the Eyes of the Beholder
(Second Installment in Perspectives Series)
There isn't one. These characters are mine! Hahahahahahahaha! (Uh, in case you're
wondering, that was maniacal laughter.)
Disclaimer two: There is violence, explicit language, sex (later) and (gasps) lesbian subtext! Yesss! Sooo, if it is not for you don't send me an e-mail saying so just don't read! You silly goose! For those of you that like this kind of stuff, strap in and get ready for the ride.
This is story two in the Perspectives Series. It is immediately following the first story, and it really must be read first in order to understand what is going on. The deal has been made between Cory and Taylor, and the adventure begins.
Dedication: To Camille. Also, special thanks to my new beta reader Steph.
Now, on with the show.
Taylor turned from HealthWatch. That was enough CNN for this morning. She tucked her leg in under her, not caring that the silk boxers rode up well-formed thighs, and began to flip through the channels. The pictures began to whir together as her mind strayed to her smug employee. That word just fit somehow. Smug. The woman was smiling just a little too much when she finally came back to Taylor's office to hammer out the details of the 'deal.' As the blonde talked, her smile seemed to get bigger and bigger, as she explained that Taylor's 'Donna Karen' skirts had no business out in the field. The gist of the deal was that the admin was to accompany the caseworkers once a day on a visit that they picked.
The admin had stared, from behind her desk, at the two in disbelief, when the blonde told her this. She even got the distinct feeling that the petite woman wanted to smack her lips in delight, and in return, she glared at them both, barely resisting the urge to snarl. Firing was too good for Cory now. The older woman just wanted to throttle her. As far as her lackey Barb, she wondered if the lady could speak or if she was overwhelmed by the personality of the irritating blonde. Reluctantly, she had agreed and asked for more time to discern her end of the bargain.
Silver blue eyes continued to stare through the TV. The insults that flew from that blonde's mouth had to stop. Taylor rubbed her creased brow, as she tried to figure out why she was taking it in the first place. Why on earth was she even going along with this deal? Maybe she wanted to earn the blonde woman's respect. Maybe she wanted to really care about the people she was supposed to help. Maybe.
"No, no, no!" The tall woman remarked to the empty room. She jumped up from the couch, vehemently shaking her head. Heading for the kitchen, she pushed black strands back in place by running her hands haphazardly through the mane. Symbolically, the impending thoughts were smoothed away as well. Tearing open the refrigerator, she poured a tall glass of milk and sipped it with a contented murmur, knowing hands then reached in the cabinet for the crunchy peanut butter and a spoon. Balancing her booty in her hands precariously, she headed back to the couch to watch TV.
It was a little past 6:30, and she had gotten up early enough this time to continue her habitual morning rituals. After sitting the glass of milk on the table, she plopped back down on the couch and tucked a leg under her once more. She spooned a healthy portion of peanut butter in her mouth and crunched on it idly. Blue eyes squinted as she peered at the TV in disgust.
"How the hell did it get on this channel? Pokemon. What on earth is a Pokemon?" She continued to stare incredulously at the TV. "Yeah, Pikachu to you too buddy."
She clicked the channel button on the remote with a smirk. 'Did they think kids were idiots these days. Who watched those kind of cartoons?' She blurred through the channels, finally finding something familiar. Smiling around the spoon, she sat up a little straighter as the Sportscenter theme song came on. The woman almost clapped upon seeing the commentators, Stewart and Rich, knowing those two were hilarious. They even made football interesting. Laughter gurgled through a full mouth, thick with peanut butter for the next thirty minutes. Suddenly, she jumped up in outrage, seeing her alma mater, Rutgers, had gotten beaten again by the team she termed 'the prissy girls' from UCONN.
The tall woman sat the jar down with a thud; spoon included, and proceeded to yell, "Dammit Vivian! You need a point guard for christsakes. You can't be that blind!"
She looked around the apartment slightly embarrassed. 'Damn, I've gotta stop that.' She then unceremoniously smacked the peanut buttered spoon back into her mouth. The dark-haired woman stretched her long frame to grab the milk and took a healthy swig to ease her breakfast down, not caring as cool drops dribbled on her tank top. Taylor looked up at the wall clock, realizing it was time to get ready for the day. After putting away the food, she headed back toward the bedroom to the closet. Her progress was stopped at the nightstand as the phone rung.
"Helwo?" She said still swallowing down the last of the peanut butter.
"Tch, tch, didn't anybody ever teach you not to talk with your mouthful? How's Bumfuck so far, Tay?"
Taylor laughed. "Ah, Wendy, should have known it was you. No one else would have the audacity to call me this early."
"Uh, huh. Come on, come on. Tell me!" The red-head impatiently persisted.
"Well, for lack of a better word, it's interesting. There are some unexpected things that I've had to deal with," Tara remarked tentatively.
Hundreds of miles away an auburn eyebrow rose at the sound of hesitation and confusion in her friend's voice.
"You sure everything's okay? I don't like the way you sound."
'Shit!' Sometimes that woman could read her too clearly. "Uh, yes, everything's fine. I'm dealing with it."
"You're not going to tell me are you?"
"What? There's nothing to tell." Taylor answered calmly.
"Okay, when you're ready I'm here. You know that."
Silent for a moment, the other woman finally answered, "Yeah. Listen, I have to get ready for work. I'll call you later this week."
"Alright Tay, you're the boss."
Wendy hung up the phone wondering what the something or who the some one was that had gotten to her stoic friend.
Taylor listened to the dial tone for a few seconds and then hung up the phone. "Yes, I am the boss. Time to make people realize that." With a confident smirk, she sauntered toward her closet. Pulling out a pair of khakis and a light, white tee, her smiled got bigger. "Let's see if you really can take me on Ms. Donovan." She stripped out of the boxers and top, heading for a quick shower.
Cory giggled around a mouthful of frosted flakes. It wasn't often she was able to catch Scooby-Doo, one of her favorite cartoons, with her crazy schedule, so she considered this a treat. No early calls and her beeper didn't go off once. She was going to enjoy this part of her morning. Peering back at the TV, she giggled again. Despite popular opinion, she just knew Velma was jealous of the many times Fred and Daphne went off alone to look for 'clues', while she was stuck with the tweddle dumb and dumber. It all depended on how one saw things.
Her pale blue pajama clad legs were propped on the coffee table to maximize comfort. She knew this was one of the reasons the people at the office called her 'kid.' It wasn't just the youthful looks and small stature that didn't go along with her twenty-four years. It was a combination of things. She was infamous for approaching matters with a big heart and wild abandon despite the situation and the consequences. Ray called it youthful exuberance. Her mother used to call it going off half-cocked. Now, she just shook her head when Cory related tales about her times in the field.
She sighed thinking that was maybe why she had yet to have a successful relationship, being too open and too trusting-- just enough to be taken advantage of. Of course, there was also the vintage Scooby-Doo pencil holder and mouse pad she had on her desk. That didn't help matters at all. She smiled remembering the Scooby-Doo cake her co-workers had gotten her for last year's birthday. Her smile turned into a small sneer as she wondered if that tall block of blue ice would even go for a little fun in the office. She certainly didn't seem the type. The sneer turned into a frown. She couldn't understand why she had been so insulting to the woman. It was so unlike her to actually call people out of their names. She was brash. True. She was opinionated. True. Still, she had never been intentionally cruel until she met Taylor Wilson.
Cory could feel her back teeth start to grind involuntarily. Even the name irked her. The woman was everything she despised in their field: out of touch, close-minded, statistics oriented, and cold as a witch's teat. The frown turned into a smirk. It was time to take Ms. Wilson back to school. She smiled outright as she heard her mother's voice in her head saying, "Cory Alexander Donovan, I know you're up to something. I can see it gleaming in your eyes." 'Mom, you know me so well,' she thought to herself, making a mental note to call her mother later in the week. She had plans for tall, dark, and icy alright. A plan to take her on the worst calls in the worst neighborhoods. She was going to get the other woman's hands, face, and that damned Donna Karen dirty as hell and enjoy every minute of it. "Anything for the families in this community, and the added bonus is sticking it to Jackie Frost," she said aloud. The blonde caseworker sucked down her juice she had almost forgotten on the table, when she saw the time at the bottom of the TV screen. A new workday was about to begin. She stretched with a languid purr, clicked off the TV, and padded into the bedroom.
Chapter IV: Office Hi-jinx and Cold Shoulders. . . .
Taylor arrived at the office disgustingly early only to have an eyebrow shoot up into her bangs, when she realized Shelley was already there. Hearing the bustling around in the other office, she knocked on the adjoining door. Leaning against the doorframe, she gave a small smile to the older woman, who gave her a bigger one in return as she looked up. Shelley stared at her boss intensely, taking in the casual attire. She liked the young woman and felt her worthy of advice.
"I'm not fooled by the casual appearance. You're ready to go to war with the young one out there. Aren't you?"
Taylor looked down at her hands, pursed her lips, and glanced upward again.
"I wouldn't call it that, but I'm ready to do what I have to do."
Shelley got up from her chair to sit on the far edge of her desk, closer to the other woman. "Don't underestimate her. She's good at what she does, and I know she will do anything to get her point across. If she steps on your toes, pull back a little, regroup, and approach again. She's one of the best here. I'd hate to see her go because she cares a little too much."
Taylor was silent for long minutes, gazing at her assistant from under hooded eyes.
'I have no intention of firing her if that's what you're getting at. I just have a slight problem with habitual insubordination," she replied sarcastically.
"Ah, I see, but maybe she just wanted to get her point across before . . ."
"Yes, she wants me to see through her eyes." Taylor interrupted.
"Mmm, and you want her to see through yours?"
The young woman nodded.
"Well, that could be hard if neither set of eyes are entirely open to what they are going to see. Now, couldn't it?"
Silver blue narrowed to slits. "Just what are you trying to say?" She said quietly, dangerously.
Shelley held up her hands. "Don't get your feathers ruffled. All I'm saying is don't make this a token experience. You should actually look and see what's actually out there, not just see what coincides with the numbers."
Taylor's eyes narrowed a little more. 'This woman was full of surprises. She has the gall to speak to me like that, and she seems to know a little bit about everything and everyone. Maybe she should be running this place. Maybe some of the people here were worth taking the risk of getting to know them.' Maybe.
The younger woman was silent for a second more. "We'll see, but she has got to be willing to really see my side of things also. I haven't gotten it all figured out, but I want her to see what I have to go through, including who I have to fight with. It's not easy as sitting behind a desk."
"True. I know that. Maybe if she sees you're being receptive to being in the field, she will show you the same respect. Cory strikes me as a fair person."
"Mmm," was the other woman's only reply out loud. 'More like obnoxious person,' she said to herself. "Well, I'm going to look over some files until they get in. Oh, please be prepared to take calls regarding the vacant spots probably starting tomorrow as well as resumes." Taylor pushed herself away from the door frame.
"Alright, I'll bring your tea right in."
The admin smirked and made an exit.
Forty-five minutes later, Cory walked into the office only to be immediately accosted by Barb. She smiled down at her friend.
"I'm about to make your day start off with a bang, kid."
Cory smirked. "Oh, really, and before I've had my coffee too. Do tell."
Barb linked arms with the blonde as they made their way to the younger woman's desk.
"We've got a call. Looks like a good candidate for Frosty too. Beautiful, but Frosty. Mae called me from CPS. They want us to follow up with services. The lady, Tina, already knows that we're coming around eleven-ish. Her husband is a crack addict. Apparently, he spends all the money, and the kids are being neglected. A neighbor called it in because she 'got tired of the smell and the kids looking dirty and hungry all the time,'" the older woman recited from memory.
"Hmm, sounds interesting."
"What the call or beautiful and frosty?" Barb asked innocently. She knew that she was simply trying to get a rise out of her friend, but there had to be some reason for her dislike of their new boss. The sparks flew when they got together. Something was underneath.
Cory glared at her, choosing to ignore the comment. "Anyway, let me get coffee, and we'll go break the news to the boss lady."
The young blonde's eyes squinted and something in between a smirk and a sneer formed on her face. Barb looked on amazed.
"Wooo wee kid! Whatcha got brewing in there? Look at me, come on. Now, this is my scared face."
Cory turned, taking in her friend's features.
"Barb! That looks a lot like your 'I gotta go to the bathroom now face."
"Nuh, uh, that's this one."
She tried to roll her eyes in the back of her head and thinned her lips.
"See, and I also do a little dance."
Cory laughed. She couldn't help herself. "Oh my God, you're nuts. I just know it!"
They giggled, making their way toward the coffee island, and then smiled seeing Ray already there. The tall, black man's eyes were closed, and he was humming as he sipped from his coffee cup.
Before they were within three feet, he spoke, "Morning ladies. Looks like it's going to be another hot one."
Cory jumped in surprise. She didn't think he saw them.
"Geez Ray, how do you do that?"
He smiled as he opened his eyes.
"Coffee, it has magical powers."
He patted her on the shoulder and made his way back to his desk.
The two women looked at each other again, giggling.
Barb poured her friend a cup of coffee.
"You think I'm nuts, but that man is in a class by himself before and after coffee."
"Yeah, but at least he's normal post-coffee. It's pre-coffee Ray that's scary."
"Well, the hubby is like that pre-sex. He grunts when I ask him questions. You'd think he was mute, but bang, a few minutes after sex, you'd think he was Jay Leno or something," Barb added with a wistful look in her eyes. "Although, I wish he would stay gruntman sometimes."
Cory stared at the older woman, shook her head, and strolled away toward the general direction of her desk. Barb followed close behind.
"What? Was it something I said?"
The blonde turned, head still shaking, with amusement curling the edges of her mouth.
"One word. Insane."
"Awww, that's all you're going to say? I left myself wide open. Tch, you're slipping kid. Maybe I need to get you a sign that says, 'Insert sarcasm here."
Cory turned to her friend, swinging her chair around, and narrowed green eyes. The older woman squinted back then covered her mouth to keep from spitting out coffee as the young woman stuck out her tongue petulantly. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Barb wagged her finger in Cory's direction.
"Kid, you . . ."
The words died on her lips. Hearing an office door open, she looked up to see Taylor standing in the doorway. Her coffee threatened to come up again. Even causally dressed, the woman was imposing. There was something different about her this morning, but the older woman couldn't put her finger on what exactly it was. 'Ah, there it is again.' Now knowing what she saw, she looked over at her young friend, hoping she could see the 'uh oh' she was trying to communicate with her eyes. She didn't get it. Barb had seen the unmistakable glint of determination gleaming in the blue. 'Cory, you may have met your match here, kid', she said to herself. She only hoped she was prepared for it.
Taylor raised a perfectly arched dark eyebrow a the older woman's scrutiny. 'Ah, maybe she has backbone after all,' she thought, watching and reading the myriad of emotions chasing themselves across her face. She stared a moment more then turned her attention to the woman she had dubbed the 'smug, irritating blonde.' 'Well, it was time. Let the war begin.' Pushing her tall, lanky body from the doorframe, she walked toward the blonde caseworker, stopping somewhere both beside and behind her. She waited to be acknowledged.
Cory just knew the admin was the one that came out of the office, not Shelley. Her teeth instantly started to grind, and she could feel the vein in her forehead pulse, as if ready for a fight. To top it all off, there was also that damned perfume she wore, smelling of something spicy and dangerous. It irritated her even more. She swung around, searching her mind for a decently smart remark. It hung in her throat. The younger woman took in the other woman's attire. 'She's serious about this. Isn't she?' Not knowing what else to say, she brought up the impending appointment. "We have a family to go see around eleven. You joining us?"
The older woman stared down at her with snapping blue.
"Good morning to you too Cory, and that would be yes. I'll go, and I even left Donna at home. I hope Levi will do," the woman said scathingly.
Cory equaled the stare with defying eyes.
"I wouldn't care if you came naked as long as you've prepared to get dirty."
Cory heard Barb gurgle as coffee came out of her nose, but she didn't look away from challenging blue. Taylor refused to be shaken. In a complete turn around, the tall woman smiled, slowly, ferally, baring straight white teeth. The petite woman had the decency to swallow and look away. Blue eyes glinted ominously but well contained.
"Tell me about the visit."
Cory cleared her throat. "Um, CPS has a real case for neglect. The father is a crack addict and apparently he uses all the family's money for drugs. The kids have no food, and the house is a mess. They want to see if we can do anything before more drastic measures are taken, and the kids are removed."
Taylor glanced quietly down at the blonde, and then she blinked.
"Mmm," was the reply before she turned and went back into her office leaving the door open.
Cory glanced toward Barb and whispered, "Mmm? That's all she had to say?! Unfeeling bitch!"
"Jeez Cor, aren't you being a little hard on the woman? What did you expect her to say? Oh goody, I can't wait? Come on, you don't have to call her out of her name."
"Just whose side are you on anyway, Barb?"
"I'm on yours kid, but you have to realize that she's willing to take a big step and actually come with us. That must count for something."
Cory sighed and looked away before answering, "Maybe."
Cory completely turned away, pretending to work on her computer in an attempt to collect her thoughts. She knew she was being overly callous, but she also knew that she couldn't control her reaction to the woman, which made her angrier. 'I deserve to be fired for the things I've said to her. Why am I reacting this way to her and why does she take it?' The blonde felt anger seething through her body again and gritted her teeth in reaction. She had to get under control, and she knew it.
Taylor tapped her fingers on the desk, trying to figure out why she tolerated the blatant antagonism dripping from the woman just outside her office. Not meaning to speak out loud, she commented just as Shelley stuck her head through the door.
"I wonder, has she always been like that?"
"Who Cory? No, she's really a sweet girl and very well liked around the office. I suppose she just doesn't like change, and you my dear are the change agent. So, she's lashing out at you. Give her time I think she'll settle into it."
"We'll see. Did you want something Shelley?" The younger woman asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Yes, I have a doctor's appointment at 12:30 so I'll be. . ."
"Are you okay?" Taylor asked in genuine concern.
Yes, just routine stuff, really."
Dark brows scrunched together in worry. "Okay, why don't you just take the rest of the day off and mark it as a personal day."
"You sure you won't need me for anything?"
"No, it's going to be a light day. I think I can handle it, but be prepared to work tomorrow."
She gave the older woman a slight smile. Shelley smiled and closed the adjoining door to their offices.
The admin assistant went straight for the door that opened out into the cubicles. The older woman peeked out at the blonde caseworker and cleared her throat to get her attention. 'Maybe I could help matters along a little bit.'
The blonde turned.
"Can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Sure Shelley, what's up?"
"Come into my office please."
Cory walked in and had a seat concern showing in her gaze.
"It's nothing bad, just relax. I just wanted to talk to you."
The young woman visibly relaxed.
"Um, the buzz around the office is that you clash with the new admin."
"Wait, wait. Did she put you up to this? Don't tell me she has you brainwashed to believe that these changes are vital?"
"If you'll calm down, I'll answer your questions."
The woman still bristled, but settled down a bit. She had healthy respect for the older woman.
"No, she didn't put me up to this. I'm just concerned because this could turn into a volatile situation. You could be fired at anytime for insubordination. You know that?"
"Yet, you pick and pick at things like a sore wound. You have to get yourself under control because you're important around here. What you are doing isn't very professional."
"I know. I know Shelley. It's just that she rubs me the wrong way and my reactions just go all over the place. She's cold, unfeeling, and knows nothing about what goes on out there."
"From talking to her, personally, I can say that she is not what you think she is. She has a lot of armor up to ward off attacks like the ones you've been giving her." The older woman looked at Cory, who squirmed in her seat, pointedly. "You can't work like this, Cory. It's going to effect everything you do, even helping others. Some kind of stalemate needs to be reached soon. Get to know her. Get to know each other. I think you may find that you are both passionate about the work you do."
Cory looked away, peering down at her hands. 'Ugh, she's right girlie, but how are you going to do it?' She glanced back up at her co-worker.
"I'll try, but if I can't, I guess I'll be looking for another job."
"I hope it doesn't come to that Cor. It would be bad for us and the community."
Shelley looked at her warmly. Cory smiled back. She knew there was a reason they called the woman Momma Shell around the office. She was forever the voice of reason.
Cory exited the office and slowly walked to the open door of the other one. She knocked on the doorframe. Taylor looked up more than slightly surprised, and it showed in her voice.
"Uh, will you be ready to go by 10:20?" The younger woman asked in a soft voice.
Taylor leaned back in her chair, joining her hands in an arch.
"Yeah, I will. Do I need to bring anything special?" She asked evenly.
"Just your cell and beeper in case there's trouble."
The admin nodded mutely, and Cory nodded in return before leaving the office. Taylor pursed her lips and tapped her fingertips together. 'That was interesting. Very much so.'
Chapter V: . . . . And the Adventure Begins
The ride was made in strained silence. Barb's Regal was taken for its size and the comfort factor. Driving, Barb filtered back through her life. 'Yep, she's the first person to make my hands sweat.' The older woman looked at her boss out of the corner of her eye. 'How could the woman stand it? Didn't anything phase her?' She cut her eyes to the mirror, spying Cory fidgeting in the back seat.
"Hey Barb? Do you want to do the adult assessment of should I?"
Barb could see the sneer forming on her friend's face. 'Oh God, shut up Cory! You know I always do the children's assessments!' It was too late. Her mouth opened.
"Or we could let the newbie do it."
Barb closed her eyes and waited for the sharp retort.
"No, I'll just watch," the admin replied.
Barb did her own watching as her friend turned ten shades of red. 'Here we go,' the older woman thought.
"What's wrong? I thought surely with your prestigious degrees, you wold have learned to read and comprehend."
Cory's conscience screamed at her to shut up, but she just couldn't help herself. Taylor turned toward the backseat with lips pursed in controlled anger.
"Why on earth would you think that? In all your years of education you have yet to learn to keep your mouth shut!" Her voice was a dangerous whisper.
Barb cringed. 'One for the admin and zero for Cory.' The quiet woman could feel the sparks flying throughout the car, piercing the back of her neck with awareness. Cory's mouth dropped in shock. 'She talked back, and damn, that hurt. Is that what she feels when I dig into her? Or does she feel anything?'
Taylor clenched her jaw and fists, trying to swallow anger. 'This woman was really turning out to be a class 'A' bitch. Shelley was dead wrong. Ms. Donovan may need another job with a boss that has a modicum of toleration for her antics. It sure as hell isn't me at the moment,' her mind screamed.
Barb stopped the car and tentatively turned to both of them.
"Um, we're here."
They had moved from neighborhood to neighborhood going from destitute to the equivalent of nuclear waste dump.
Cory pushed the back door open with vehemence then stopped. Her heart jumped in her throat then dropped into her stomach as she took in the sight. The yard alone signified a cry for help. Huge black garbage bags littered the yard. Some of them were whole and some had been ravaged to little black pieces of plastic that had long since lost their remains. Garbage spilled precariously out of the whole bags, adding to the torn paper, diapers, and food that already covered the ground. The sun beat down and helped the flies rush decomposition. Bicycle parts, rusty rims of tires, and a dreary looking kitchen stove complimented the surrounding fodder. In combination with the smell that made eyes water and throats squeeze shut, it was just simply the death of the American dream.
As they got closer to the house, Cory's heart started to break in earnest. Thick gray electrical tape covered broken glass windows in the attempt to hold them together. The paint looked as though it had been boiled away ages ago, leaving an eerie, dingy beige. The screen door hung precariously on its hinges waiting for the next pull or push for it to fall completely off.. Cory closed her eyes. This one was going to take some work. She looked over at Barb, who was wearing her forlorn face.
"Sweet" the older woman started.
"Jesus," Taylor ended.
The other two turned to their boss. Taylor's mind reeled. She had see this type of squalor but had somewhat refused, along with the rest of mainstream society, to believe that real people lived here. She should know better. It's what the numbers showed, but she was only human after all. Her stomach lurched. She had never felt so separated from life in her thirty-three years. She tried vehemently not to fall into the mainstream trap and blame the victim, but at this moment it was hard. As hell.
Rendered almost civil by the sight, Cory whispered to her boss, "It's important to not pity but to try and empathize, which means no disgusted looks or reluctance to sit down. It goes a long way in promoting understanding and gaining trust." The young blonde peered into her boss' blues, trying to hammer the point home.
Taylor nodded as they got to the door. Barb took a breath and raised her hand to knock. The screen door rattled adding to the sound. After a few minutes, the door was pulled back slowly. A diminutive black woman peeked through the opening. Her eyes were full of fear that added to the dark smudges already under them. Her face was gaunt and thin, making her look older then the twenty-seven years they knew her to be. Her voice was shaky and raspy as though she wasn't used to speaking.
Cory gave the woman a small smile.
"Hi, Mrs. Ash?"
The woman nodded.
" I'm Cory Donovan." She pointed at Barb. "This is Barbara Henton, and this is Taylor Wilson. We're from FSA. The caseworker at CPS that was here yesterday morning sent us."
The woman nodded again. "Y-yes. She said you could help us."
Cory's smile widened.
"That's what we're here for."
Tina studied the young woman. She looked sincere, and she wanted someone to help carry the burden. Her back hurt; her head hurt; and her soul hurt. She examined who looked to be the oldest woman and found her face to be open and kind. Then she glanced upon the dark haired woman. The blue eyes staring back at her held persistence and promise. She had gotten good at reading people. She needed to in order to know when James was going to hit her. She sighed and backed up, pulling the door open wider.
"C-come and have a seat."
As the three stepped forward, they were slapped in the face by the malodorous stench of urine and other waste. Both Cory and Barb inhaled quickly to acclimatize themselves. Taylor could feel her lungs start to burn as she tried not to cough. She spun around to gulp in fresh air as inconspicuously as possible. 'What have I gotten myself into?'
They walked in slowly, and Cory felt her heart break a little more as determination filtered through the blonde. Maybe helping them could make up for the Hansen's.' She studied the house with as much clinical detachment as possible. She had her work cut out for her. The walls had long ago taken on the color of the many dirty hand prints and food splatters. The carpets ceased being a color. Some places were threadbare; others were littered with mold and fresh food items. What looked to be dirty clothes and diapers completed the floor's make up. The living room furniture consisted of lawn furniture; two make shift chairs, and what looked to be a small card table. There was a small TV with a hanger for the antenna.
The blonde caseworker could not see the other rooms due to the murky darkness made worse inside by the mid-morning clouds outside. There was obviously no electricity. She could barely see into the connecting kitchen, but what she could see was not promising. Cory turned to look at Barb, and the young woman saw it in her eyes. She was another one that would never get used to this.
Taylor swallowed as she took shallow breaths through her nose. 'This had to be a deviation from the norm. There is no way that hundreds of people live like this in this city despite its ghost town appearance.' Her mind waged a war with what she was seeing. After a few minutes, the analytical mind won. There was no way this was the norm. Having told herself that, she squashed Shelley's words reverberating in her head and refused to listen to her subconscious, telling her she had fallen into the trap. It was now the victim's fault not the system's fault. She looked on blankly in an effort to observe.
Tina looked at them tentatively.
"Uh, it's not much but have a seat. I'm sorry, one of you will have ta stand up."
"It's okay, Mrs. Ash. We'll be fine," Barb answered.
Taylor moved away behind her employees, letting them have the chairs. She leaned against the wall behind them, trying to block out what was on it and probably getting on her.
Four heads turned, as a young girl padded out of one of the darkened rooms, carrying a baby clad in only a droopy diaper. Cory and Barb took in the dirt smeared faces; kinky uncombed hair, and their painful thinness. Barb shook her head inwardly, wondering how CPS decided not to take the kids. Knowing their routine by heart, Cory would do the parents and she would do the children afterward. The older woman looked out of the corner of her eye at her boss. Taylor flinched as she continued to talk to herself. 'How could anyone let their kids get like this?!'
Tina looked at her daughters.
"Shala, keep Shawna quiet. These ladies are gonna help us."
The little girl stared blankly as if she hadn't heard. She blinked and returned from where she came, not saying a word.
Cory sighed. It was time to get started.
"Mrs. Ash, we're going to do something called an assessment on your family. Together we're going to figure out what this family needs to get back on track. Barb is going to talk to your children and Ms. Wilson is just here to observe." The blonde looked around. "Is your husband not home?"
Tina rung her hands and stared at the door with fright coloring her features.
"Is there something wrong Mrs. Ash?"
Thinking maybe she could take the chance and trust, she answered right away. "Uh, he left earlier mad cause I couldn't give him no money for crack. He said he was gonna come back and take what he want even if he gotta go through me. He already done took the food stamps and some of the kid's check."
Without looking down, Cory wrote briskly.
"I see. Mrs. Ash, you seem a little scared. Do you think he's going to honor that threat?"
"I don't know."
"Well, I tell you what we could do. If your willing, we can get you into a woman's shelter so that you will be protected," the blonde said warmly as rage filled her at the system that helped make these people. "Uh, I don't know. I don't feel comfortable around people I don't know."
"You and your kids will have your own room."
"'Will the others there know about me? Will he know where to find us?"
"No, no just those you choose to tell and the case manager there. He won't find you because the location of each shelter is secret. It's what we can do for starters to help get you back on your feet. Once you're safe, it will leave room to start to work on other things."
The black woman glanced toward her children's room. She was so tired, and she could tell that Shala wasn't right in the head. Maybe she could help.
"Will you still be working with us?"
Cory smiled. "If you would like me to. I can see if I can work together with the case manager at the shelter."
The woman nodded. "H-how soon can we go? We have ta pack."
"All it takes is a phone call to see where space is available and some paper work when you get there. Take the important things with you even things of sentimental value, so that you won't have to come back here."
Tina smiled for the first time albeit wearily. "Okay."
Inside, Cory hummed with relief. Sometimes all you had to do was ask for people to accept help. That part was over and the hard part was to come, getting this family unit healthy again. Barb smiled at her young friend, patting her on the knee. She couldn't help but admire her. Somehow she got the tightest people to open up. It was indeed a gift.
Taylor blinked and grudgingly began to respect the irritating little woman. She was good, damn good. Still, she had to wonder was it always so easy and quick. 'What did reading and after school programs have to do with them? Numbers after all, still did not lie,' she said to herself, still knee-deep in mainstream ideals. Taylor pushed herself away from the wall, assuming it was time to go.
Cory finished the call and tapped the off button on her cell.
"Okay Mrs. Ash. Plans are underway. Let's get this initial assessment done for our records and get you packed."
The woman nodded at a loss for words. Things were going to get better. They had to.
The blonde pulled out a file as well as some forms. She scooted closer to the edge of her chair and was poised to hear this woman's story. They all jumped in surprise as the door swung open forcefully, and the screen door fell from its hinges.
A tall, paper thin black man entered with angry steps.
"Told ya I'd be back," he growled. "Give me the fucking money!"
Tina backed away as fear rolled thick through her belly, making it hurt. Her back touched the wall before she spoke.
"J-James, the kids gotta eat sometimes. I can't let you keep takin' their money," she said softly.
The man growled louder in frustration. In quick succession, he reached into his shirt and pulled out a gun. He swung the barrel of the .38 around the room with his hands shaking, with withdrawal, over the trigger. Tina fell to the floor in a fetal position in terror. As if finally realizing they were not alone, the man snarled at his wife.
"Who these honkey bitches in my house?!"
The woman shook her head as speech died in her throat.
He walked jerkily toward the trio. "I bet you bitches got plenty of money."
Cory's heart thudded painfully in her chest then stopped altogether. The papers she had previously fell from nerveless fingers. 'This is not happening. I didn't wake up this morning for it to come to this. It's utter bullshit to go like this. I'm the dummy who kept this call. I could have told Barb no and handed it off, but shit, I had to stick it to her. Look where it's gotten us. Dammit! I don't deserve this.' She glanced toward her client. 'No one deserves this.' Her mind worked rapidly, trying to think of a way out of this. She felt a squeeze on her thigh and realized it was Barb, using her as an anchor.
The older woman licked the sweat off her upper lip. Fear made her heart thud unevenly and breaths rattle in her chest. She thought of her husband and the kids she would never have.
Taylor looked down at the women. Her body stiffened and coiled with anger. There was nothing she could do without possibly getting one of them hurt. She hated feeling powerless, when she usually exuded it. The dark haired woman wanted to march across the room and beat the man senseless with the gun shaking in his hands. She swallowed and hoped all the ride-alongs wouldn't be like this. They were in deep shit. Deep, deep shit.
The gun shook in the man's hands even more as her barked at the woman.
"Look at ya. Comin' in here all dressed up. I know you got something in them pockets. Give it up and I may not shoot ya!" He giggled crazily.
Cory looked up at the man, trying to hide the fear in her eyes.
"Um, our purses are in the car. You'll have to go get them."
He thought about that for a moment and looked around them. "Yeah, you don't got anything, but you trying to trick me and pull something when I go outside!" He swung the gun from side to side, keeping all three of them in it's sight. Like an action sequence in an over budget action movie, things suddenly moved to slow motion. They heard a noise and all turned in the direction of the bedrooms. The man raised the gun, shakily, and at the same time his eldest daughter looked him in the eyes, having come out when she heard his voice.
Cory would never know what possessed her. At the moment he was distracted, she poised her small frame to tackle him. Shooting out of the chair, she rammed into him, knocking the wind out of them both with a dramatic 'ooof.' The gun fired then fell to the floor. There was a scream then silence. Things sped up again. Cory lay on the floor covered in muck. She stared up at the ceiling, trying to catch her breath. She didn't hear the heavy footsteps carried by long legs. Taylor bent over the man and wrenched his arm behind his back. She grabbed some string she spied on the floor and tied the man up quickly. The tall woman looked down at the man in disgust.
"Son of a bitch!" She then looked at Cory, who whimpered as she took deep breaths. "You okay?"
"Yeah, just trying to catch my breath. Could you help me up?"
"Sure, hold on." The brunette helped the blonde to her feet.
Cory looked around. "I thought I heard a shot. Was anyone hurt?"
"No, it's okay just the wall."
The blonde caseworker looked around again and spotted Barb holding the children.
"Hey Barb? You okay?"
The older woman had one arm around the children and the other hand over her heart. "You see this face kid? It's my 'you're the crazy one' face. Remember it. I'll be using it often after this."
Cory smiled wanly at the older woman and watched as she walked the kids to their mother. She observed on as the woman cried and embraced the girls.
Taylor cleared her throat. "I called the police. They should be here soon. I don't think Mr. Ash will be going anywhere." She slapped him on the back as he muttered and groaned. Cory offered the woman a small smile for the first time and grudgingly admitted that they could make a great team.
After the hoopla with the police and getting Tina situated, they got back to the office to be treated to a round of applause. Cory and Barb laughed and enjoyed the camaraderie. Taylor went back to her office, alone. The woman turned her chair until she was facing the wall. She linked her hands to try to control the shaking. So much had happened today. Her mind had returned along with her conscious and she swallowed the bile that threatened to come up. She had almost become what she most hated. Blind. It took a man with a gun to make her see again. Pushing a hand through her bangs, she admitted to herself that she had a lot to learn, and maybe the irritating blonde was the one that needed to teach her.
She swung back around at the knock on the door.
Barb and Cory walked in. The older woman smiled at her boss warmly.
"Let me assure you. That things like that don't happen everyday."
Facade firmly in place, Taylor replied with a raised brow, "I should hope not."
An awkward silence persisted. Barb nudged the blonde with her elbow, while in return she shot the older woman a warning glare. "Uh, Cory has something she wants to ask you."
Cory blew out a puff of air and rolled her eyes heavenward. Through gritted teeth she asked, "We usually unwind on days like this by going to the gym and for a drink afterward. Would you like to come?" She said flatly.
Taylor's jaw twitched as she weighed her decision. Retreating back to her stoic, loner self she responded, "No, but why don't you ladies cut out early. You deserve it for what you've been through today. I'll see you tomorrow."
With that she turned until she was looking at the wall once more.
Barb and Cory glanced at each other. The blonde shrugged her shoulders and walked out the office. Barb exited more slowly, wondering if her friend saw what she did. Fear and longing mingled in the blue. It was just a flash, but she saw it. This woman was lonely by choice not by proxy. She left the office with a new understanding, hoping Cory could see it someday soon.
Next installment coming soon!
Hope you enjoyed it. Call me collect and let me know. Uh, forget that I forgot that would cost me money. Sorry too much wine. You can e-mail me though. It doesn't cost me a thing. LOL Feed me people at email@example.com
Copyrighted © by Minerva 2000
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