Writing a novel in weekly installments on my blog has some inherent problems. One is that the time gap between installments can make it more difficult for readers to follow the story line. Another is that new readers arrive part way through the story and may not have time to read all the previous installments. To help, I’ve created a summarized version of previous installments and will update it after new installments. The summary follows. I hope that you will find it helpful. Please check back tomorrow evening for a new installment to Convictions
At the age of 33 years, Bethany Holister is released from fifteen years in prison. She walks to the bus terminal carrying all her possessions in an over-sized handbag.
- On the bus, Beth recalls her youth. Her parents, Amanda and Greg Hollister, are frequently away on business trips and seem uninterested in her. In their absence, Beth is cared for by “Gran” who loves her and calls her Angel. Her best friend, Rick, lives next door. They spend a lot of time together in Beth’s secret tree-house. His mother, Miss Pauline, is a loving but extremely anxious parent. His father, Mr. John, is more relaxed. Although frequently away on business, he finds time to spend with Rick. Beth recalls the day that he taught her how to ride a bike.
- Beth’s memories continue as she recalls how Gran assisted them in unearthing a treasure box found in the backyard. The “treasure”, a red toolbox buried during landscaping, disappoints Beth, but Rick decides to make it a real treasure box for his coins, marbles, and shells. On the same day, Beth’s mother, Amanda, leaves to help her husband with a business emergency. Beth is allowed to spend her first overnight at Gran’s cottage. The walk to the cottage takes them along a woodland trail that emerges at the back of Gran’s property.
- Beth attends a potluck supper at Gran’s church and meets Skyla, a shy girl who shows Beth her favorite hiding spot in the church’s unused choir loft. Beth tells Skyla that her mother does not like churches, although she doesn’t know why. She also reveals that she was named for her two grandmothers, Bethany and Elizabeth, giving her the nickname of Beth Beth. Beth loves her sleeping spot in the tiny loft bedroom in Gran’s cottage and wishes she could live there.
When the bus reaches it’s destination, Beth walks to Redemption House, a halfway house where she is required to stay as a condition of her release. It is not a house, but the tenth floor of an old office building in a deteriorating area of the city. Beth is discouraged by the dismal settings and the barred windows, but knows it is her only chance for freedom.
- Beth spent five years attempting to receive parole approval. Many halfway houses refused admission to those convicted of a violent crime. She began attending the prison’s religious services despite a lack of belief, since some religious affiliated houses had more liberal acceptance policies. This strategy eventually gained her acceptance to Redemption House, a halfway house run by a small religious sect, the Redemptarians.
She meets Pastor Bob and his wife, Margaret, who are the only full time staff at Redemption House. Pastor Bob tells her that he did not approve of her acceptance, feels she is deceitful and expects her to fail. She also learns that she must work full time at the halfway house for her first month and will not be allowed outside with the exception of supervised visits to the parole office.
- Beth is assigned to a tiny bedroom with four other residents and a senior resident named Cassandra. The dining area doubles as a room for the morning and evening services. Pastor Bob’s focus on sin and damnation is a stark contrast to the themes of love and forgiveness that Beth experienced at Gran’s church. Residents who don’t attend services, don’t get meals. After a dinner of mushy pasta and a breakfast of burnt oatmeal, this doesn’t seem much of a punishment. Beth learns that new residents are assigned kitchen cleanup after meals in addition to their regular duties.
The following morning Beth is accompanied by Cassandra to her first parole visit. Cassandra questions Beth about her cooking skills and is delighted to find that Beth is a good cook. She points Beth to the parole office and goes to a nearby restaurant to get “some real breakfast”.
- Beth has an uneventful meeting with her parole officer. When she and Cassandra return to the house, Margaret assigns her to cleaning duties. Later, she is summoned to Pastor Bob’s office and receives a new assignment as the house cook. The food budget is tight and so is time. Pastor Bob expects her to serve the evening meal for fifty people with just three hours notice. There are unexpected bonuses. Because the cook rises early, she has her own private quarters off the kitchen. Beth will be allowed daily shopping trips under Cassandra’s supervision.
- Beth displays her resourcefulness and cooking skills to prepare the evening meal with staples from the storeroom and produce from a hurried trip to the store. She enlists Cassandra’s help with the food preparation. Everyone is delighted with her meal except Margaret, who informs Beth that she is still required to do the cleanup and that the other assigned resident “is no longer with us.”
- Already exhausted, Beth struggles to clean the kitchen and complete food preparation for the next day. Cassandra discovers what’s happened and sneaks back with several other residents after lights out to assist her.
The next day, Margaret tells Beth that two other residents will do cleaning. One of them will also be a full time assistant for Beth. Margaret makes it clear that she does not approve of these decisions.
Beth and Cassandra leave to do shopping. Beth asks Cassandra how she managed to get her the cooking job and an assistant. Cassandra grins and tells her that she helps Pastor Bob “satisfy his appetite”.
- The beginning of Amanda’s story. Bethany(Annie) and Jacques(Jake) Cantreau, Beth’s maternal grandparents, marry after high school and struggle to put Jake through college. His career is successful, but his obsession with image and his self-righteous religious beliefs endanger their marriage’s happiness. Annie does not become pregnant and Jacques refuses fertility testing. After five years they have a child. Jacques is thrilled and let’s Bethany choose a name. She feels this baby will help restore their happiness and names her Amanda, which means loveable.
- Amanda meets with Lucy Smith(Gran) and asks if she is willing to be named in their wills as Beth’s guardian, stating “she loves you far more than she loves us”. Greg’s parents died many years ago. Amanda no longer has a relationship with her parents, because her father didn’t approve of her life. Her mother is more loving, but always conceded to her father’s wishes. Beth does not know that they are alive and Amanda doesn’t want her raised by them. Lucy agrees and Amanda gives her a packet containing information about herself and her parents to be given to Beth when she is older. Amanda spends another hour talking to Gran. The conversation is not revealed. She also has something to show her and they go upstairs for a few minutes. After their talk, Amanda seems calmer than she has for many months, but Gran regrets that she will have to keep secrets from Beth.
- Beth and Cassandra discuss their futures. Cassandra predicts that she will always rotate between a halfway house and prison. Better than living with a boyfriend who beats her and spends the rent money on drugs, she tells Beth. Beth wants more – freedom, career, family. She tells Cassandra that she will seek outside employment at the end of the month. Cassandra predicts that Pastor Bob will never allow it.
- Pastor Bob wants Beth to remain as the Redemption House cook and offers to pay a small allowance and her parole fee. Parole requires her to search for work, but he tells her she won’t be able to find a job. Beth knows that he won’t give her a job recommendation. After 6 weeks of futile searching, Beth believes that Pastor Bob is correct. Cal, the meat manager at Pinnacle Grocery, asks if she has applied there. When he learns of her charges, he tells her that Pinnacle won’t hire her, but he has another idea.
- Cal tells Beth about a temporary employment agency that may hire her. Pinnacle uses the agency to staff their sample distribution positions. Beth interviews and is offered the position to begin on Monday. Cal asks Beth for a lunch date on Sunday and she agrees.
- Beth shares the news of her employment with Judith and Cassandra, who have successfully cooked their first dinner without her. Beth and Cassndra search outlet and thrift stores to find work attire for Beth. Purchasing one outfit leaves her with only two dollars in her wallet. When Judith and Cassandra learn about her upcoming date, they come to the rescue, loaning a dressy top and high heels. Cassandra gives her a beautiful rose quartz necklace. Beth protests, but Cassandra tells her that it’s too small for her neck
- Beth shares a romantic date with Cal. When Cassandra’s heels hurt her feet, he carries her back to his car and they share a first kiss. Cassandra and Judith have promised to cook the evening meal, but haven’t revealed their menu. Beth returns to Redemption House, anxious to see the results. She is greeted by a kitchen with no signs of dinner. Judith is in tears. Margaret enters the kitchen behind Beth and announces that “Cassandra is no longer with us.”
- Beth struggles to put the Sunday meal on the table. Pastor Bob talks to Beth about Cassandra, issuing a none-too-subtle warning that actions have consequences. Margaret is once again the kitchen supervisor and stands in a corner making malicious comments. Judith tells Beth that Pastor Bob planted drugs with Cassandra’s possessions. He had listened to Cassandra’s phone conversation with the temp agency that hired Beth. This was his revenge. Beth tells Judith that there is nothing that they can do to help Cassandra. Any action could get their parole revoked too. Judith retorts that Beth is already imprisoned by her fears. Later, Beth finds more work clothes that Cassandra purchased and left on her bed. She cries and vows that she will stop living in fear.