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OCTOBER, SIX YEARS LATER
The nip in the air invigorated Carly as she cantered the Arabian mare on the smooth lane. Getting up an hour early to ride Angel had been so worth it. The horses at Tabula Rasa had been a deciding factor in accepting the recovery center's job offer.
Carly's earliest memories had involved horses, and after her parents died, her mare, Candy, had been her biggest comfort. She'd like to know if the horse was still alive ... horses lived thirty years sometimes. But to see her would mean revealing who she was to the world. What if Blade tracked her down?
No. For now she'd have to settle for the horses at the center.
She brought the mare down to a trot then to a walk, and then she leaned over and patted the horse's neck. "Good girl. Are you ready to go back to the barn?"
Carly didn't know what she'd do if the mare answered her with more than the toss of her head.
She reined Angel around and nudged her into a trot, rising out of the saddle to match the one-two beat of Angel's rhythm. Her mind turned to the counseling sessions for later in the morning. Over the weekend a new girl had arrived at the center, and Carly was anxious to meet her. No one had said exactly what her problem was ... probably drugs. That was the majority of the girls' problems here.
An hour and a half later, Carly lit a lavender candle then turned as the door opened and girls filed in for their session. She made eye contact with each girl as they handed her a sheet of paper that listed their name and what they wanted to discuss. Most smiled and nodded, but not the new girl. Carly had learned from one of the other counselors that her name was Jenna Carson.
After she collected the last sheet, Carly scanned the room, searching until she found Jenna sitting in a rocker with her knees pulled close to her chest, ignoring the activity around her. Brassy blonde hair almost covered a pixie face. Carly hadn't had an opportunity to look over the girl's paperwork, so she knew nothing other than her name. By noon, that would change when she plowed through the stack of folders on her desk.
She nodded to the two assistants who would sit in on today's session and then turned to study the other girls in the group. All recovering addicts, and all still in their teens. She skimmed the papers the girls had handed her. Jenna had only written her first name and age, seventeen, on the sheet. Evidently there was nothing she wanted to talk about.
Typical of a new girl who was still hiding from her past. After eight years, Carly understood that better than anyone. But it was her job to get Jenna to realize the past did not define her. Here at Tabula Rasa she had a clean slate. That's what tabula rasa meant in Latin. Carly had to remind herself daily that she had a clean slate because not a day went by that she didn't struggle with her past, and especially with her sister's death.
She hadn't discovered Lia was dead until almost six months after they'd met at the state park. When a week went by and her sister hadn't contacted Carly again, she figured once Lia had time to think about what she'd learned, she'd decided Carly had too much baggage. And Carly didn't blame her, but she wasn't about to contact Lia again and suffer more rejection.
It had been Jamie who had tracked down Lia's unsolved murder case that the police termed a random act of violence. Hers was similar to three other unsolved shootings on the 385 bypass.
"Ms. Carly, when we getting started?"
"Shortly," she said, blocking the memories. She turned to Trinity. The eighteen-year-old would graduate from the program in two weeks, an accomplishment that had been hard to envision five months ago. Surly and uncooperative, she'd only been there because the alternative was prison. But somewhere around two months into the program, Carly had broken through the hard shell encasing the girl and helped her see her worth, freeing the prisoner inside. Breakthroughs like she'd had with Trinity kept her going.
Carly scanned the room again. Jenna now stood facing the window with her arms wrapped around her thin body. Carly stepped closer to Trinity and lowered her voice. "Could you try and engage Jenna? Let her know she's in a safe place?"
Trinity glanced toward the other girl. "She's been through a lot. Not going to be easy for her to trust."
Carly queried her with her eyes.
"She's been trafficked."
The bottom dropped out of Carly's stomach and her knees threatened to buckle. Instinctively, she fingered the chain around her wrist. Why had Jenna been put in her group? The director knew she didn't counsel victims of human trafficking. "How do you know?"
Even as she asked, she recognized the symptoms in Jenna — avoiding eye contact, isolating herself, like now at the window, arms crossed over her body for protection. She'd heard the facility planned to take in rescued women who had drug and alcohol problems, but she thought they'd be in their own group. Trafficked girls dealt with more than addiction and would need specialized treatment.
The director didn't know Carly's history, only that she wanted to focus on counseling victims of substance abuse. No one knew her story except her psychiatrist, Laura Abernathy, and her friend, Jamie Parker. Carly rubbed the scar below her left elbow, feeling the ridge that surgery had not been able to completely erase. Her first impulse was to call Dr. Abernathy or maybe Jamie.
No. Both women would only tell Carly to face this challenge head-on, even though she didn't want to. Not right now.
She had two weeks of vacation coming. Maybe now was the time to take it. But what if it was too short notice? She wouldn't know unless she tried, and as soon as this session ended, she'd put in for her leave.
But there was nothing to be done for this session except see it through. She turned to Trinity. "Call the girls together," she said, her voice cracking. "I'm going to grab a water bottle and my pen and pad."
The teenager shot an odd glance toward her then arranged the chairs in a circle and announced the start of the meeting.
One by one the girls took a chair while Carly sipped her water. It did little to relax her throat. Focus on getting the meeting started and then let the girls take over. Maybe she could plead a sore throat ... no, she could do this.
Jenna was the last to take a seat at the far side of the semicircle. Turning to the opposite side, Carly scanned the waiting faces, stopping at a girl who'd been at the facility two months. Taylor was inches from a breakthrough. Could be today. Her gaze finally rested on the new girl. Jenna never looked up from studying her fingers.
"Good morning," she said and received mostly mumbles from the girls. It was going to be a long day. "Tell me how you feel today. What are your P.I.E.S.?"
Each session started with the patients telling where they stood physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. No one spoke up. Carly waited. Finally, Trinity nodded toward the girl sitting next to her with her head ducked. "Birdie's upset."
The girl elbowed Trinity. "My name's not Birdie. It's Holly."
The girls had nicknamed her Birdie because of her small frame and quick movements. "But are you upset?" Carly asked.
Holly lifted her shoulder in a shrug.
Carly waited again.
Huffing a breath, Holly said, "My mama came to see me Sunday afternoon."
That explained a lot. Her mother's visits usually left the girl angry for days. "You want to talk about it?"
"Not really." She picked at her thumb. "When she left I was wiped. She told me if I wasn't so dumb I'd already be out of here."
Carly's jaw tightened. She'd counseled with the woman, asking her to be positive when she came to see her daughter. Maybe it was time to let the director deal with her. Before she could encourage her, Trinity spoke up.
"You're not dumb."
"She said I had to get new friends when I got out too."
"She's right about that," another of the girls said.
Holly pressed her lips together. "I know it's what I have to do, but I don't have to like it."
"You'll be right back here if you don't find new friends," Trinity said.
Carly nodded. "That's right. Who can tell me why?"
"Because they'll want you to party with them," Trinity said.
"They'll tell you that one drink or a snort won't hurt you."
Another girl agreed. Jenna never spoke up as the group batted the question around, and Carly directed the discussion back to their P.I.E.S., asking each girl to talk about how they were feeling. She kept an eye on Jenna, noticing her agitation when the discussion turned to God.
"God is my best friend," Trinity said. "He had a good plan for my life, and I messed it up, but he's gonna take my mistakes and make something good from them."
"Oh, give me a break! What if you didn't make a mistake and you were just at the wrong place at the wrong time!" Jenna stood and palmed her hands toward the group. "Y'all can sit here and listen to this baloney, but I'm out of here."
She turned and bolted from the room.
Carly took a deep breath. Everything in her wanted to let the girl go.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Justice Delivered"
Copyright © 2019 Patricia Bradley.
Excerpted by permission of Baker Publishing Group.
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