. . .
“This your first visit? Sign in here. Then check that table. There's a visit form that must be filled out each time you're here. There's another to accompany your monthly fee.”
“Fee?” No one had mentioned that.
“The parole fee is $30 per month. Don't worry about that today. You can discuss a payment arrangement with your parole officer.”
She found a chair and completed the short form. There was steady traffic in and out of the locked entrance to the offices. An officer would appear at the entrance and call a parolee's name. Their visit was usually completed in less than five minutes, although she noticed one who didn't return. There wasn't much else to see in the small room. One wall held a large bulletin board with job postings. Another displayed posters warning of the penalties for using drugs or possessing weapons.
A middle-aged woman, whose short hair was streaked with gray, stood in the doorway. Beth rose and followed her past a series of small offices. The woman entered one, then turned to Beth.
“I'm Officer Watkins.”
She gestured for Beth to sit and opened a folder marked Hollister.
“You're staying at Redemption House.”
“Then you have your first month's employment. I know that it doesn't pay cash, but you will still be responsible for the parole fee this month. Do you have any money?
“About fifty dollars.”
“The fee is $30 per month. Why don't you pay $10 now and we'll defer payment on the rest until you have a more lucrative position.”
Beth nodded her agreement.
“You'll be required to make visits on a weekly basis. The frequency may change, depending on your parole record. You're scheduled for Tuesday. Come in anytime between 7am and 6pm. There's a 10pm curfew. That shouldn't be a problem for you, since Redemption House has a much stricter one.”
“Do you need clothing?”
The question took Beth by surprise.
“I have a couple of outfits.”
You'll need more than that. We keep a supply of used clothing available. It's not fancy, but it's clean. Come with me.”
They headed to a small room at the back of the building that was filled with used clothing and bedding. Beth selected two pairs of jeans, a couple shirts and a winter jacket. Weather was getting cooler. She'd probably be grateful to have it, even if just to walk to these visits. Officer Watkins gave Beth a paper bag to hold her selections. Then she escorted her to the door. Beth heard her calling the next parolee before she exited the reception area.
She couldn't have asked for anything easier, she reflected, as she crossed the street towards the coffee shop. This would not be nearly as hard as Redemption House. She just needed to follow the rules and there weren't that many. She longed for the day when she would leave the halfway house, then reminded herself that she had just begun.
Cassandra was enjoying another cup of coffee and a sweet roll. She confessed to eating a large breakfast, but claimed she needed to fill up while she had edible food. Beth declined a cup of coffee, nervous that a longer absence might be noticed. She would do nothing to jeopardize her freedom.
The walk back to Redemption House ended too quickly. Beth took a reluctant look at the blue sky and headed in the door of the building.
Lord's Servant Margaret assigned Beth to cleaning duties. Cassandra scowled and walked off. Beth merely nodded and asked where to find the cleaning supplies. She only worked a short time before being summoned to a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches. There was no formal service before the noontime meal. Beth was the only resident seated at her table. She wondered where Cassandra had gone. Perhaps she wasn't hungry after her large breakfast. Most of the residents had outside jobs and were provided with a bagged lunch. Pastor Bob was not present either. Margaret mentioned that he was attending to church business and offered a short prayer of thanks for the Lord's bounty. Looking down at peanut butter on stale bread, Beth could barely restrain a giggle.
The post-lunch cleanup was quick and Beth returned to her assigned tasks. It was nearly 3pm when she was summoned to Pastor Bob's office.
“I understand that you can cook.”
“That position is usually reserved for residents of much more advanced standing. The cook's duties prevent her from attending daily services. These services are important for those new residents who are not yet servants of the Lord. However, after prayerful consideration, the Lord has inspired me to make an exception.”
“Lord's Servant Cassandra has offered to spend time each day, praying with you and instructing you in the Lord's ways. Our refrigerators are small, which necessitates daily shopping trips. Cassandra will escort you on these trips. You are still restricted from leaving the building alone.”
Leave the building every day? Beth struggled to maintain her composure.
“Our food budget is small. You will receive one dollar per day for each resident. You must file a daily report of your expenditures and attach receipts.”
“You may also use the food distribution center on Covair Street. Redemption House is authorized to receive surplus from them, although our most recent cooks have not found it very helpful. Lord's Servant Cassandra knows where it's located.”
Pastor Bob took an envelope from his desktop.
Here is your first day's budget. It needs to cover breakfast and lunch tomorrow as well as this evening's meal. Prepare meals for fifty people.”
“Surely that should not be a problem, if you are the skilled cook that you claim to be. Or is this another one of your deceits?”
Beth did not remember making any such claim, but refrained from saying so.
“It will not be a problem, sir.”
“Since the cook is required to rise earlier than other residents, she has separate quarters off the kitchen. You may relocate your possessions after dinner.”
“Very well then. I will see you at dinner.”
Beth gave a nod and left the office. Less than 3 hours to shop and prepare dinner for 50 people.
What had Cassandra got her into?
And where was she?
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