Vanishing Teardrops

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chapter one

drop-cap-tAMARA SAT IN FRONT of the parole board, feeling like a bug under a magnifying glass. Everyone in the room had watched her enter the room. She stumbled, suddenly forgetting how to walk normally, too conscious of her feet and legs. Gomez directed her into the lone chair waiting front and center, as if she might not know where she was supposed to go otherwise.

She was in her orange uniform. They didn’t get civvies for appearing in front of the board. It wasn’t like she had anyone to fool, anyone who would think that she was not a convicted felon. Not like when she appeared in court and they were concerned that the jury not be influenced by the fact that she was a criminal. Though that had never turned out well. Her court appearances had been unmitigated disasters.

They had trusted her to appear in court to testify against the monsters and she had failed, her psychosis worsened by the stress. She didn’t know what the verdicts had been in the cases against Mr. Baker and Glock, but she hadn’t helped the prosecutor like they had expected her to. But that was all in the past. There was nothing she could do about it months later.

“Tamara French,” one of the parole board members said crisply, looking down at the papers in front of her. She was an older woman, probably a retired judge, deep frown lines carved in her face. Tamara had wondered whether she would know anyone on the board, but the faces were unfamiliar to her. People who didn’t know her personally and wouldn’t care whether she stayed in juvie or got out on parole. They were supposed to be unbiased, but Tamara didn’t suppose they would be starting with the opinion that she was a good little girl who had just gotten mixed up in something that was beyond her control. “Convicted of two counts of murder. Released on parole last year, but violated and returned to custody,” the woman summarized.

Tamara nodded stiffly and swallowed, a lump in her throat.

Everyone was silent. Tamara looked around, waiting for someone to say something. Her first parole board had been pretty warm toward her. She’d had an exemplary record before her release a year before. But that had all changed and the board undoubtedly knew it.

As awkward as it had been to have them all looking at her when she entered the room, it was worse to have them all looking at their papers and files as if she weren’t sitting right there in front of her. Why wouldn’t they look at her? Had they already decided, without even talking to her, without even hearing any evidence from anyone else, that they were going to turn her down? If they had already decided, why didn’t they just say so and send her back away without going through a charade first?

“Why don’t you tell us why you violated last time?” the frowning woman inquired. The way she said it made Tamara feel stupid for not offering up the information herself without prompting. But she had been following the rules she had been given when her lawyer had tried to prepare her to testify in court. Don’t offer anything. Wait until a question is asked. Only answer what is asked and nothing more.

“Uh…” Tamara cleared her throat. She needed to sound confident, not like a little girl, so she forced some strength into her voice. She imagined she was talking to one of the guards or one of the other juvies, not someone who controlled where her life was going to go for the next year. “I made some mistakes… I was contacted by an old cellmate and I didn’t say anything to my PO. I was afraid he’d send me back.” She shrugged helplessly. “I made a lot of stupid choices. I… didn’t think it was going to be so hard.”

“And how are things going to be any different this time?” It was a man who asked this; short, balding, peering at his papers through his glasses and then at Tamara over the rims.

Tamara concentrated on not saying ‘uh’ or ‘um’ again. They wanted her to be clear and concise, to give the impression that she was being honest and up front and was intelligent enough to change what had gone wrong the last time and over the last year of her incarceration.

“I know I need to use my PO as a resource. Not to treat him as an enemy. I know that he’s there to help me, not just there to slap me back in juvie the first chance.”

Tamara closed her eyes briefly, fighting back the memories of Glock telling her the system was rigged against her. That the whole thing was just a way to make it look like they were giving felons a chance when all they intended to do was revoke her parole and send her back at the first opportunity. She couldn’t believe that. She had to believe Mrs. Henson and Zobel and the other people who wanted to help her. Collins was the one who had told her he would speak for her when she came before the parole board again. He’d had to send her back to juvie after everything she had done, but he said he’d speak for her.

But Tamara had taken a quick glance around the room as she was directed to the hot seat in the middle of the room. Collins wasn’t sitting up at the front with the board and he hadn’t been sitting in the spectator seating. Tamara’s eyes had been drawn to a woman there, square jawed, her blond hair pulled back into a ponytail, who Tamara didn’t recognize. She hadn’t been able to see the woman’s face, only the back of her head, but she wasn’t familiar. Mrs. Henson was there. But there was no long-legged, bald black man. If Collins had been there, he would have been obvious. Tamara fought back the disappointment over his no-show. Would the board still consider giving her a second shot at parole so soon if he weren’t there to speak up for her?

“Miss French.”

Tamara opened her eyes and looked at the board members. The frowning woman was speaking again.

“Your record since you were returned to custody has been interesting… and not in a good way.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’m surprised that you would even apply for parole again after what’s taken place over the past year.”

Tamara swallowed and shifted in her seat. It would have been nice if they’d at least given her a drink of water. Surely everyone who sat in that hot seat must have a mouth as dry as hers. Were they intentionally making her as uncomfortable as they could?

“The staff encouraged me to apply,” she said. “There should be letters there from Dr. Sutherland about my… problems… and from other administrators…”

A couple of the board members shuffled papers, but everyone had undoubtedly read them already.

“Dr. Sutherland suggests that your psychosis was triggered by your pregnancy. A pregnancy that you kept a secret until it was too late to deal with it.”

“I didn’t know I was pregnant.”

“I see. I’ve never heard of psychosis being triggered by pregnancy before.”

Tamara shrugged. “It’s rare.” What else could she say about it?

“So that means you’re not responsible for any of the violent incidents on your record during the past year?” challenged another woman on the board. She had long hair in a straight, severe style and slashes of red blush along her cheekbones. She reminded Tamara a little of one of her fifth-grade teachers, a dragon of a woman who had scared Tamara to death.

Tamara looked down the line of the parole board, trying to analyze their reactions. Things were not going well. Dr. Sutherland and the others had assured her that once the board knew that her problems had been the result of psychosis with an identified trigger, there would be no problem. They could ignore those incidents completely.

“I know I did a lot of things that were wrong or bizarre…” Tamara said slowly. “It’s hard to explain what was going on in my head at the time… but my thoughts weren’t right. I saw and heard things… hallucinations… and I was really paranoid. I thought… there were plots against me… I couldn’t control my reactions…”

She had expected further probes from the dragon-woman. Snide comments, disdain, and disbelief. But the woman was quiet, making notes along with the rest of the board members.

“Which brings us to the next point,” the balding man said, looking down his nose at his papers and readjusting his glasses. “Your pregnancy.”

“If I get out on parole, my foster mom from last time, Mrs. Henson, she wants me to go to her house and to try to take care of my baby,” Tamara told him, diverting him from any questions about how she had managed to get pregnant during her incarceration. She turned slightly in her chair to nod to Mrs. Henson, sitting in the chairs behind her. “That’s her.”

The board all looked up from their papers and notes to study Mrs. Henson. Mrs. Henson smiled and nodded.

“You have discussed this with Social Services?” the man questioned, his brows drawing down as he stared at Mrs. Henson. “They will approve a plan to put an infant into the arms of a girl convicted of murdering two young children?”

Tamara opened her mouth, unsure what to say. But Mrs. Henson had already been dealing with the prison officials and Social Services on the matter and she spoke up. Her voice was calm and measured.

“Yes, we have been in consultation with Social Services and already have a Safety Plan in place. There is nothing to indicate that Tamara would be a danger to her baby. In fact, even dealing with the psychosis triggered by the pregnancy, Tamara tried to protect him. She asked for help several times when she felt she might be a danger to him.”

The balding man’s expression didn’t change as he stared at her. “This is aside from when she tried to commit suicide or tear the baby out with her bare hands.”

The room was silent. Tamara could hear herself breathing. She hadn’t been sure how much information the parole board would be given on what had happened over the past year. Obviously, they had been given plenty of ammunition against her.

“Yes,” Mrs. Henson agreed. She was still calm and confident, but there was an extra bite in her voice as well. “They changed her meds after that to try to get better control over her psychosis. But more than that, Tamara learned how to ask for help. She learned how to judge when she was losing control and to ask the appropriate people for help.”

Mrs. Henson actually made it sound good. Like Tamara had improved and progressed, rather than spiraling further and further into darkness she couldn’t cope with. The balding man nodded and wrote something down. Tamara felt like something had shifted in the mood of the room. Maybe the board would actually consider granting her parole?

There were more scribbled notes. Murmurs between the members of the board. Tamara let her eyes roam around the small, warm room. The board. Mrs. Henson. The unknown woman. The rest of the audience she could see without turning her head. She could still feel Gomez’s presence somewhere behind her.

“It says here your former parole officer wishes to make a statement?” the frowning woman said, looking up from her papers to spear Tamara with her gaze.

Tamara nodded. She swallowed and cleared her throat. “I don’t know where he is…”

“Call Mr. Collins in.”

Tamara heard the door behind her open. She didn’t turn around to look, afraid they would judge her as easily distractible, impulsive, and unable to control herself. There was another guard there; it wasn’t Gomez’s voice that called in the larger waiting area for Mr. Collins. Footsteps sounded, the guard and Mr. Collins entering the room. Consuming more of the air in the already-close room.

She wasn’t sure whether he was going to sit behind her or stand in front of the board with his back to her. As it turned out, he stood at an angle to Tamara, so she could see his face in profile as he addressed them. He gave Tamara a nod. He gave a casual, confident greeting to the members of the board. It appeared that he knew them. Tamara supposed it wasn’t the first time he’d given a statement.

“You were Miss French’s parole officer last year,” the frowning woman said.

Collins gave a nod. “She had a number of problems, but I believe that if she’s willing to communicate with her parole officer, she can successfully reintegrate with society. She did turn herself in. In fact, she has twice. That shows me she has what it takes. With a better understanding of the challenges she is going to face once she’s left here and more open communication with her PO, she can succeed.”

“Do you really think that things have changed that much since her last release?” the dragon lady demanded, tapping the end of her pen on the papers in front of her. “I’m not sure her behavior since returning to custody shows a positive turn.”

“I don’t think she had to change much to be successful,” Collins said smoothly. “She had a lot of pressure from a previous acquaintance. She was, at times, physically prevented from complying. With Glock Spielman now incarcerated, Tamara’s chances of success go up a hundred percent.”

“You don’t think she’s going to allow herself to be influenced by someone else this time?”

Collins turned his head slightly toward Tamara, considering. They hadn’t spoken since she had returned to juvie. He didn’t know all that had happened to her since, though he had likely seen some of it on TV.

“I think she has the ability to resist pressure. She has a desire to do the right thing, which isn’t something that can be said of all of the parolees I’ve supervised.”

The little, balding man wrinkled his brow. He scratched out a few words in his notes. “Do you think she knows the difference between right and wrong?”

Collins didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

Tamara waited for him to prevaricate, to temper his statement. Each of the members of the board looked at him, apparently waiting for the same. But Collins didn’t qualify it.

“Thank you, Mr. Collins,” the frowning woman said.

Collins stood there for a minute longer, waiting to see if any of the other board members had any questions for him. Then he nodded, and he walked behind Tamara to sit in the chairs and watch the rest of the proceedings.

“Is there anyone else who wants to make a statement?” the frowning woman asked, closing her folder.

“I do,” Mrs. Henson offered quickly, before the proceedings could be closed.

“You’ve already had your say,” the woman countered, clearly ready to go on.

“No, I only answered your question regarding Social Services’ opinion of Tamara taking care of her baby.”

The woman rubbed at the lines around her eyes, sighing and nodding tiredly.

“Okay. You’ve agreed she can be placed in your home, so clearly you believe she can be reformed and is not a danger. Do you have anything else to add?”

“It’s important for Tamara to be able to bond with her baby. She hasn’t had the opportunity to do that. She hasn’t even held him. If she’s going to have any involvement in his life, she needs to be given the opportunity to care for him. For his mental health and hers. And caring for a baby means she’ll be motivated to make it work. She’ll want to succeed for his sake. A baby can have a huge influence on a young woman.”

Tamara suppressed a shudder at Mrs. Henson’s words. That baby had already had a huge influence on her, taking over her brain for the months before he came into the world. She knew that he wasn’t actually evil, but she remembered thinking he was, during her breaks from reality. She had been sure he was a demon, something she needed to fight back against. She struggled to keep her expression blank and not let the board see her thoughts.

“With a baby to take care of, Tamara isn’t going to be out partying or looking for excitement. She’ll stick close to home. She’ll have the opportunity to make friends with other young mothers. She’ll have plenty of social supports. We have been working with teen moms for years. Not all of them are cut out for it… but I believe Tamara is. I think she could be a great mom and this could be her path back into productive society.”

The dragon lady turned to the others on the board, whispering. Did she think Mrs. Henson was full of hot air? That she didn’t know what she was talking about? Mrs. Henson had a lot of experience, but Tamara still had a hard time believing Mrs. Henson knew what she was talking about as far as Tamara’s parenting skills went. She didn’t know what a pitiful job Tamara had done taking care of Corrine and Julie. It wasn’t just that she had killed them while suffering from the psychosis of an earlier pregnancy. Even before that, the Bakers had criticized and berated Tamara, shouted at her for putting the children in danger, and beat her for her errors. If Mrs. Henson knew what a screw-up she had been with the Baker children, she wouldn’t be so quick to say Tamara would be a good mother to her own baby.

But it was Tamara’s one slim chance of getting out instead of a delay of another year, trying to show everyone what an exemplary juvie she was. If they could be convinced that she wanted to be a mother to her baby, they had to let her out. The baby was already a few months old. In another year, her chances of being able to bond with him properly would be that much lower. Earlier was better. Mrs. Henson kept emphasizing how important it was.

“My baby needs a mother,” Tamara said. “I don’t want him having to go from one foster home to another his whole life. I don’t want him to not have any parents, like me.” Tamara blinked tears. “Lots of the girls in juvie didn’t have a real mom in their lives. I don’t want my baby to end up somewhere like this.”

The board members looked at her for a moment, then resumed whispering. Tamara could hear Mrs. Henson shifting in her chair back behind Tamara. She knew Mrs. Henson wanted to be there beside her, holding her hand to encourage her and show the board how sure she was and how much she would help and support Tamara. Mrs. Henson was used to getting her way with Social Services, but Tamara wasn’t sure she would have as much sway with the parole board.

Tamara closed her eyes, focused on keeping her breathing steady. She waited for the board to announce their decision.

chapter two

drop-cap-yOU DID IT!” Mrs. Henson cheered, giving Tamara a squeeze around the shoulders. “I told you we could get you out. I knew we could do it!”

Tamara put up with the hug for a moment, then wriggled to extricate herself. “Yeah. I didn’t think it was going to go my way. I just figured, after all the stuff that happened… there was no way.”

“You should pat yourself on the back. It wasn’t easy. You did a great job advocating for yourself and telling them you could do it.”

“It was all you,” Tamara disagreed. “You and Collins. I didn’t say that much.”

“You don’t have to say a lot. You handled yourself really well. Give yourself the congratulations you deserve. If you’d just sulked and not spoken up for yourself, do you think they would have approved it?”

Tamara shrugged. But her face got a little warm thinking about it. Mrs. Henson was right. She had done something for herself for once instead of just withdrawing and saying it was never going to work out.

Mrs. Henson gave her another hug around the shoulders, but Gomez was getting anxious for Tamara to be on her way. “You’ll have plenty of time for that later,” he said. “If you want to get out of here, everything has to be processed properly. I’m not supposed to be letting you hang around and socialize.”

Tamara already had her hands cuffed in front of her, ready to be escorted back to her housing unit. As nice as it would be to just walk out of the parole board hearing and go home, that wasn’t the way it worked. There would be paperwork to be processed, interviews with Dr. Sutherland and someone in administration, getting her release date approved and her parole officer onside, and a dozen other moving parts before she actually got out the door and was free.

“Yeah, fine. Let’s go,” she agreed.

The other woman who had been watching the parole board hearing was standing nearby, watching Tamara and Mrs. Henson closely. She had a hard face. Not unattractive, but not, Tamara thought, used to smiling much. Tamara wasn’t sure who she was. Maybe a news reporter, seeing if there were a story to be told. Maybe some victim’s advocacy group, though she hadn’t spoken up against Tamara being released, so Tamara didn’t think that was the case. Maybe it really wasn’t anything to do with Tamara or her case; the woman was just a new guard or staff member and wanted to see how it all worked.

She didn’t look away when Tamara looked at her. Tamara was used to some measure of respect in juvie. It wasn’t respectful to just keep staring at her like that. It was a challenge, and Tamara didn’t like to be challenged, especially by someone she didn’t even know.

Mrs. Henson had asked if she could be the one to pick Tamara up from juvie and to take her home but, for some reason, protocol forbade it. Tamara had to be picked up by her social worker, who had initial custody of her, and then transferred to Mrs. Henson like a courier package. So, just as she had a year earlier, Tamara sat in the receiving room, staring down at her dingy white tennis shoes, waiting for the social worker to sign her out and take her away from juvie.

The social worker had said she would be there at noon. Tamara sat in the hard plastic chair watching the second hand make its way around the wall clock over, and over, and over again, until two hours had passed. Social workers were always dealing with emergencies and were notorious for being late, so she wasn’t sure why she had thought the one picking her up would be any different.

Tamara hadn’t eaten lunch, and she was annoyed and angry by the time the social worker finally showed up.

She was cut from the usual mold. In a skirt suit, hair pulled back away from her face, a narrow, stern face. Tamara bit her lip and looked away from the social worker. It wouldn’t do to start out on the wrong foot. Snapping at the worker for being late was not going to win Tamara any awards.

“All ready to go, Tamara?” the woman asked briskly.

“Yeah.” Tamara looked toward the reception counter. “You gotta fill out papers?”

“All done. We can go.”

Tamara got stiffly to her feet. The social worker was watching her face. Tamara wasn’t sure what was in the woman’s eyes. Curiosity?

“You don’t remember me?” the social worker asked.

Tamara frowned and looked over her. There was no name tag to help her to recall. But the woman’s face did look a little familiar. Tamara couldn’t remember where she knew her from.

“We met at the hospital. When I picked up your baby.”

Tamara squinted at her, trying to force recollection. It had been a bad time and her memories were foggy and disjointed.

“Sorry,” she said finally. “I was pretty doped up.”

“I’m Mrs. Arbiter. I have to say, I was surprised to hear that you were going to go back to Marion and try to raise your baby. You were pretty adamant at the hospital that you didn’t want him.”

Tamara shifted back and forth, uncomfortable with Mrs. Arbiter’s keen gaze. “I was going through a lot of stuff,” she explained. “I didn’t know what I wanted.”

“You seemed to have a pretty good idea!”

“I guess.” They started to walk toward the door. “But things changed… and I didn’t think back then that I’d be able to get out and have anything to do with him. I didn’t think there was any point in trying.”

Mrs. Arbiter nodded, accepting this. She led Tamara out to her car and didn’t try to keep her talking on the drive to the Hensons’ house.

Tamara watched out the window as the scenery changed, getting farther and farther from juvie and closer to the house where she had spent those few weeks the last time she was released on parole.

She would do better this time.

She had to.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Vanishing Teardrops

By P.D. Workman

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