Authors: Maya Sheppard
“Well, hello, stranger! I never expected to see you here!” Charlotte said, as if surprised to bump into the therapist.
“Uh, hello. How are you?” Shayne asked politely.
“Wonderful, thank you for asking!” Charlotte smiled widely, giving him an intense look, as though to say, “I’m here for your pleasure.”
“Well, I have a few things to take care of. Nice to bump . . .” Shayne tried to say as he started to move in the opposite direction. He looked down as Charlotte grabbed his forearm, holding on tightly.
“Wait! Would you like to walk up to Lucheti’s and have some coffee? There’s a definite ‘zing’ in the air this morning, you know!” As she mentioned the chilly fall morning temperature, Charlotte gave an exaggerated shiver.
“Sorry, but no. I really do have other . . . things I need to attend to. Bye.” Shayne waved and left quickly.
Charlotte’s hand fell from Shayne’s forearm and the smile slid from her face, like an object sliding over a slick surface. She noticed him dialing a number on his cell phone, so she hurried to keep up with him and overhear his conversation. As she heard Marah’s name slip from his lips, she frowned heavily. Still, she continued to listen in on his conversation.
“Hey, Marah, I just wanted to confirm our dinner plans. Yes, I remember. Thank you – I’ll see you this evening, at International Delights. Yes, 5:30.”
Seeing Shayne disconnect his call, Charlotte turned and walked quickly away in the opposite direction.
Hmmm. I think I’ll be there tonight, just for observational purposes.
Early that evening, Shayne and Marah sat in a booth, drinking coffee and hot chocolate as they discussed Renee Jones in hypothetical terms.
“So, let’s say a hypothetical client has been in to see you so she can strengthen her parenting skills and recognize the patterns of domestic violence. If something happens to someone in her family, but you still believe she can learn the skills she needs, what would you say to another professional who might be considering her ability to parent her child?” Marah asked.
“You know that I’d have to explain to that professional what I see as the skills and needs of that client, so everyone has the most complete picture possible,” Shayne said. Looking up, he frowned as he saw Charlotte being seated close to their booth. He tore a sheet of paper from his notebook and wrote a short note, warning Marah, then passed it to her.
That woman is too damned interested. I don’t think this morning’s meeting was so coincidental.
Marah, reading his note, shook her head at the irony – here she was, avoiding romantic entanglements, and, across the table from her was someone who wanted to become involved with her. To add to the irony, someone who wanted to be involved with her dinner partner had just been seated close by. She snickered quietly.
The server brought their orders, which allowed Marah and Shayne to continue discussing possibilities in the Jones case, trying to figure out what might happen. After they had finished eating, Shayne tossed a ten dollar bill on the table and escorted Marah out of the restaurant. As they passed the large window, he noticed that Charlotte was no longer at her table.
“I’ll follow you home to make sure you get there okay,” Shayne promised. At her house, he walked her to her front door and waited as she unlocked her door. He leaned down and gave Marah a quick, chaste kiss – all he knew she would allow. He could feel Charlotte’s presence down the street.
Marah was paying the sitter when her doorbell rang. Opening the door, she thanked the sitter, who left quickly. She was surprised to see Charlotte standing on her doorstep.
“What the hell do you mean, kissing a mental health professional? You’re supposed to maintain solely a working relationship with all of them! And here you are, kissing Michaels!”
You know what? Just go. Leave. What I do on my time is my business,” Marah said. She shut and locked the door, knowing that Charlotte was still standing on her front step. She shook her head, refusing to admit that she found the tall, muscular therapist attractive. Instead, she tip-toed down the hallway, hoping that Charlotte’s loud, penetrating voice had not woken Daisy. Peering into the doorway, she exhaled in relief – Daisy was still sleeping.
Charlotte left her apartment earlier than usual. I need to put a wrench in Marah’s plans to take Shayne away from me – through Luke.
She strode quickly into the office and, right after she had dumped her purse and bag into her office, she went to Luke’s office, knocking on his doorway with some urgency.
“Luke, I really need to talk to you! I saw something this weekend that you really need to know about – can I come in?” Charlotte asked, telegraphing the urgency of the matter with widened eyes.
Luke gazed at her. He knew that, more often than not, her “urgent” matters were urgent only to herself, depending on what she had in mind at the time. Sighing inwardly, he gestured her in.
Charlotte bustled in self-importantly, thinking to herself, “Bingo! That’s one obstacle down.” Plopping herself into the chair in front of his desk, she gripped her hands together and put them on his desk, dislodging a triple picture frame of his family.
“Well? What is it this time?” asked Luke.
“It’s really bad, Luke – I bumped into Marah Wilkes this past Saturday. I decided to eat out and enjoy a quiet evening to myself, at International Delights. I saw Marah – with Shayne Michaels! They were on a date! Worse, when he followed her home, she – she kissed him!” Charlotte finished on a rising note as he strident voice reached out to the hallway.
“Hold it! Hold it right there. What my workers do on their own time is their own business, provided it isn’t illegal. If she wants to go out with someone, more power to her. I don’t give a damn who it is, as long as it isn’t her ex. Marah’s time is her own, so if she wants to go out with Michaels, that’s her business. Get back to work,” Luke said in a powerful voice.
Riley was passing by. She heard Luke’s words. Hearing Marah’s and Shayne’s names, she veered into an open conference room, making it look as if she was working. Hearing Charlotte’s hurried steps leaving Luke’s office, she kept her head down. As soon as the hallway was Charlotte-free, she hurried to her own office.
At the end of the day, Riley curled up on her sofa and called Marah.
“Listen, Charlotte was trying to get you in trouble with Luke, because you went out with Shayne the other night. What happened?” Riley asked.
Marah explained everything, then said, “I’m . . . afraid of relationships with men. Even if one of them is your brother.”
“Hmm. You went through hell. I’m not surprised. You’re making progress, though. Ignore Charlotte. She’s an overdramatic you-know-what,” Riley said.
“Who wants Shayne for herself. What if he likes her?”
Riley laughed. “Hardly! She’s too intense. He doesn’t like them bony, either.”
At the end of that week, Marah, Shayne and the senior social work consultant sat in Luke’s office, discussing Renee Jones’ fate. The consultant listened to everyone’s thoughts advocating a return home plan or a change to TPR.
“I want to talk to Ms. Wilkes alone for a while. I think, then, we’ll be able to come to a decision,” said the consultant.
“Okay, I’m interested in why you are advocating for a continued return home plan for Scott,” he said.
“Renee ‘froze.’ She’s been abused by her husband for years and he’s indoctrinated her into giving certain responses. She knows that, if she defies him, it’ll go worse for her . . .”
“So, her instinct for self-preservation trumped her child protection skills . . . her child protection instincts?”
Marah’s words stuck in her throat. Her mouth opened and closed.
How can I advocate for her when he puts it in those terms?
“Marah, I’ve reviewed the case file extensively. She’s stood by too many times, allowing the children to be abused - in effect, abusing by neglect. Is she likely to get out of prison in the next 10 months?”
Marah shook her head ‘no,’ slowly, saying, “We don’t know what a jury will decide . . .”
“Blane county has seen more than its share of child abuse deaths. I think any jury would decide based on the fact that this is one more death – and vote to convict her.” said the consultant with a sad look.
Marah sat back, realizing she and the rest of the team responsible for the final decision would have to make a painful choice – and it would be up to her to tell the parents. She got up and called the other team members back into the conference room.
After the meeting ended, Luke suggested that Marah and Shayne both visit Renee and Tom. “She trusts you both. She’ll be mad, but she’ll also know that you fought for her. Set up a time to inform her and give her the option of relinquishing her parental rights. On Tom, we’re taking his rights involuntarily.”
Marah sighed. Looking at Shayne, he agreed that he wanted to be there. They set up a day to visit the detention center, then he left. Marah began the termination of parental rights paperwork on Tom Jones.
The next week, she and Shayne visited the detention center and spoke to Tom first. Luke had been right – Tom was enraged when he found out his rights were being terminated. It took two guard to wrestle him back to his cell. Fifteen minutes later, Renee was brought to the visitation room.
“So, will I get Scott back when I get out?”
Marah looked at Shayne. Her mouth went cotton pad-dry. Taking a large swallow of water, she looked at Renee and shook her head.
“DFCS has decided to terminate your parental rights, Renee. It wasn’t a decision we wanted to make. I know you love Scott, but you weren’t able to step up and protect him or Melissa. You reverted back to old patterns, Renee. Tom’s facing even more prison time than you are. You’re likely to meet and become involved with another abusive man – you seek these relationships out subconsciously. Scott needs a family now. Not eighteen years from now,” Marah finished.
Renee’s head dropped heavily to the conference table as she began sobbing. She sat there for several minutes, trying to take in the news. Finally, a guard came in at a signal from Shayne.
Marah kept sitting. Giving this news to the young parents had completely drained her. It was several minutes before she could get up. She started as Shayne put his large hand over hers.
“Let’s go. It’s been a stressful afternoon. Luke gave you the rest of the day off, am I right?”
Marah could do little more than nod. All she wanted to do was retreat to her home and close the blinds against the cruel world.
I need to forget today ever happened so I can come back to work, ready to help my other clients.
“I took the rest of the afternoon off, myself. I can’t be effective for anyone, and neither can you. We’re going for a walk in the forest nearby Laurelville. It’s cold, but it’s dry. Come on,” Shayne directed.
Marah tossed her notes into her car and locked it. She followed Shayne into the nearby forest as he headed right for a walking trail. At first, they walked in silence.
Shayne softly took Marah’s hand, not knowing how she would react. She allowed him to hold her hand, but her heart hammered in fear. She wasn’t sure if she was afraid of her own feelings or of being hurt again.
“Marah, I was married for several years. My wife was killed in a car accident. Until I met you, it was impossible for me to even think of any other relationships – you are the first woman I’ve been interested in since she died. I started to realize how attractive you are – how attracted to you I am – when we started working together. I . . . would like to explore the possibility of a relationship with you, but I want to take our time. It’s been so long for me that I feel that, if we do decide to start seeing each other, I want to move slowly.”
Marah listened quietly. She recognized that he had been hurt as badly as she had, although in a different way.
That many years, and he hasn’t been in a relationship? A man this good-looking? But, will he cheat on me? If he doesn’t, I can actually see myself in a relationship with him. But, if he’s going to cheat, all bets are off.
As she thought, the question of how she would know he had begun to cheat came to her mind.
“Shayne, you need to know something about me. My ex-husband cheated on me many times. Before we got married, he cheated and after we got married, he cheated. I found out about his serial cheating when Daisy was only two years old and I filed for divorce right away. While I was waiting for the divorce to be finalized, I found out that he’d cheated on me with several girls while we were dating – while we were engaged. For that reason, I’ve avoided any more romantic relationships –
I’d rather be by myself for the rest of myself than run the risk of being cheated on again.”
“Marah, I do not believe in multiple relationships, nor do I believe in cheating. If you finally decide you are going to be in a relationship with me, you will be safe with me. I cannot fathom how anyone can make a commitment to someone, say they love them, promise to be true to them – and then cheat on them, let alone multiple times with multiple partners,” Shayne said. “If you believe me, I hope you’ll think about starting to go out with me – one on one.”
Marah looked up at Shayne.
How do I know he’s telling me the truth? There’s no test that gives me that answer, and I don’t know if I’m brave enough to try this out.
As if in answer to her thought, Marah’s heart began to hammer hard in her chest.