Tortured Teardrops

“tortured

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chapter one

drop-cap-tAMARA WORK WITH A hand gripping her shoulder. She sat bolt upright, her eyes flying open, hands coming up to protect herself.

“Take it easy, French,” Kirk snapped, pulling back from her. “What are you doing still in bed? Reveille went a long time ago. You’re missing breakfast.”

Tamara swallowed and looked around. She was in juvie. Where else would she be? Her most recent taste of freedom seemed to have broken her body’s entrainment to the rigid schedule. It had been years since she had failed to wake at the reveille bell. She was alone in the cell, but it took a few long seconds for her to remember that she was odd man out with no cellie. Which explained why she hadn’t been wakened by her cellie when she failed to rise at reveille.

Kirk stood back, watching her, waiting for her to get her head on straight and get out of bed. Tamara lowered her hands from the defensive position in an attempt to show Kirk that she was fine and wasn’t going to attack him the first chance she got. As if she could have taken him on anyway. She was smaller than most of the other girls, certainly no threat to one of the men guarding the block. Tamara pushed her blanket off and scrubbed at her eyes with her fists, trying to wake up fully. The threads of her dream were still clinging to her brain like wisps of fog. She’d been running from some threat, but she’d lost who or what it was.

“Just… didn’t hear it, I guess,” she offered lamely.

Kirk shook his head. “We don’t have the time to be babysitting you. You know the schedule and the rules. You don’t get some special pass because you’ve been on TV lately. No one cares about your celebrity or what you did when you were out. It’s just the same here as it was before. You’re just the same as you were.”

A ball of fire lit in Tamara’s gut. She breathed slowly, trying to keep it from igniting further. Everything Kirk said was true. She wasn’t anyone special, just because she’d been taken hostage and had ended up the suspect in an assault and kidnapping. Never mind that she’d been trying to protect the baby from what Tamara and the baby’s two sisters had gone through. She didn’t want any little girls having to deal with Mr. Baker’s lecherous advances ever again. He was in jail. He wouldn’t be getting out again any time soon with Mrs. Baker testifying against him. He wasn’t going to walk this time.

“French!” Kirk snapped.

Tamara startled and focused on him again. He seemed like he was far away, much farther than the few feet the cell would allow. Tamara rubbed her eyes again, as if her only problem was vanquishing the drowsiness.

“Yeah. Yessir.” She massaged her forehead and face. “I’m up. I’m coming.”

“You don’t have time for showers, breakfast is already on. Get your days on and get to canteen.”

“I will. I’m up.”

She swung her feet over the edge of the bed to demonstrate that she was awake and aware and on her way to breakfast.

Kirk gave her one last glare and left the room, pulling the cell door shut behind him. Tamara moved as quickly as she could, stripping off her pink night uniform and pulling on her orange day jumpsuit. She glanced at the observation window in her door before using the toilet and splashing some water on her face. She opened the door to make her way to the canteen. The smells of breakfast floated down the hall to her, even less appetizing than usual.

Kirk was still standing there, waiting on her, making sure that she didn’t go back to sleep again. He looked her over and shook his head.

“What?” Tamara demanded.

“Comb your hair and tie it back. You’re not going into breakfast looking like that.”

Tamara patted her sleep-tousled hair down self-consciously. She turned around and went back into the cell to get her comb from her kit and drag it through her hair a few times, until it no longer snagged. She stretched an elastic around it in a ponytail and returned to the hallway.

“Sorry. All ready.”

He shook his head again. Tamara hadn’t been trying to act like a princess, but she knew that was what he was thinking. That she thought she could just do whatever she wanted because she was better than everyone else. She didn’t know why she couldn’t get back into the regular schedule and felt so tired and foggy.

Dr. Sutherland said it was perfectly normal. She had been through a traumatic experience. She had barely slept or eaten. Her body was just trying to heal, and that took resources. Her attention and alertness were suffering simply because her body only had so much energy to draw on.

She could have asked him to write her a sick note until she started to feel better, but she knew how well that would go over with the staff and the other girls. They already resented her for how much attention she was getting. She didn’t need a bigger target drawn on her back. She wanted to go back to being invisible, someone that nobody cared about.

Kirk walked her all the way to the canteen to make sure that she got there. Like if he left her side, she might wander off down the wrong hallway and never make it to the canteen. The way that her brain had been behaving since she got back, maybe he had a point.

“Shape up,” he warned as he prepared to leave her to her breakfast. “I don’t want more of this ‘diva’ behavior from you. We’re going to start cracking down.”

They had been giving her a little leeway since her return. Not writing her up every time she broke the rules or forgot where she was supposed to be. Not reporting infractions to the administration or Dr. Sutherland. Not imposing all of the consequences they were authorized to.

Tamara swallowed hard and nodded her understanding. “Yessir. Sorry. I’ll try harder.”

He watched her enter the canteen and was still standing there when she looked back. Tamara had been expecting to have to get in line with the other girls as usual, but everybody had already dished up and was sitting at their tables eating. She was really late. Everybody watched her enter the room. So much for staying invisible. Tamara grabbed a tray and hurried over to the serving counter.

She didn’t really want anything, but she knew she would get sent to Dr. Eastport if she refused to eat. She was underweight and they were keeping a close eye on her to make sure that she put back on the pounds she had lost during her brief stint on the outside. She stopped to get a soupy bowl of oatmeal and a piece of toast, turning down reconstituted eggs and whatever the squares of breakfast meat were supposed to represent. Tamara felt dangerously nauseated by the smells, but there was nothing in her stomach to throw up. She would feel better once she had eaten. Hopefully.

Tamara added a portion of apple juice to her tray and turned around to face the tables, scanning for a safe place to sit. Most of the tables were either full or were declared gang tables. There were few who, like Tamara, managed to stay independent after the first few days. In the beginning, she’d had Glock to prevent the gang recruiters from persuading Tamara to join up. After three years, they just accepted that she was independent. Or at least, that had been the case before the prison break. There had been increasing pressures for Tamara to join the Sharks or TMJ since her return. She resisted, but resisting meant she had to constantly be on her guard. And there was no one watching her back for her this time.

Tamara drifted toward the wall. She could just stand there and scarf down what she could of her breakfast and not have to sit down and risk the ire of either of the gangs or one of the smaller factions.

As soon as Tamara leaned back against the wall to make herself comfortable to eat standing up, Millican moved toward her. Tamara looked at the nearby tables to see if she could squeeze into one of them before he reached her, avoiding the lecture on following mealtime rules. But there was nowhere safe.

“French,” Millican rumbled, “you can’t stand here to eat. You know that.”

“I’m just… I just want a bite of toast, I’m not going to be staying…”

He grasped her arm. The opportunity to make her own choice of a safe seat was gone. Millican pulled her away from the wall, his iron fingers uncompromising. He steered her toward the nearest empty seat. Tamara tensed, pulling back, but he didn’t let her resist. He pulled her up to the table, indicated the seat, and when Tamara didn’t cooperate by sitting down, he pressed her into it.

“No nonsense from you,” he commanded. He stood there for a moment, his eyes going over the rest of the girls seated at the table. “And there had better not be any trouble from the rest of you.”

They continued to stare down at their meals as if they hadn’t even heard him. No attitude. No hint of a threat.

“Lewis,” Millican pressed.

“Do I look like I’m causing trouble? Just eating my breakfast.”

Millican stood there for a moment longer. Tamara picked up her piece of toast and nibbled a corner. There was no word from any of the other Sharks at the table. Tamara didn’t try to tell Millican it was too dangerous for her to be there. He knew the political situation as well as she did, or he should.

Millican nodded and walked away, pacing up and down the wide aisles between the tables, watching for any sign of trouble.

Tamara dipped her toast into her oatmeal. She kept her eyes at middle distance. Not looking submissive and weak staring down at her meal, but also not challenging anyone at the table. Her body straight, shoulders back, alert and aware of every movement around her, every eye that flicked in her direction.

“Nice of you to join us,” Lewis said in a growl that was barely above a whisper.

“Can’t help what the bulls do.” Tamara took a bite of her toast. She pulled the tab on her apple drink and ripped it off.

“Why aren’t you in here when everybody else is, so you can sit where you belong?”

Tamara took a gulp of the apple drink to try to wash down the balled-up bolus of toast that was sticking in her throat. She couldn’t eat while trying to avoid a fight with Lewis and her girls, but if she didn’t eat, she would attract the attention of the security staff again. Millican was keeping an eye on her. He was bound to notice if she just sat there staring at her meal. Tamara dreaded taking another bite, but she had to. She wasn’t sure how much time was left until the end-of-breakfast bell but, considering the half-empty plates of those around her, it wouldn’t be long. If she hadn’t finished most of her meal by then, it would mean a trip to see Dr. Eastport.

Then again, so would aggravating Lewis.

“Missed reveille,” Tamara explained. “I know, it’s dumb. Been here long enough to know better. My body’s all screwed up since…” Tamara shrugged and glanced at Lewis briefly, “you know.”

“Oh, don’t we feel sorry for you. So sad you lost track of the schedule while you were on the outside.”

“It’s stupid,” Tamara reiterated. She took a couple of bites of her toast, chewing it aggressively. She had to be able to get something down before the bell rang.

“You been back for a week. That’s long enough to get your head on straight.”

Tamara made no response. It didn’t matter whether she agreed or disagreed; either response was just going to wind Lewis up.

Lewis kicked Tamara sharply under the table, making her jump. “Frenchie! Hey!”

Tamara’s world turned red. Protocol called for a measured response; a protest, getting to her feet, maybe a curse or a threat. But there was nothing measured about Tamara’s response. She was on her feet instantly. She grasped the edge of the long table and flipped it into Lewis’s lap.

There was instant chaos.

“What the hell!” Lewis shouted. She tried to jump to her feet, but it was too late, the remains of her breakfast were in her lap and the weight of the table pinned her down. The Sharks went to her aid instead of going after Tamara.

“Get off of me!” Lewis was screaming, slapping everyone’s helpful hands away while simultaneously trying to throw the table off to free herself.

One of the guards had hit the general alarm and the guards stationed in the canteen hurried over to put a stop to the fight before it could get going. The sound of the alarm blaring in Tamara’s ears just infuriated her more. She couldn’t think straight.

Lewis was free and on her feet, yelling at the Sharks to get Tamara. They finally clued in and were turning toward her. Rather than turning tail or seeking protection from the security staff, Tamara drove straight at Lewis, the fire inside her erupting in molten red lava.

Lewis was bigger, stronger, and more skilled than Tamara. Most of juvie was bigger and stronger than Tamara. But Lewis had been taken off guard and was still reeling from having everything dumped in her lap. Driven by her rage, Tamara threw herself at the bigger girl and did her best to inflict maximum damage before she was stopped by the guards and the Sharks. She knew she would be stopped, it was just a matter of how much she could do in the seconds that she had.

She went directly for Lewis’s face, the most vulnerable place available, but Lewis was taller than Tamara, so when she covered her face and pulled back, Tamara took advantage of her lower center of gravity, throwing her shoulder into Lewis’s soft middle while her face was covered, managing to take her to the ground.

That in itself was a victory. Tamara had no chance of beating Lewis in a fight. Getting her on the floor would at least boost Tamara’s rep. A shower of blows rained down on her from behind while she tried to keep Lewis down to get another strike or two to her face, and to keep from getting grabbed or flipped by her.

“Stand down! Break it up! French!”

By the time the guards started pulling girls out of the dog pile, Tamara was regretting her choice. She was no longer in a position of power. She took several blows to her face and head before the guards started to get control.

Millican was the one to grab Tamara and pull her to her feet. “What just happened here?”

Tamara held her hand to her bleeding nose, not bothering to answer.

“What happened?” he repeated. “I look away for one second and everything suddenly goes all to hell.”

Tamara still didn’t give him any answer. She wasn’t about to commit to a story and get caught in a lie. Not being gentle, he wrenched her hands behind her back and restrained them with a zip tie.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into everyone,” Millican growled. “Brawling at breakfast? You know better than to get involved in something like that.”

Tamara gave a grunt in response. Sure, she knew better. He didn’t even know she was the one who had started it. Lewis had instigated and Tamara could have just eaten it, but that would just make her a target the next time. She had to show her teeth.

Millican pushed Tamara a couple of feet away. “Just stay there.” He resumed pulling other girls out of the fight, until everything was quiet again. By the time the backup got there, the guards posted in the canteen already had it under control. With all of the participants handcuffed, they started returning girls to their cells or diverting them to the infirmary or isolation. The blood streaming from Tamara’s nose meant she was routed to the infirmary. She was one of the first to be treated.

Dr. Eastport poked and prodded Tamara’s nose. “Doesn’t look like it’s broken,” he said. “Just bloody.” He wrapped a large piece of gauze over Tamara’s nose and squeezed it tightly. “Hold it like that. Fifteen minutes. No peeking, no blowing your nose.”

“Okay.” Tamara put her fingers beside his to pinch it.

“Anything else?”

Tamara shook her head.

Eastport was studying her, trying to read her. “You sure, dear? Nothing else?”

“No. I’m fine.”

“All right. Stay here. Don’t move.” He left her on the gurney and went on to the next patient. It was Gomez who had escorted Tamara to the infirmary and was supervising her and a few others. He stood with his back to a wall, watching her. Tamara looked away from him and focused on the middle distance, contemplating her situation.

She closed her eyes to try to rest and relax, but that was a mistake. With her eyes shut, she could still see the infirmary even more clearly. She was thrown back in time to her initial intake three years before. Dr. Eastport leaning close to discuss his findings, the smile that usually adorned his face gone. He sat on a little round stool and took off his glasses.

“So you’re sexually active,” he observed.

“No.”

“You can lie to me, but your body can’t.”

Tamara opened her mouth to argue but stopped, meeting his steady gaze. “Yeah, I guess.”

“You also have not been using protection.”

Tamara’s jaw dropped. “No way you can tell that!” she protested.

“Unfortunately, I can.”

Suddenly, she understood. “Don’t tell me he gave me something!”

He nodded gently.

“Is it mono? I’ve been so tired.”

“You’re pregnant.”

The room spun around her and Tamara felt like she was going to throw up. “I couldn’t be pregnant! He said I couldn’t get pregnant.”

“A boy will tell you whatever he thinks he has to.”

Tamara wrapped her arms around her belly, the tears starting, her throat closing up.

“No, no, no. I can’t be pregnant. It could be a mistake, couldn’t it? Those tests aren’t always right.”

“It’s not a mistake. I’m sorry.”

Tamara sobbed, feeling the last vestiges of control slip away from her. Rivers of tears ran down her face. She had done what she had to to get away from the Bakers, to be free to live her own life instead of being a slave, and she was going to again be responsible for another life, another baby.

“Here, none of that,” Eastport comforted. “Take a deep breath and settle down. It’s not as bad as all of that.”

“I can’t be pregnant! I don’t want a baby! I can’t do this!”

“No, it’s okay. We’ll take care of it.”

Tamara felt a scream rising from inside her. Her speech dissolved into unintelligible crying. She started to shake violently and she could no longer understand what the doctor was trying to say to her. It was as if he were talking to her from somewhere else. She just put her hands over her face and screamed and screamed. Eastport eventually gave her an injection that made the whole nightmare dissolve into oblivion.

“French. French!”

Tamara focused on the voice and was dragged back to the present. Her intake had been three years ago. It was in the past. Long since taken care of. Gomez clutched her shoulder, shaking her and trying to snap her out of the flashback.

“What’s the matter with you? Get a grip on yourself!”

Tamara wiped tears from her face. She rubbed her aching head and scrubbed her eyes, trying to focus on the present and find a way to explain it away to Gomez.

Dr. Eastport hurried back into Tamara’s curtained cubicle, brows down, concern written all over his face. “What’s wrong? What’s going on?”

Gomez dropped his hold on Tamara’s shoulder. “Hell if I know. She was just sitting here and started bawling. Wouldn’t answer me.” He stared into Tamara’s face. “Seems to be back know. You think it was some kind of seizure?”

Dr. Eastport took Tamara’s pulse, smiling reassuringly. “Hey, there. You okay?”

Tamara nodded. She didn’t know what to say to him.

“Are you in pain?”

“No. I’m okay. It was just… nothing.”

Dr. Eastport looked at Gomez. “You want to give us a minute?”

Gomez’s eyes narrowed, not liking it. “I need to keep an eye on her.”

“Go keep an eye on one of the others for a minute. Tamara’s not going to go leaping up and getting into mischief, are you?”

Tamara shook her head. “I’ll stay here,” she promised. “I won’t move.”

Gomez reluctantly moved away from the end of Tamara’s bed and went out of sight to check on the others. Tamara knew that the curtains only provided the illusion of privacy. The other girls and Gomez would still be able to hear what she said to the doctor.

He pulled the blood pressure cuff from its cage on the wall and put it around Tamara’s arm. He pumped the bulb.

“You want to tell me what’s going on?” he asked.

“No… just… I don’t know. I’m fine.”

He put the stethoscope into his ears and released the valve on the cuff, listening. “Your pulse and blood pressure are very high. I’d expect them to be down, now that you’re away from the fight. You were calmer a few minutes ago. Now you’re wound up again. What happened?”

“I don’t know.” Tamara wasn’t about to confess to having flashbacks. She needed a reputation for being tough, not crazy. “Maybe like Gomez said, a seizure.”

He shone a penlight into her eyes, shaking his head. “I don’t think so. Did he do something to you? Hurt you or touch you?”

Tamara looked in the direction that Gomez had gone. Dr. Eastport raised his hands in a questioning shrug, indicating she could answer the question nonverbally. Tamara shook her head. “No. He didn’t do anything. He’s never done anything.”

Dr. Eastport gazed at her steadily, waiting for further confirmation. She again shook her head. No.

He took her pulse again and nodded. “You need something to relax you? Having anxiety?”

“I don’t take meds. I don’t need anything.”

“There’s no shame in taking appropriate medication. Nothing wrong with getting help when you need it.”

“No. Don’t want anything.”

“I’m keeping you here until I’m sure that you’re stable,” he warned.

Tamara rolled her eyes, but the only one who could see the gesture was Dr. Eastport. He patted her shoulder, smiling.

“Have a rest. You’re going to be here a while.”

Tamara sighed and closed her eyes. She was tired, still feeling like she hadn’t had enough sleep. She might as well get what sleep she could, given the opportunity.

 

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Tortured Teardrops

By P.D. Workman

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