Lauren Burgess is a mid-twenties social worker struggling through a difficult time in her life. Accustomed to being ignored and overlooked she has built up a defensive front helping the people in her life without making herself vulnerable. But when someone comes into her life who can see right through her she is forced to confront the person she’s become.
“Girls, what’s going on? I should not be able to hear you from the other room.”
“She grabbed me, Miss Lauren!”
“She ripped my paper out of my hand and I am not okay with that!”
“She was writing mean things about me—“
“I was not. Look, you can read it Miss Lauren—“
“They have their own code—“
“Miss Lauren, aren’t you going to do anything? She can’t just take my stuff!” Oh, for the love! Are you really fighting over a piece of paper? Grow up, already!
“Both of you stop talking! Tamara, go sit in the quiet room for fifteen minutes. Use your self-soothes. Elizabeth, come outside and walk with me.”
“Tamara, if I hear another word right now, you’ll get a discipline. You’re not in trouble, yet. I’m giving you the opportunity to use your wise mind and get control of those emotions. I’ll hear your side later. Elizabeth, stop mouthing words to her. I can see you and it’s not helping your case. Outside, now!”
Lauren took a deep breath before following her client out the door. Come on, Lauren! Think back to when you were five and you thought life was unfair. These girls look fifteen, but they’re five on the inside.There was little time to think. Elizabeth was already in rapid-fire mode.
“Miss Lauren, I don’t think it’s fair that you never take my side,” the whine had begun.
“Woah. Back it up there, sweetheart. I’m not taking sides.”
“You said she’s not in trouble, that means I am.”
“Tell me what happened.”
“I was just getting signatures for a petition when Tamara reached around me and grabbed my paper!”
“What was the petition?”
“See? You’re assuming it’s my fault! You guys always tell us not to assume!”
“What was the petition?” This girl twists loci like a lawyer.
“Why do you keep asking me that?!”
“Because I’m trying to learn all the facts.”
“You just immediately assume that I’m doing something wrong and that she’s perfectly justified in stealing my stuff!”
“Elizabeth, lower your tone, please. There is no reason for you to be disrespectful.”
“But, Miss Lauren, you’re not listening to me!”
“Okay, what’s the real problem here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Your tone is elevated, your body language is defensive, you keep attacking me instead of explaining the situation—which tells me that this is about more than just a piece of paper. A piece of paper isn’t worth this kind of emotional breakdown.”
“I don’t like people taking my stuff!” Lauren spotted tears threatening.
“Alright, Elizabeth, listen to me. I know that you are used to looking out for yourself. A lot of people have hurt you and you probably don’t ever want to feel like a victim again. It’s much easier to attack and be aggressive than be hurt.”
“I wasn’t attacking—“
“If your eyes could kill, both Tamara and I would be dead.” Lauren spotted a small smile. “And in the realm of verbal intensity, I think you could have launched WW III back there.” A sheepish grin.”You’ve been through stuff nobody should have to go through, sweetie. And you’ve developed skills to survive, I get that. But listen to me: if you continue like this, you’re only going to hurt yourself in the long run. In a little over two years you’re going to be considered an adult. You’re going to have to learn to get along with all sorts of people.”
“I’m not going to change who I am just to make others happy.” What a little jerk.
“But there’s more to Elizabeth than someone who yells at people,” Lauren countered gently.
“If someone steps on my toes, I’m gonna defend myself. I’m not going to let anyone walk over me.”
“You can communicate your needs respectfully,”
“I don’t respect her! She hasn’t given me reason to respect her!”
“Elizabeth, we’ve talked about this. Respect has very little to do with the other person and everything to do with you.”
“So if someone’s punching me in the face I should respectfully ask them to stop?”
“Don’t take this out of context. That’s not what I was saying.”
“I don’t get it.”
“I know. But I hope you will, someday. Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to record this and put you on attitude watch for the rest of the week. Don’t look at me like that, you’ve proven you can do this. Don’t let other people push your buttons. Don’t get caught up in other peoples’ drama. Focus on your goals. Your mom’s coming in three weeks. I’m going to talk to Tamara and staff’s going to look at that petititon. If there’s anything inappropriate you could go on discipline. Understand?”
“Well, is she going to go on attitude watch, cause if she isn’t that’s not fair.”
“I’m going to talk to her. That’s not your concern.”
“Actually it is my concern, because if you don’t punish her, that’s not fair and it means you’re showing favoritism.” The attitude was back.
“Elizabeth, don’t do this. Don’t dig yourself a deeper hole. I want you to walk five more laps and focus on what you need to do to get through this week,” Lauren walked away before the girl could respond. She re-entered the dorm. Time for part two with Tamara.
“Oh, Lauren, there you are. I tried to call you on your radio,” Lauren’s coworker Sarah interrupted her.
“The battery must be dead.”
“You have a phone call on line two.”
“Thanks. Hello? Oh, hi, Dad. You know, just the usual crazy. What’s the point of going into detail? What? When did this happen? Is she alright? When are they releasing her? Why can’t anyone in my life keep their life together? Well, my shift ends tonight so I can drive down and spend the night with her. I’m exhausted. No, it’s fine I can be spend tomorrow with her. I am massively behind on my paper. She’s not going to hurt herself on my watch. Yeah, I can be there all day. I’m exhausted. I’m just having dinner with Sasha and Will tomorrow night. Okay. Love you. Bye.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yep. Just family plans for the weekend.” Sarah’s radio crackled.
“Does anyone know where Lauren is?”
Sarah handed her radio to Lauren, “Go ahead.”
“Could you come over to the office?”
“Sure thing.” “Sarah, I told Elizabeth to walk five laps but she needs to come in after that and do her homework. She and Tamara have no reason to talk to each other. Thanks.”
Lauren felt soothed as she stepped out into the crisp October air. It was a relief to get away from the girls, even for five minutes. It wasn’t because they annoyed her, although yes, they could be annoying. In truth she often cared too much. Every week they tore themselves and each other to pieces. Take Elizabeth for example. Elizabeth was trying to find healing by lashing out at others and seeking negative attention. She probably saw that in a movie somewhere. Would she ever realize that in giving kindness she would lose some of that painful bitterness? Lauren needed a break from the drama sometimes, not because the girls were annoying, but because she couldn’t make their choices for them. She opened the office door.
Her boss was standing in conversation with another man. He was short and musculuar with cropped, blond hair and glacier blue eyes. Lauren felt her face trying to flush. Wow. I did not expect to see a hot guy today.
“What?” the man looked at her half-embarrased.
“I didn’t say anything,” she answered evenly.
“Okay.” He gave her a perplexing look. John Wells, the director of the facility jumped in as though nothing had happened.
“Lauren, this is Tyler Crawford. He’s going to be doing some promotion for us. I have to leave in fifteen for Robert’s appointment. I’ve given him a tour, but he wanted to interview a few staff members.”
“Yeah, of course.” Maybe the day’ll go by faster.
“Well, I’m happy to help,” Tyler offered congenially. Lauren gave him a aquizzical look.
“So, how long have you been working here?”
“Yeah, it must be a challenging job,” he spoke as if agreeing with something she said. She didn’t dwell on it.
“The kids we get are in a lot of pain. We try to introduce some structure into their lives. Unfortunately too often they see us as the enemy.” I’d like to show them who the enemy is. They know nothing about the real world.
“What’s your success rate after graduation?” he seemed to be watching her mouth closely.
“Our goal is long term. A lot of these kids are going to leave and make bad choices. What we’re hoping is that somewhere down the road, five years maybe, they’ll remember this place and that there’s another way to live and they’ll put it into practice.”
He smiled awkwardly, “But you don’t really believe that.”
“What do you mean?” she asked defensively.
“Well, you’ve only worked here a year. So you probably haven’t seen much fruit. You’ve just seen all the poor choices.”
Lauren was uncomfortable, “You have to learn to detach.” He smiled again and she shifted in her seat. She didn’t like this man. “It’s true, I’m new to the game so I don’t exactly know how this works.” I have a different perspective.
“So you work here, but you don’t agree with their methods?”
“I didn’t say that. I have a lot to learn.”
“Well, it sounds like the three years you spent in Central America have given you a lot of practical insight.”
“Stop doing that.”
“Do I know you from somewhere?”
“Then how do you know so much about me?”
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