“Cassandra is no longer with us.”
Questions sprang to Beth's lips, but Margaret continued without a pause.
“It's obvious her supervision was poor. It's time for dinner and nothing is prepared. Are you concerned? No. You stand there dressed like a hussy with no thoughts of your responsibilities. Things are going to change. Immediately. Dinner will be served after the service or there will be consequences. A suitable dinner. None of your peanut butter sandwiches.”
She turned and left the kitchen. Seconds later, the sounds of the evening service began.
For a moment, Beth stood stunned. Then she spun into action. She had never served peanut butter sandwiches and had no intent to begin now.
“Judith. We need to talk later. Please prepare a salad.”
No time to change her clothes. Beth removed the shawl and covered her clothes with a large white apron. She saw that Judith hadn't moved and grabbed her shoulders.
Judith rose and moved listlessly towards the refrigerator. Obviously Beth could not rely on her for much else. She thought quickly and moved into action. Thank goodness for the freezer. She quickly removed apple pies, beef tips and dinner rolls. She started cooking rice. Hopefully, there would be sufficient time for it to cook. Forty minutes later the beef tips were hot and the apple pies and rolls had been removed from the oven. Judith had finally produced a salad. Only the rice remained. Beth heard the final hymn and began to despair. All that remained to the service was Pastor Bob's closing prayer. The rice needed five more minutes and there was no way to speed that. The hymn ended.
“Lord, we ask your saving powers for Cassandra, who fell from your way. We know that she must pay the wages of her sin. Do not spare your wrath, but use it to direct her back to the path of righteousness. May she serve as an example to other sinners, who are tempted to stray from the fold.”
His tirade continued for nearly ten minutes. Before it reached it's conclusion, the rice was ready.
Beth had no appetite for dinner. Lord's Servant Margaret glared at her from across the room, obviously disappointed that Beth had met the deadline. Finally the meal was over. Pastor Bob approached her as she rose to leave.
“You've heard that we've lost Cassandra?”
“I'm afraid this will mean more work for you. But this cannot be helped. She must reap the consequences of her actions.”
He paused a moment and gave Beth an intent look.
“It's good for all of us to remember that there are consequences for our actions.”
He left without saying more. Beth hurried back to the kitchen, anxious to talk with Judith. Conversation proved impossible. Margaret stood in one corner occasionally breaking the silence with a criticism of their work. When the dishes had been washed, Margaret instructed the others to leave.
“She can finish cleaning. She's done very little today.”
To Beth's relief, Margaret left as well. She was just starting preparations for the next day, when Judith tiptoed back into the kitchen.
“Pastor Bob planted those drugs, Beth.”
“He did a room search and found found a small stash of marijuana under Cassandra's mattress.”
“Cassandra doesn't do drugs.”
“Of course not. But it's an easy way to create a parole violation.”
“Why would he do that?”
Judith was suddenly quiet.
“Judith, tell me. I can see that you know.”
“Cassandra said not to tell you. She didn't want you to worry. Guess that doesn't matter now. Did you know that his phone has access to all of the house's phone lines?
“I assumed he did. There are several line buttons on his phone.”
“Cassandra was sure that he listened to her conversation. The one she had with the temp agency. She said it was worth going back to prison, if you got the job. She just hoped he didn't hurt you as well. Guess he didn't want to mess with good meals.”
Beth sat in stunned silence.
“What are we going to do, Beth?”
Beth knew the answer to that.
“There's nothing we can do, Judith.”
“We could go to parole.”
“Like they would take our word over his? Be real, Judith. We'd accomplish nothing. Except earn Pastor Bob's wrath. And we've seen what that got Cassandra.”
“I can't believe you're saying this, Beth. Your friend risks her freedom and you are going to do nothing.”
Beth felt her eyes dampen, but quickly controlled her emotions.
“Cassandra sacrificed her freedom to get me a job, Judith. I won't repay her by causing trouble and returning to prison. Cassandra always expected to go back. I'm not happy that it's because of me. But in a few months, she'll be out again. It took me five years to get parole approval. Redemption House was the only halfway house willing to accept me. If I go back, I'll spend the next ten years in prison. I won't do anything to jeopardize my freedom.”
“Freedom? You call this freedom? All I see is someone imprisoned by her fears. You might as well live behind bars.”
Judith left. Beth resumed her work, but Judith's words kept replaying in her mind. No, she wasn't free. But Redemption House was her road to freedom. One day she'd be able to speak her mind. To defend the people that she cared for. Or would she? Did fear become a way of life? Would there always be a reason to stay below the radar? She pushed back the thoughts. She needed to focus on the future.
Her job began tomorrow. She needed to be alert and ready to do her best. Suddenly she remembered that she was wearing her only pair of black pants. Despite the oversized apron, her pants had been spattered by food. The laundry room was already closed. She would have to do her best to make them presentable.
She removed the apron and headed towards her bedroom. She turned on the light, looked at her bed and felt tears well in her eyes. There were the pants from the consignment shop. Next to them were two new tailored white shirts. And a note.
Congrats on your new job. This is just the beginning. I know you'll go far.
Tears overflowed. She sank to the bed and sobbed. When she finally stood, she hung the new clothes in the closet and got ready for bed. Sleep did not come quickly. Judith was right. She could not let her friend disappear without a word of protest.
Tomorrow, she started a new job. Tomorrow, she would find a way to help Cassandra. Tomorrow, she would stop living in fear.
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