her vivid green eyes, she was her mother’s miniature. “Hey, all treat everyone to coffee – Marah, how about some hot chocolate for your little girl?”
Marah felt trapped – despite her earlier decision, she still wrestled with her attraction to the tall, blonde therapist. She didn’t want to create a scene, so she smiled slightly and said, “Sure. Daisy would love hot chocolate this morning – it’s on the cool side today.”
As the foursome sat at a small, round table, Marah was shocked to find she actually enjoyed the time with Shayne. She wasn’t sure if it was the relaxed atmosphere or Shayne’s ability to make others relax. She was just grateful she didn’t have to cover for any negative feelings. At the end of the day, she took a tired, sticky Daisy home and put her into a tub of warm water for a bath. As she shampooed her daughter’s hair and bathed her, she was surprised to catch herself humming a favorite song.
“Mommy, it’s been a long time since you sang! Are you happy?” Daisy asked with a grin.
“Yes, punkin, I am! Did you have fun today?”
“Yeah. That man was nice. He likeded you.” Daisy giggled, seeing her mother’s sudden blush.
After dinner, when Daisy was asleep, Marah pulled out a cross stitch project. As she stitched, she felt herself slipping into a familiar, Zen-like calmness. Her thoughts flowed as she worked on the colorful pattern.
The following Sunday, Marah’s happy mood continued. She and Daisy worked on an art project, laughing with each other as small pieces of colorful art tissue paper stuck to their fingers. While she made dinner, Marah grabbed a stool and set a silicone bowl with hot vegetables in front of Daisy. Scooping butter into the vegetables, she gave the spoon to Daisy, showing her how to mix the melting butter into the vegetables.
Marah strode into work the following day, feeling relaxed and happy – the weekend had done its magic on her, enabling her to get badly needed rest. She was grateful for this when Luke knocked at her office door, entering and sitting in one of the chairs.
“Marah, we’re at a standstill with the Jones case. I see your points and I understand where you’re coming from. I also see my viewpoint, because it looks like Renee will be incarcerated for several years. Scott needs a resolution – he needs a forever family. I’m going to call the senior social work consultant and have him come down to Laurelville so we can discuss this and a few other cases we have. I don’t want to force you to choose TPR, okay? I see everyone’s positions – they all have merit. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to make a decision either way. I’ll call Shayne Michaels, because we will need his professional input. Isn’t he starting his assessment of Renee soon?”
“Next week, from what he told me. I’ll see how quickly he can write up his report once he’s done,” Marah said. She leaned back, thinking. “So, you do see merit in my position?”
“Yes. But the consultant will make the final decision. Either way,” Luke said.
Marah had been hard at work, clearing her large backlog of paperwork, when Luke knocked at her door again.
“Shayne will have his report ready by the end of next week, and the consultant can be here then. I’ve set it for a week from this Friday – 10 a.m. Write up your position and make copies – I’m sure they’ll become a part of the court record,” Luke warned.
“I will. Thanks,” Marah said, writing the meeting down in her planner. She also added the meeting into her Google calendar. After Luke returned to his office, Marah played with her pen on her desk, thinking. Coming to a decision, she walked to Riley’s office down the hall.
“Hey, Riley, do you have time for lunch? I have a problem,” Marah said.
“Work-related? Why not have lunch at my place?” Riley suggested.
At Riley’s apartment, the two friends discussed the Jones case, with Riley taking the devil’s advocate role. As they talked and discussed the case, Marah was better-able to see Luke’s position. As the friends strolled back to their wing, Riley asked Marah about Shayne bumping into them at the Farmer’s market.
“I had a lot of fun, and Daisy did, too. I needed this past weekend – I was worn out on Friday,” Marah said. Neither woman realized that another social worker lingered close behind them, listening to their words.
Charlotte Smith frowned as she heard Marah’s mention of Shayne Michaels.
When he’s been here, I’ve seen him looking at
. He’s not attracted to her, Charlotte. He’s attracted to you. You’re fit and you’re beautiful, so no worries. I just might go to the Farmer’s Market. If he’s there, I’ll get to see him.
Later that afternoon, as she took a short work break, Charlotte stopped in Marah’s office to visit.
“Hey, what do you think of Shayne Michaels? Do you think he’s . . . attractive?” Charlotte asked, struggling to maintain a casual attitude.
Marah gazed at her tall, thin coworker in confusion. She felt a tiny niggle of suspicion, then reminded herself that, if anyone else was interested in him, it was nothing to her. Shrugging, she spoke.
“He’s good at his work – he’s very intuitive about people, and any clients we have in common benefit from his skills. As far as my knowing him, the better my professional relationship is with him, the better it is for any clients we have in common. I’m really swamped, Charlotte – if you don’t mind?” Marah picked up her computer mouse and indicated a tall pile of paperwork.
Charlotte took the hint and left.
Marah leaned back, thinking about the mental health professional. She was shocked as she realized that she did like him – and that Charlotte’s question had bothered her. Looking at her desk clock, she decided it was time to get back to work.
I’ll have plenty of time to think tonight, after I’ve tucked Daisy into bed.
Charlotte returned to her office and called an old friend, Joe Jackson.
“Hey, Joe, I need to get together with you later today. Do you have time?”
“I’ll take you to dinner and we can talk. How’s that?”
Charlotte hesitated, knowing that Joe nursed a long-standing attraction to her. Thinking quickly, she realized that she needed the benefit of his help more than she needed to hold him away from her.
“Sounds good. Meet me at The Big Game at 5:30, for beer and a meal. We’ll talk then,” she promised.
“I’ll see you there,” Joe promised. At The Big Game, a sports bar, Charlotte sat at a tall table with Joe. He drank in her appearance, admiring her bright red hair and her precise makeup.
“Joe, there’s a therapist in town. His name is Shayne Michaels. Have you heard of him?”
“I think I have . . . Do . . . do you like him?” Joe asked, not wanting to hear an affirmative answer.
“Yep. I sure do. He likes me, too, but . . . there’s one small complication. One of my coworkers seems to like him, too. Marah Wilkes. I need you to get her out of Shayne’s and my way,” Charlotte said, as she thirstily drank her beer.
Joe looked down, taking a deep breath. “Yeah. I’ll help you. I’ll meet her and see if I can get her to go out with me. How’s that?”
“Perfect!” Charlotte beamed a bright smile at her old friend.
The next day, Joe started stopping at the DFCS office, supposedly to meet up with Charlotte. Shortly before he left, Charlotte took him to Marah’s office to introduce him to her coworker.
“Stop here every day and start asking her out. She’s shy of guys for some odd reason, but I’m sure you can get through to her,” Charlotte said.
“Yeah. Okay. So . . . that’ll leave a clear path for you to get through to Michaels, right? And that’s what you want?”
“Joe, you’re such a good
,” Charlotte said. As she spoke, she placed one hand on his cheek, belying her emphasis on the word ‘friend.’
Despite his best efforts, Joe was unable to get Marah to agree to go out with him. She steadfastly refused, not wanting to give anyone else a chance to hurt her.
Joe, not wanting to anger Charlotte, simply told her that he was “making progress” with Marah.
In her apartment, Charlotte Smith gazed with satisfaction at her reflection in her standing mirror – she had donned a skin-tight pair of jeans, low-heeled boots and a snug long-sleeved sweater, over which she had slipped on a bright-red blazer. Patting her red hair, she nodded with satisfaction –
Yes. Shayne will like this. I look . . . sexy.
She slipped her credit card and some cash into one pocket, grabbed her purse and keys, then left. At the Farmer’s Market, she strolled about, taking care to look oh, so casual, picking up crafted items, looking them over and putting them back onto display tables. She bought a bag of vegetables. Looking up, she spotted her target, buying a bag of oatmeal-raisin cookies. She aimed straight for him, making it look as if she didn’t realize he was there, then she “bumped” into him.