Works in Progress

Sheltered Disclosures byKaren LeRosier

A broke, laid-off women’s shelter advocate takes a temp job to privately counsel a viciously abused young woman. The employer’s a werewolf and the client might sprout fur, but the victim needs her. This unnerving disclosure might lead to her niche in life—if she can assimilate a new reality.

Excerpt  (updated 9/30/2012)

Chapter 1

“El I can’t do this—this call. It’s awful…she’s hiding from him.”

I glanced up from the endless paperwork and met the wide, but tearing eyes of my intern standing just outside my office.

“Come in Natalie.” My voice automatically moderated to a soft, yet mater-of-fact tone as I scooted out from behind the ancient behemoth of my desk and rested a hand on her upper arm. “Want me to take over?”

Natalie nodded emphatically. “She’s bleeding, hiding, with her kid!” A sob strangled her high-pitched voice and she gulped. “He hit her; her arm’s hanging wrong. How could—”

“It’s okay, Nat. Focus”. I gently set my hands on both shoulders and pinned her gaze with mine. I restrained my sigh; after all, she was me about six years ago, a senior at NIU and an intern at the Haven. After completing the state required sixty hour Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, training, everyone thinks they have a grip, know what they’re in for—then they get that call. And the walls come tumbling down. “Whose arm is broken?”

“Beth.”

“Beth? The child?” I probed.

“Mom’s arm. The little girl got hit in the face, bloody lip.”

Ah. “Okay. Have the police been called?”

“That’s the thing, she won’t let me, she said—”

“Where are they hiding? And where’s the abuser?”

“The garden shed. He’s still in the house.”

“Thank you Nat. I’ll take the call now. Okay?”

She nodded, sniffed.

I transferred a stack of files from the ugly orange chair across from my desk to the uglier almost tread bare carpet. “Sit and listen so you know what happens, okay?” She sat, sniffed again. I felt for Natalie; domestic violence crisis calls involving kids were tough, heartrending.

I thrust a box of Kleenex in the general direction of her snorking nose as I clicked onto the red flashing line on the phone. “Hello. Beth? My name is Eloise; I’m here to help you. Are you in a safe place to talk?”

“No! We’re in the shed; he’s gonna find us. He hit her! She’s bleeding! John’s never—just me. But now…” Over her sobs I could just make out muffled, pitiful whimpers—the child.

“Beth, do you think you can leave before he comes outside? Is there a neighbor you could run to?”

“No! If I leave…he’ll blow. My god, he’d kill me if I let the neighbors know.”

“I can understand that.” Sadly the neighbors usually already knew. She was crying hysterically now. I needed another approach. “But Beth, don’t you think you should have your arm looked at?”

“Yeah…no. Probably…but I’ll have to come back home…. he’ll be worse. I’ll be alright; it doesn’t hurt that bad.”

Probably not with all the adrenalin flooding her system, but later the pain would come. “Beth what if we send an advocate to meet you at the emergency room. You wouldn’t be alone then and she could help you decide what to do next. Would that help you?”

“You can do that? I could… No, I don’t have keys; my purse is inside.”

“No problem, I can get the police to escort you to—”

“No! He’ll blow…no police. I have to stay.”

I bowed my head. Crap. I shouldn’t have said the P-word, now I’d have to use the kid card.

“But Beth, he’s hurt your child; it’s not just about you anymore.”

“I know. I… Fucking bastard! She’s just a baby; she never did—”

Good. She was angry now, ready too advocate for her child. “You have a baby too?”

“Just Abby, she’s four now but…”

“She’s still your baby isn’t she. Your baby to protect.”

“Yes, she’s mine. How could he…” sobs choked off her words again.

“Beth. I could call an ambulance. Just so your daughter can be checked over, your arm fixed. He’d expect you to take care of his daughter wouldn’t he?”

“Just an ambulance? Not police?”

Caught. I was just calling for an ambulance—which the police would certainly escort, but I wasn’t calling them. I could ask the operator to have the police to hang back. They’d agree—unless the jerk tried to stop her. “Yes, an ambulance. That’s not like calling the police is it?” I sidestepped though I hated bending the truth with victims.

“No. If I—I hear him! He’s yelling for me… Do it. Call now. I have to get Abby out of here.”

“I’ll call 911. I need your address and cell number so the operator can call you when the ambulance is front of your house.” I jotted down the information and put her on hold, speed dialed 911 and requested an ambulance. I ended that call and switched back to Beth’s line to reassure her help was on the way, hung up.

The world came back in focus, my windowless office, furnished shabby chic on a slightly sloping floor, and Natalie.

Natalie looked relieved; her eyes dry now. “You’re so good at this.” Her expression held awe. “You got her to leave. I…” She averted her eyes.

“Beth needed someone to help her organize her thoughts, options. It takes time to learn how, but you will.”

“How can you do that? Be so calm, so callous? I can’t be like that.”

“No, never callous! My tears and sympathy would have been of no use to Beth, would have just escalated her fears. It’s hard to learn the balance, but to survive working with people in crisis you have to learn not to let their emergency become yours. Learn not to let all that horridness past certain parts of your brain and never beyond the outer layers of your heart. Otherwise, you won’t survive your internship much less working in the field. And then the Beth’s of this world won’t get the help they desperately need.”

“I’m sorry Eloise, I—” Her face reddened.

“Goodness no apology is needed; I felt the same way when I started. And it really does get easier. You have the caring heart we need. Besides Beth still needs your help; needs you to send the on-call advocate to meet them at the emergency room.” I smiled. “Don’t forget to document the calls. And please add a note in the log that we hope to have an adult and child coming to shelter later and…” I glanced at the shelter floor plan whiteboard and erased a name with a fingertip. “If so, she can have room three; Gina moved out yesterday—and swiped the pillows when she left. Please ask Rand to bring that case of pillows out of the basement.”

Expression brightened, she stood smoothed her slacks. “Advocate, log, room three, pillows. I better hurry.”

“Wait, one more thing. Please forget you ever heard Eloise—I only used it to sound more capable. I hate that name!”

“Okay, El.” She mimed the zipping of her lips, turned to leave.

I collapsed into my wobbly chair, closed my eyes and rolled my head to work the kinks out of my neck. My slow breaths bloomed into a smile—I talked Beth out of there. I slipped my feet out of my clogs—heeled too high—and propped my feet upon an open file drawer. I’d learned to celebrate each little triumph since you never knew if an intervention would stick.

I loved my job, Shelter Supervisor at The Haven, a not-for-profit agency for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, DV/SA. The variety of duties involved; family advocate, crisis counselor, hospital advocate, and intern supervisor kept me from getting bored. My co-workers and staff were great, supportive but light and funny when needed—important when dealing with fall-out from the most heinous behaviors perpetrated within so-called loving relationships.

On the downside, The Haven was not-for-profit. My office was originally the pantry of an ancient farmhouse, furnished in early American Salvation Army rejects—in reality. The pay and hours stank and there wasn’t any job security—finding funding in this economy was like chasing leprechauns. But I made a difference, an immense difference for women like Beth. Not everyone could say they have rewarding work.

A series of raps broke into my thoughts and I reluctantly opened my eyes. A volunteer handed me a message slip and I thanked her. No voice mail for this not-for-profit; our communications were a couple of decades behind in technology; messages were often delivered on foot between two converted homes and an apartment building on our four lots.

The message from Cheryl, our executive director, was a reminder of the dreaded Supervisors Meeting at six. I knew more cuts were on the agenda and feared there’d be lay-offs—maybe me. I glanced at the big analog clock on the wall, it was almost time; Cheryl knew me too well. I shoved my feet back into my shoes, slung my bulky purse over my shoulder. I left the shelter and headed for the adjacent brick post World War Two Cape Cod that housed Counseling and Administration.

. . .

“Whoa! El.” Rand, Haven’s live-in security and handyman, caught my hand in his as I dashed out of the admin building after the meeting.

“Not now, Rand.” I needed to reach my car before I exploded in anger or tears; that or of oscillating indecision was all that kept my emotions glued together. I tugged on my hand but he tightened his calloused grip.

“Bullshit. What happened in there?” The concern in his brown eyes cued tears to well in mine. He glanced around, tugged my arm and hustled me into the shadows of the crumbling brick walkway between his converted garage home and the house that held Counseling and Admin. “I know they didn’t lay you off.”

“Not yet, but Illinois is way behind on paying out our funding—again. I have to lay off Mel and Hanna.” I kicked the brick garage. “And now we have to pay three hundred a month for insurance and take a ten percent cut in hours; how the hell am I supposed to live?”

“Insurance?”

“Weren’t you in the meeting?” I didn’t remember seeing him.

“No, I covered the shelter reception desk. Cheryl already explained the parts that impacted me.”

“You don’t have to pay more for insurance?”

“The Haven doesn’t insure me; I get mine from…another source. His eyes darted away a few heart beats, returned to meet mine with a new topic. “They can’t cut your hours; you already work too many to get your work done.”

“They can and they just did.” Tears threatened to spill, I bowed my head, kicked the crumbling brick, blinking. “In reality, I’ll be stuck with more hours to cover for Mel and Hanna. I’m salary, a cut in hours is actually a ten percent pay cut—on top of the three hundred insurance ding! What’s left won’t cover the bills, don’t know what I’m going to do.”

My bowed head, hid my welling eyes behind a wavy brown wall of hair but Rand sidestepped and met my eyes anyway. I started to turn away but he pulled me into a hug. My cheek met a soft flannel Rand scented shoulder—the perfect place to stay and cry. Bawling was the last thing I needed to do. I stepped back and he instinctively let me. I turned away, breathed the hot brick smelling air, while tamping down the damn tears.

“Nobody’s going to blame you for crying El.”

“Crying won’t get a damn thing done. I need to call Mel and Hanna. Oh God! At least I have my job. This is so effed up. Blagojevich’s legacy just keeps on giving. Damn crooked Illinois politicians.”

“You don’t have to get things done right now; you’re off the clock. Take care of this business tomorrow when you’re more…objective. Come on I’ll buy you a beer.” He headed down the walkway with his normal confident stride, certain I’d follow.

And he was right. I wiped my eyes and let the view of his retreating denim clad butt distract me from my woes. I swear if it wasn’t for that gay thing Rand would be the perfect guy for me—looks, bod, and personality. He paused at the Y in the path, let me catch up, and slung an arm across my shoulders—like a big brother.

I hate that Rand is gay. I don’t have issue with homosexuality, same-sex marriage or parenthood, except that some of those gay men could have been great relationship material—for me. Color me selfish.

Of course, more than Rand’s sexual preference led to my single status. Cleaning up after mankind’s despicable behaviors—emphasis on man—stamped potential love interests as suspect with figurative construction-orange warning signs. Factor in losers I’ve dated, and who could blame me for being single. I don’t actually hate men, I’m suspicious, been known to run background checks. Fortunately I do have men in my life that mitigate my dim perception of manhood, like my father, Grandfather, brother, and Rand. All good men, non-violent and respectful of women—teasing and jokes aside. There has to be more men like them out there, but I average fifty to sixty hours in a week in a women’s shelter. Not much opportunity to meet nice guys.

I drove home to park my car and walked the convenient a block and a half of downtown DeKalb’s quaintly painted main street to Paul’s Pub.

Paul’s was narrow and long with a bar running most of the length and a second story of balconies hugging three sides. On weekends a DJ would be set up on the far end balcony, the main floor tables shoved to the wall for dancing, and the place would be packed with a mostly twenty-something crowd. Today and on most weekdays, the clientele was broader with middle-aged farmer or trucker type regulars at the bar, and all walks of people at the tables, most coming for DeKalb’s best Black Angus burgers. I peered through the dim light searching for Rand. For years now smoking has been banned from public places but the heavy reek of smoke lingered; Paul’s felt shrouded in the foggy ghost of smokers’ past.

A waving arm drew my attention to the back, to Rand and the table he’d staked with two beers. We ordered Pauly burgers and poppers and I recapped the meeting details. Rand explained his lack of cuts—some spin about living on grounds—but side-stepped questions about his insurance source. There were a lot of professional and personal issues Rand either never explained or shut me up with over-the-top hogwash for explanation. He was such a good friend I put up with his selective cageyness; he was comfortable to be with and open about more things than closed.

“I can cover shelter one or two weekday overnight shifts for you. I know you’ll get stuck with them; volunteers never offer overnights. I’m there most nights anyway.”

“Awesome!” I mentally upgraded him to great friend. “That would help so much, thank you.” As live-in security he kept late hours and could get some extra sleep the next day but babysitting shelter was unpredictable, sometimes demanding.

“But there’s a catch.” Our conversation stalled with the arrival of our food. Rand automatically handed me the ketchup and I slid the salt and mustard across the planked wood table to him.

“The catch is I can’t cover any shifts next week, my three days off starts Wednesday. But I’ll do three nights next week to make it up. That work?”

“Works fine, thanks.” I grinned, had to tease him. “Time’s flown, already time for your fur-long.”

Rand grimaced at my pet name for his days off—hairymoon was another favorite. He took three days off, every twenty-eight days when the moon is full—another one of those secretive subjects. I pressed for the reason a few years back; with a straight face he told me he’s a werewolf and needed to turn wolf and hunt every full moon—he’s stuck with the story since. How can he offer such ludicrous explanations then act all indignant when teased about them?

I have a few theories about the time off. My best theory—a Brokeback Mountain situation, monthly fishing and hunting trip with a lover. My dad claims the full moon affects fish and game behavior so it makes sense. Second guess, he’s avoiding lunacy, moon madness, the worse time at the shelter. Regardless of what empirical research claims, Emergency room and 911 staff everywhere will tell you emergencies, violence, accidents, and general craziness increased exponentially with the full-moon and the Haven was no exception. Lunacy avoidance would be my top theory except it wasn’t Rand’s nature to shirk responsibility that way. So third, he’s training for the National Guard or some Ranger-type covert ops and the maneuvers needed the bright moonlight. He was certainly in the physical shape for the role. And that might explain his source of insurance. Whatever the reason Rand was nothing if not enigmatic.

Rand abandoned our conversation to boo the Chicago White Socks’ catcher as he crossed home plate to score on several large screens mounted around the room. He wasn’t a fan of the Chicago Cubs either but of course never explained why.

It was too late for a Monday night by the time we left Paul’s but I was in a better mood and definitely feeling less pain. Rand walked me home through the mild April night, brightly lit by old-world tandem lamped street poles over the bricked sidewalks. At the candy store I lived above, he told me to sleep well and not to worry. I said I’d try but my mind was already trying make the Shelter schedule work with a reduced staff.

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