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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-SIX
Monday midday — 12:42 P.M.
New York City, New York
Sissy paused to catch her breath. Remembering, Seth’s encouragement to not let them set the tone, she let the pause linger. She focused on calming her breath as she looked around the room. She took the time to look into the face of each of the people in the room. When her breath was easy, she gave a slight smile before nodding.
“I get it,” Sissy said. “I really do. You see me — a young woman, a ballerina, from Denver — and you think ‘These people from nowhere-ville Denver, they’re all inbred and stupid. They are not a sophisticated as we are here in New York City. They can’t possibly know what was going on.’”
Isabelle cleared her throat and raised an eyebrow to the man across from her. Sissy nodded at her acknowledgment.
“You couldn’t be more wrong,” Sissy said. “Someone I love very much was involved in child pornography for most of her upbringing. Her situation was a topic of conversation in my household growing up. I knew as a young child that children could be preyed upon. I knew how to catch it before things got out of hand and what to do if it happened. Moving to New York, my sister and her husband both worked with me so that I knew strategies to keep myself safe. I spent an hour with my patron, Otis, while he warned me of the dangers of ballet companies. None of this was about Ivan. This thing with Ivan… It’s new.”
Sissy gave a firm nod before continuing. “We have no secrets in our family. We also don’t pretend that life is easy and the world is safe. I knew there was a risk moving to New York. More than that, I knew exactly what to do if something awful happened to me.
“Before that, myself and my brothers and sister had to go through dating school. We learned how everything worked. I wasn’t thrust out into the world. I was informed of what happens between men and women. I was also given real skills how to know what was right for me, and how to deal with things if they weren’t. That’s not to mention that many of my closest friends and my brother are now embroiled in a big rape case in Denver.
“That’s how I ended up getting shot. That’s where I was last week — to testify in a huge, violent rape case. So you see, these issues are ones that even unsophisticated Denverites have to deal with.”
Sissy stopped to take her breath.
“That doesn’t mean…” the man across from Isabella said at the same time the man in the middle said, “We have every right…”
“I haven’t finished,” Sissy said cutting them off.
Seth leaned toward Sissy in support.
“You’re asking me is Ivan groomed me to be his lover,” Sissy said. “Let’s get down to what you’re really asking. Did Ivan ask me to touch his penis? No. Did he encourage me to kiss him in a sexual way? No. Did he take naked pictures of me? No. Did he reward me for being seductive? No. Did he subtly encourage me to meet his sexual or other needs? No. Did he touch me, stroke me, or bend me in positions that were sexual in nature? No. Did he give me presents when I was seductive? No. Did he touch my genitals? No.”
Sissy asked and answered each question in quick succession.
“What Ivan did was love me,” Sissy said.
One of the men opened his voice.
“I haven’t finished,” Sissy said. “You made me to come here and answer your questions. You cannot then cut me off when I’m doing just that.”
“Go ahead, Sissy,” the man in the middle said.
“When I say that Ivan loved me, I mean that he held me on his lap while I bawled my eyes out at my father’s funeral,” Sissy said. “He talked to me like I mattered. He treated me like a human being, not a stupid child. He bullied me until I believed that I could possibly be more than I was. He believed in my dreams, sometimes more than I did. He showed up, was present, listened to me and responded thoughtfully — every single day for years.”
“Was his love sexual in nature? No,” Sissy said. “Did I know that he was a sexual being? Yes. He had lots of girlfriends, a few of them you’ve heard from. Did I believe that he wanted me to be them? No. Did I ever feel pressure to be his girlfriend? No. He treated me like his precious ‘Sissy’. I only ever wanted to be just that.”
“That’s what I have to say,” Sissy said.
“Has something changed in your relationship?” the man in the center asked.
“I have answered this question, more than once,” Sissy said. “For the record — death changes things. The rest is none of your business.”
“We need to…” the man in the center said.
“No,” the man who’d met Nadia at the limo last night spoke up. Sissy was surprised that he had an Australian accent. “We have heard what we were concerned about. We do not need to know the intimate details of Ivan and Sissy’s relationship.”
He looked up at Sissy and smiled.
“I’m Ian Beckenshire, Ms. Delgado,” the man said with a nod. “Ms. Delgado told us that her relationship has changed since she and Ivan battled back from the very brink of death. I can tell you that she is not lying or exaggerating. They nearly died. It’s a miracle that we are not mourning the loss of our student and teacher instead of badgering her with provincial questions from paranoid busybodies.”
Sissy raised her eyebrows in surprised. She felt more than saw Sandy do the exact same expression. She glanced at Seth. He seemed amused.
“You cannot…” the man in the middle said.
“Yes, in fact, I can,” Ian said. “It has only been a week or possibly two. How does this young woman have any idea what her relationship with Ivan is or will be? She is young and injured. He is still recovering. She’s just returned to New York after testifying to her attempted murder at a horrific trial and now, has testify to us about the very nature of love. I, for one, have heard enough. The rest is, indeed, none of our business.”
He nodded in Seth’s direction.
“Out of sheer, human decency, I motion that we let this matter drop,” Ian said. “Who agrees with me?”
All of the women and some of the men raised their hands.
“That is the majority,” Ian said. “You must now drop this!”
The man in the center shook his head.
“If you’re truly unwilling to stop this witch hunt,” Sandy said, “I am exercising my right to cancel Sissy from her contract. I will also fighting Ivan’s contract. They have both received offers from ballet companies all over the world. There is no reason they should stay here and have to put up with this inquisition.”
The adults looked at Sandy with surprise.
“Ivan’s contract is binding,” the man in the center said.
“I’m so glad you’re clear on that point,” Seth said. “If Ivan is not relieved of his contract, I will remove my all levels of my support of this ballet company. I can assure you that Otis and his family will no longer financially support this ballet. Katia’s husband will remove his support. Further, I will speak with all of your remaining benefactors. I think you’ll be surprised at how persuasive I can be.”
“I can assure you that Kerminoff Industries will retire their support of the ballet company as soon as possible,” Ian said.
“You will lose most, if not all, of your charitable support,” Sandy said with a raise of her eyebrows.
Sandy got up from her seat. She held her hand out to Sissy.
“Come on, Sis,” Sandy said. “We’ll let the lawyers work out the rest.”
Sissy gave Sandy a confused look but didn’t dare not do what Sandy asked. With Sandy’s help, she got to her feet and they left the meeting. Seth followed behind.
“Your turn,” Sandy said to Schmidty, who was waiting by the door to the room.
Schmidty gave a quick nod with his head and went into the room. Sissy leaned on Sandy as they thread their way through the hallways to get back to where Ivan and the others were waiting. Ivan held her for a long moment before letting it go.
“How did it go?” Ivan asked.
“Awful,” Sissy said.
“Sissy was fantastic!” Seth said.
Otis gave Sissy a pat on the back while Mari hugged her tight.
“What now?” Sissy asked.
“You should take her to expensive hotel for good food and rest,” Otis said.
“I’d rather just go home, if that’s okay,” Sissy said.
Otis gave her a big smile and brief hug.
“Are we done?” Ivan asked.
“For now,” Seth said. “Schmidty is there finishing up the details.”
“I would love to go home, as well,” Ivan said. “Please, you are all welcome. I will call ahead and have Giovanni get lunch together.”
Mari looked at Otis and he smiled.
“I’d love to see the apartment,” Sandy said. “To meet Giovanni.”
“You know Giovanni?” Sissy asked.
“I helped him with your room,” Sandy said with a smile. “I wanted to take Sissy shopping after lunch if she’s up for it. Then I need to rush off to get back to Denver. Noelle is testifying today and I have marriage class tonight.”
“We should keep moving,” Seth said.
“I can’t go shopping,” Sissy said. “I have to meet with school.”
Sandy smiled and Ivan chuckled.
“What?” Sissy asked.
“You just went through the fire,” Seth said. “You can rest this afternoon.”
“Take on next fight tomorrow,” Otis said.
Sissy shrugged, and Ivan laughed out loud.
“What?” Mari asked Ivan.
“She will still meet with school,” Ivan said. He kissed her forehead. “My Sissy.”
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Seth said.
Grinning at Seth, Sissy took Ivan’s hand and they walked out of the office. They were whisked into a waiting limousine and home in a few minutes.
“This is really nice!” Sandy said at the entrance to the apartment.
“Sandy!” Charlie yelled.
For this brief moment, Sissy knew that everything was perfect. For now.
Never again would she assume that her life could unfold only in response to her dreams and wishes. Two bullets had ended that childish dream. Real life — with its ups and downs, awful and amazing times — was so much more than that dream.
Sissy hoped to never forget the overwhelming gratitude she felt right this moment. She was grateful for her life, for Ivan, for all those who rallied around her, for love, and most importantly for the chance to live one more day.
“What is it?” Ivan whispered to Sissy.
“Just happy, I guess,” Sissy said in the same tone.
Monday afternoon — 2:02 P.M.
When they’d returned to the courtroom, the judge had warned the attorneys not to argue so much. Or at least that’s what Noelle thought he’d said. Over the last two hours or so, she’d testified to what had happened the day she was supposed to get beaten up in the park.
Of course, she left out the parts about Bestat being a dragon and Jacob stopping time, and all the weird stuff. No one needed to know those things. Knowing all of that would just confuse the issue. At least that’s what Sandy had said. Noelle’s job today was to help convict this awful man.
The Deputy District Attorney made a big deal of the pictures Noelle had taken on her phone. Before she’d started painting Bestat, Noelle had taken a series of pictures of the area and of Bestat. The police had collected the phone from her before she went to the hospital. The defendant could be seen in a corner of every picture. The police department had blown up the pictures so he was the center of the pictures.
The grainy images showed the defendant standing alone among the trees. The date stamp showed that he had been there for a while before the boys showed up. In the first image, the young man was staring at Noelle through the trees. The look on his face was one of… well, she didn’t know what lust, maybe? Rage? Hatred? Some mixture of all of that. She hadn’t noticed him that day. When the Deputy District Attorney showed her the photo, Noelle’s entire body had shaken. The look on his face terrified her. Had he’d planned to do to her what he’d done to Ivy? Hurt her then carve his name on her most private place?
The next photo, showed him with a cell phone to his head as if he was calling someone on his phone. The photo after that showed him taking pictures of her with his phone. He was messing with his phone in the next photo. The Deputy District Attorney said that his phone records showed that he was sending the pictures of Noelle to the boys so they would know who to attack and where.
Noelle shivered at the thought.
After all of the questions and arguments and boring moments, the Deputy District Attorney said she didn’t have any more questions. Now, it was time for Noelle to deal with the Defense. Noelle knew from Samantha Hargreaves that the defense had made it a policy to harassed the “kids” in the trial. As the Deputy District Attorney sat down, Noelle felt the mood of the court shift. Everyone sat up as if they were on guard for whatever horrible thing the Defense did next.
Noelle leaned back in her chair. By leaning back, her legs came off the ground. She unconsciously swung her legs because she could. The Defense Attorney notice right away.
“Stop that,” the Defense Attorney said.
The judge’s head jerked up to look at the Defense Attorney.
“What am I doing?” Noelle asked.
“Your honor, I would like to submit that this witness has been coached,” the Defense Attorney said.
“What does that mean?” Noelle asked.
“Good question,” the judge said. “What exactly are you referring to, counselor?”
“This witness is trying to convince this courtroom that she’s an innocent girl,” the Defense Attorney said. “Rather than a conniving, manipulating, scam artist who would like…”
Noelle didn’t hear the rest because Samantha Hargreaves popped to her feet and started throwing out “Objections” and “Warnings” and whatever else. It took a few moments for the courtroom to settle down.
“In the first place,” Noelle said, “I am an innocent girl. Nobody had to teach me that. That’s what I am! And in the second place, I not a scam artist. What would I be scamming? I went to the part to paint my boyfriend’s step-mother. Why is that so weird?”
The courtroom fell very silent. The Defense Attorney sniffed as if he was laughing. Noelle scowled and shook her head.
“I don’t have any skin in this game,” Noelle repeated what Nash always said in these situations. “If anything, I wanted to spend my first day at the new school building at school!”
The Defense Attorney gave one of his sick smiles.
“Why did you take photos of my client?” the Defense Attorney asked.
“I didn’t,” Noelle said. “I was taking photos of the entire area. Your client happened to be there.”
“Why did you take his picture?” the Defense Attorney asked.
“I didn’t,” Noelle said.
“Are you saying that you did not take these photos?” the Defense Attorney asked. He shook his head in exaggerated confusion.
“I took these photos,” Noelle said. “I didn’t take them of him. He just happened to be there.”
“We all know that this witness took photos for her painting and your client was in it,” the judge said. “Ask a different question or I’m releasing this witness,”
“Where is this painting?” the Defense Attorney asked. “The one you supposedly were painting.”
“My Dad has it,” Noelle said. She looked at the judge. “Can I get it?”
“If you do, we’ll have to admit it into evidence,” the judge said.
“But I’d get it back right?” Noelle asked.
“Eventually,” the judge said.
Noelle thought for a moment before shrugging.
“I can always paint another,” Noelle said.
“Bailiff?” the judge asked.
The bailiff went out into the audience to take the canvas from Aden. He held the painted side against him so that no one could see it. He gave it to Noelle. There was a subtle gasp around the room when Noelle held the painting up.
The painting was a lovely mix of trees and grass. In the center, sat Bestat Behur on a mustard colored blanket. Bestat’s face was placid and she had a soft loving smile. Her hair was braided down her back. Noelle turned it so the judge could see.
“That’s quite lovely,” the judge said. “You have quite a talent, Norsen.”
“Thanks,” Noelle said.
“You expect me to believe that you painted this?” the Defense Attorney asked.
“I don’t know what you believe or don’t believe,” Noelle said. “You asked me if I had made the painting and I’m showing you the painting I made.”
“Is there anything else, counselor?” the judge asked.
The Defense Attorney looked at the table where his co-counsel were sitting. They shook their heads.
“It would appear not,” the Defense Attorney said.
“Looks like you can head back to school, Norsen,” the judge said.
“No, sir,” Noelle said. “They’re done for the day. But I’ll get to spend some time with my dad, which will be great. Daddy? Can we go for ice cream?”
Embarrassed, Aden just waved at her from the aisle.
“I want to see all of the attorney’s in my chambers,” the judge said with a bang of his gavel.
Noelle popped out of the witness box and ran to him. They hugged. Samantha Hargreaves got up to walk them out.
“That was awful,” Noelle said.
“You were amazing,” Samantha said.
“Do I have to come back?” Noelle asked.
“Maybe,” Samantha said. “We’ll see. Remember…”
“I won’t talk to anyone about it,” Noelle said. “Well, maybe Buster. He’s an expert on creepy people. He knows them when he sees them. Can I tell Buster?”
“Buster?” Samantha asked.
“Our dog,” Aden said.
Samantha was so charmed by Noelle that she hugged the girl.
“I have to go in to see what’s going on,” Samantha said. “Can you walk yourselves out?”
“Of course,” Aden said.
“I’ll stop by tonight,” Samantha said.
“Thanks,” Aden said.
Aden and Noelle watched as Samantha went back into the courtroom.
“Ice cream?” Aden asked Noelle.
Noelle nodded and they walked toward the front of the courthouse.
“When does Mom get home?” Noelle asked.
“This evening,” Aden said. “She wants to make sure she has a chance to see you.”
“And go to marriage class,” Noelle said with a grin.
“That, too,” Aden said with a smile. “That’s pretty nice, huh?”
“Very nice,” Noelle said.
They walked out of the courtroom.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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