Judith and Beth laughed at their synchronous apologies and shared a hug.
“I was out of line, Beth. It's not my place to judge what you do.”
“But you were right. I've lived in fear for far too long and it's going to stop. I want to go to parole after work today. Can you handle things until I get back?”
The morning service started. Conversation stopped as they began their breakfast preparations. Time passed quickly. Soon the meal had been served and eaten. The usual camaraderie was missing from their cleanup. Margaret stood in her corner issuing complaints and insisting that Judith re-clean a sparkling counter. When she finally left, they breathed a sigh of relief.
“Go get ready for work, Beth. There's not much left to do and I can handle it.”
Bethany took a quick shower and started to dress. The sight of Cassandra's gifts brought new tears to her eyes. She quickly gained control and focused on her job. In a few minutes, she was ready. She returned to the kitchen and said goodbye to Judith.
Cal was at the main door watching for her.
“Come on, Beth. I'll take you to the office. Even though you're not a Pinnacle employee, there's still a little paperwork. Then you'll be joining some other new hires for a tour of the store. I'll meet you for a quick break before you get started on your new job.”
Although Beth was quite familiar with the store, she enjoyed learning about the work that kept it running smoothly. Behind-the-scene tours of the bakery, deli, and dairy sections introduced areas she hadn't seen before. Cal met her at the conclusion and they hurried to the coffee shop.
“It's okay for me to leave the store during work hours?”
“Yes. You'll get a fifteen minute break each day. Besides, you're with me. Since I'm one of your managers, you can take this time without worrying."
"Speaking of worrying, what's wrong Beth?”
Beth gave him the quick version.
“Don't make any waves, Beth. I know how much you care for Cassandra. I like her too. She's a kind and genuine person. But there's nothing you can do to help her. Please take care of yourself. I don't want anything to happen to you. Promise me that you won't go to parole or confront Pastor Bob.”
“We've been sitting here for almost twenty minutes, Cal. Let's get back to the store. Even though I won't get in trouble, I'd still like a chance to learn about my job.”
Cal paid the bill and they returned to the store without talking. Beth felt the weight of his disapproval. Still she would not be swayed from her decision. She hoped he would understand.
Cal led her to the bakery and maintained a professional demeanor as he introduced Beth to Diana, a 2 year veteran of the sample distribution position.
"Diana will train you, Beth. She's taught many of our distributors. I know you'll learn a lot from her, so I'm leaving you in good hands."
Their eyes followed him as he left.
“There's a bit of a learning curve, Beth, but this position can be fun. You get to meet a lot of people. Including some cute single guys.”
Diana gave a nod in Cal's direction.
“And not all of them are customers. Isn't he a hunk?”
Beth gave a noncommittal smile, but refrained from commenting.
“Will I work in one area of the store or do distributors rotate positions?”
“We rotate. You'll work in the bakery for a few days, since it's one of the easier positions. Once you're comfortable, I'll introduce you to other areas.”
Diana stayed with her as they distributed samples, giving occasional tips. Soon it was time to go. Beth didn't see Cal and didn't look for him. She didn't want to argue with him and she wasn't going to change her mind. She left the store and headed to the parole office.
“Hi Beth. Parole isn't usually this popular. This is the third time I've seen you in a week.”
“I need to talk to you.”
“Something that wouldn't wait until tomorrow? This sounds serious.”
She listened as Beth explained her suspicions about Cassandra's setup by Pastor Bob.
“You are a good friend, Beth. I admire your courage in coming to me with this information. Now I'm hoping you will listen carefully to what I'm going to tell you.”
“I am not allowed to divulge information about the staff of Redemption House or any other parole residence facility. Neither am I permitted to discuss other parolees. Is that clear?”
Beth stood and prepared to leave. Obviously, this wasn't going to help.
“Don't go, Beth.”
“I can tell you that it is parole's policy to think carefully before removing a halfway house from our list of approved residences. As you know, many halfway homes don't accept parolees with violent crimes. We are willing to make exceptions for houses that do. We may choose to disregard policies and practices that might otherwise disqualify them. This is done to benefit parolees like yourself.”
“But he “
“We are also likely to give less credence to claims made by the staff of such houses. While action may be required, we do not casually revoke a parolee's freedom. For example, if a person has been paroled for over a year without incident and has no history of a drug crime, we would question a claim of drug possession. If we felt that such a claim was fraudulent, we would look for alternative placement.”
“Approval for their own residence when appropriate. Placement in another halfway house or shelter. Each case is different. I'm just sharing our general guidelines.”
Her words began to sink in.
“So Cassandra wasn't sent back to prison?”
Jane Watkins smiled and shook her head.
“As I mentioned before, I can't provide information about another parolee.”
“I understand. Thanks for the information, Officer Watkins.”
“You're welcome, Beth. No need to come and see me tomorrow. I think we can count this as your visit for the week.”
As she left the office, Beth felt both relieved and frustrated. Perhaps Cassandra hadn't been returned to prison. But where was she?
Want to read more? Check back next weekend for the next installment.
Don't forget to head over to the Weekend Writers' Retreat to enjoy submissions from more authors.