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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND NINETY-NINE
Friday morning — 9:35 A.M.
Tink stood with her belly pressed up against the wooden railing that split the courtroom in half. They had set up a microphone on this side for people to read their victim’s statement. Only a few people had agreed to give victim’s statement. Noelle was too busy with her new painting to attend, so Tink was the obvious choice to go first — after Sissy’s amazing video, that is.
Everyone had gasped when Sissy pulled off her bandages, even Tink. The moment Wanda started to cry, the tension in the courtroom shifted to sorrow. By Sissy’s last “I’ll never be free of you,” even the judge looked sad. Tink had to dry her eyes and hurry up to the microphone right after that.
Tink cleared her throat and opened her mouth. Her eyes flicked to the defendant.
And it all came back — all of the horror, all of the terror, all of the pain, and more than anything the oppressive, horrible, overwhelming bubble of aloneness. Like she was underwater, Tink gasped for breath. She remembered the hour she spent standing outside the breakfast place where Charlie and his new family were eating. From her spot in the frozen of unwantedness — the sidewalk outside the restaurant — she’d watched their entire meal. She hadn’t wanted to interrupt for fear of blowing it for Charlie. She’d just stood there and watched. She would never have said anything, never.
That was just a few hours after she’d woken up from being beaten nearly to death. The single thought that dragged her through the entire ordeal was that, if she’d died, she would never see Charlie again. And then, there he was! Her Charlie appeared out of nowhere! It was like a gift from the Gods. There he was!
Tink had figured that she could just crawl off and die now. And she would have if Sissy hadn’t stopped her on the sidewalk. She would have died alone if she hadn’t had that big seizure, and Charlie’s new dad hadn’t helped her, and she didn’t get a hospital bed at Denver Health, and all that surgery and stuff to fix what those boys had done to her and Charlie hadn’t come to see her when she was in the coma and …
Tink swallowed hard. Her feet were standing in the courtroom. Her belly was pressed up against the wooden bar. But her mind was back there. She felt the buzz of a seizure peaking over the horizon. She gasped another breath.
She felt a hand on her elbow. She looked to see Blane. Then, like a train, the images of what had happened next flashed through her brain: the way Charlie had looked at her at that dinner, whichever dinner it was and then he kissed her like he really meant it and even said he loved her; and Sissy became her good friend; and then she met Wanda, who she loved like a sister; and they found Ivy, her soul sister; and Charlie! Then she got adopted; no, it was more like GETTING ADOPTED!! and Mack and the new baby they were now calling, Wyn, and Heather and Blane and the bed she woke up in, and Charlie’s face just a few minutes ago when he told her that he believed in her and he loved her.
Tink’s mind crashed into her body that was standing in the courtroom. She straightened her back.
“I’ve been asked to go first because I was your last,” Tink said. She felt her feet on the ground. “I want to speak for myself and for all of the girls and boys who can’t speak for themselves. For them, and for myself, I have only three things to say.”
Tink looked at the defendant for a brief moment.
“First,” Tink said with a wide grin. “Despite all of your efforts to the contrary, you did not kill me.”
She held up a picture of her body in the bed at Denver Health. Her entire body was covered with bruises and abrasions. The injury to her head was still bleeding. She was bleeding from her most private places and under her left breast where they’d tried to cut it off. The defendant winced at the image of her destruction.
“Second,” Tink said. “I have healed from what you did to me. While I may have seizures for the rest of my life, everything else has healed. Everything. I can go to the bathroom when I want to. I can make love, if I want to. I have beautiful white caps on the teeth you broke. All of the bones have healed. As for the seizures, I haven’t had one in a month.”
Someone in the back yelled “Yay!” and the crowd applauded. The judge banged the gavel and warned the crowd again about out bursts like that.
“And finally,” Tink said. “For myself and all of the kids who cannot speak for themselves, you do not have the power to hold me back. Yes, our brief encounter was violent and horrific. Yes, you raped, battered, and humiliated me. But that’s about you. Not me. Our brief moment has passed. You’re nothing more than a bad memory, a nightmare, which will soon fade into nothing.”
Tink gave him a beautiful smile.
“I’m over you,” Tink said.
To her satisfaction, the defendant blushed. Tink nodded. For the first time, possibly in her entire life, Tink felt proud of herself. She looked at Blane, who put his arm around her and led her back to their seats. The people around her patted her back or squeezed her arm. Ivy and Delphie hugged her. After they sat down, Blane grabbed her hand to hold it tight.
The next person went up to the microphone, and Blane and Tink settled in to listen.
Friday afternoon — 1:35 P.M.
After an emotional morning, they’d eaten lunch and were now shuffling back into court. The afternoon session would start with Charlie’s video and end with Ivy’s victim’s statement. Tink looked at the back of the couple in front of her. They were the Logans. Their daughter had killed herself after what had happened to her. They and their son, Tim, had spoken about what an amazing girl she’d been. Tink promised herself that she would never forget their daughter.
Tink glanced at Blane and he gave her a knowing smile. At lunch, Tink had talked about her growing desire to help girls like her. She wasn’t yet sure what that might look like, but she was getting pretty sure that this is how she wanted to spend her life. Blane had been all for it. Tink smiled and they went to their assigned seats.
The judge called the court to order and announced Charlie’s video. He reminded everyone to be quiet. Tink had already seen the video so she braced herself for the parts that were hard.
The video screen was dark for a moment.
The screen opened with Charlie rakishly sitting in a cloth Director’s chair in the middle New York workout room. He was wearing shorts and a tank top with one knee over the armrest of the chair and one arm over the back of the chair. Behind him, the skyline of New York sparkled. From this distance, he looked like a handsome young man. The camera zoomed in.
Charlie’s body was covered in red scars. Some were straight, tight lines from surgery. Others were open holes from the beating he’d received. More than a few scars looked like jagged lines that had been drawn on his alabaster skin. His beautiful chestnut hair had been shaved to show the scar on his scalp. At Charlie’s insistence, he hadn’t completed getting his teeth fixed. Charlie cracked a broken toothed smile.
The camera moved down one scared leg and the other. It showed the scars on his arms and the web of gruesome scars at under his arm. The camera caught the subtle bruise where Charlie’s cheekbone was still healing. It swept over the scar on his scalp before moving back. The camera was still close enough to still see the scars over Charlie’s entire body.
“My victim’s impact statement?”
After a long pause, Charlie gave a cocky grin. He smiled for what seemed like a full minute.
“Chicks dig scars.”
Charlie closed his mouth and looked straight at the camera. After a moment, the screen went black.
For a moment, it seemed like no one dared move. The tension in the courtroom was a tight as a drum.
The defendant dropped his forehead to the table.
And the moment passed.
The judge called the next person from the victim’s list.
Friday afternoon — 2:15 P.M.
Wanda waited a minute before the girl in front of her moved away from the microphone. The girl looked so frail that Wanda gave her a big hug. The girl cried a little bit against Wanda’s shoulder before the girl’s father had taken her arm and helped her back to her seat. Wanda’s dad, Erik, gave her a little push and Wanda stepped up to the microphone. She looked down at the sheet that she’d printed her speech onto.
“I’m Wanda Stiefel-Le Monte and I’m here to share with you how being beaten up and then almost killed has impacted me,” Wanda said. She swallowed hard. “I didn’t write a great essay or anything. I just tallied it all up.”
Wanda shuffled. Her father’s arm went around her shoulders.
“Surgeries,” Wanda said. “I’ve had three surgeries to my knee. It was intentionally destroyed by those boys you pumped up on drugs and were going to assault Noelle.”
Wanda’s voice cracked when she said Noelle’s name. She felt out of control emotions rise inside her. She couldn’t believe it. How could she have these feelings? She wasn’t raped like the Tink. She didn’t hang herself like that other girl. She wasn’t even shot like Sissy!
Incredibly, the feelings continued to rise. She’d never felt such a wave of feelings before. Suddenly, she was terrified that she would unleash them upon the court. She hesitated to speak because the emotions might come out. Her struggle played out on her face.
“Take your time,” the judge said.
Wanda’s eyes flicked to him.
“My dad had a surgery for when he was stabbed by the guy you sent to kill us,” Wanda said. “But, the thing … um …”
To her amazement, her eyes welled with tears and all of those overwhelming feelings came to the surface.
“The thing that I resent the most was losing my pink sparkly pen,” Wanda said as tears streamed down her face. “I jammed it into the killer’s eye before he tried to choke me to death.”
Wanda took a breath and she broke down. Emotions she would have never believed that she was capable of feeling were now flowing out of her eyes and mouth. She sobbed into her father’s chest. Erik took the piece of paper.
“I’ll just finish this,” Erik said. “Wanda would be mad if she didn’t finish.”
Erik looked at the judge and he nodded.
“I can’t say that I forgive you,” Erik read Wanda’s statement. “I don’t think I will ever forget how you tried to kill my dad and me. My dad’s been off work while he heals. My mom’s been having to take care of both of us, which is too much for anyone.”
Erik read ahead. He swallowed hard and glanced down at the top of Wanda’s head.
“The thing that you took that I miss the most is my anonymity,” Erik read Wanda’s statement. “Now everybody knows who I am — what I am. I’ve had to change schools because all the kids at the old school looked at me funny. No one would dare say anything because of Charlie being so popular and being my friend. But everyone used to step aside when I came down the hall. Kids whispered to each other when they saw me. Even at the new school, everybody knows that I used to be Wade and I’m now Wanda and that you broke my knee and my leg and that I lost my pink sparkly pen in the murderer’s eye and …”
Erik had to swallow back his own emotions.
“I don’t forgive you,” Erik read. “I hope that everywhere you go from now on everyone knows you’re a rapist and provide drugs for boys and in general, are a poor excuse for a human being.”
“That’s it,” Erik said. “We’re going to leave now.”
He nodded. He held Wanda against him as he moved out of the courtroom. He found a bench near the door. Sitting down, he pulled Wanda onto his lap. He rocked her until her sobs slowed. She stared ahead in numb silence.
“You want to go back inside?” Erik asked.
Wanda’s eyes flicked to him for a moment. Their eyes held for a moment before she nodded.
“You don’t have to,” Erik said.
“I won’t let him beat me,” Wanda said. “What will my little brother or sister think of me if I just give up?”
Erik blushed and Wanda chuckled.
“How’d you know?” Erik asked.
“I just figured,” Wanda said.
“What do you think if we do have another child or two?” Erik asked.
“Or two?” Wanda asked. “She’s having twins?”
“Then I’d better get my ass back in there,” Wanda said. “Work on my stamina.”
Erik laughed at her joke.
“You should wash up a bit,” Erik said.
“Snot everywhere?” Wanda asked.
“Everywhere,” Erik said.
He picked a crusted piece from Wanda’s hair. Wanda nodded and went into the bathroom. She came out a few minutes later. Erik looked at his brave daughter for a long moment.
“Come on, Dad,” Wanda said.
He opened the door and they went back to their seats.
Friday afternoon — 4:45 P.M.
“My name is Anna Marie McDonald,” Ivy said. “Everyone calls me ‘Ivy.’”
Ivy looked up at the judge, who nodded to her. She glanced at the defendant before looking down to read her statement. Delphie’s arm went around Ivy’s thin shoulders.
“I was eight years old when you and your friends decided to rape me,” Ivy said. Intimidated by the silence that came back at her, she took a breath and continued on, “You carved your initials into my perineum. As you already know, there’s no way to take them off. I will have your initials on my body for the rest of my life.”
“I lost my mom almost right when I was born,” Ivy said. “My dad died in Iraq. My grandmother died just a few days before you gang raped me.”
Ivy let the silence linger.
“I lost my mom,” Ivy said. “I lost my dad. I lost my grandmother. And, at eight years old, I lost my body because of you.”
“You can say, well, you’re young, you’ll heal,” Ivy said. “I will never, ever, ever be able to remove your initials from my body. I will wear them on my most private place for the rest of my life.”
Ivy flipped her hair over her shoulder.
“When my aunt told me that your skin was burning up, I thought, ‘Good,’” Ivy said with a nod. “You can be disfigured like I am. You can be scarred. You can know the pain. You can feel what I feel every single day.”
“The problem is that I don’t feel that way every single day,” Ivy said. “I feel pretty good every day. Most days, I don’t remember you at all.”
There was a general rustling in the crowd. They all longed for a way past these events. They all craved a chance to start a new. The idea that Ivy might be past it encouraged them. A few of the girls sat up a little straighter in their seats.
“You see the difference between what’s happening to you and what you did to me is that your skin now shows the truth about you,” Ivy said. “And my life shows the truth about me. I’m happy most days. I go long stretches of time and don’t think about you at all. I have lots of friends. I live in this magical house with the best people where even when people fight, they still love each other. I’m learning to cook. Just yesterday I went shopping and bought all new clothes. “
“You wanna know why?” Ivy asked. “I’ll tell you.”
Ivy looked up at the defendant.
“I’m over you,” Ivy said with a smile. “You get to live with your burning skin and your scars. You get to live with the truth that you intentionally hurt a lot of kids — not just the girls and guys you gang raped but also the boys you drugged and manipulated into raping kids so that you could make money selling their videos. You get to live with what you are until the end of your days.”
“And I get to live with what I am,” Ivy said.
There was another positive rustling in the crowd.
“You know what I am?” Ivy asked. “I’m a survivor.”
She took a moment to look at the defendant.
“That probably doesn’t mean anything to you,” Ivy said. “That’s okay.”
She looked up at Delphie and nodded. Delphie gave her a photograph which she held up.
“I was the youngest person you attacked,” Ivy said. She held up the picture. “I was the one who had the most injuries to my vagina and anus and inside.”
Ivy said the words clearly and succinctly.
“I’m one of the girls who will bear your initials for the rest of my life.”
Ivy nodded to the defendant.
“I can honestly say that after today, I will probably never think of you again,” Ivy said. “When I fall in love and I meet someone really great, someone like my dad, he might ask me about your initials. My guess is that I won’t even remember your name.”
“So good bye, evil man,” Ivy said. “I’m off to have a great life.”
Ivy turned in place and walked to the back of the room where Tink and Wanda were waiting. In a matter of moments, the judge adjourned the trial. He gave the jury instructions so they could come up with an appropriate sentence for the defendant. A minute later, the whole thing was over.
The girls ran out of the courtroom. They made a pit stop at the bathroom before heading outside to wait for their parents and Delphie.
“What do you think will happen to …?” Tink said the defendant’s name.
“Who?” Ivy asked.
Wanda howled with laughter. Tink raised her eyebrows in a “really?” gesture. Ivy nodded firmly.
“Oh, you’re right,” Tink said with a shake of her head. “I don’t care what happens to him anyway.”
“Tell us about what Charlie said at lunch!” Wanda said.
“He was really great!” Tink said with a smile.
Tink dove into her conversation with Charlie at lunch. Frankie came up and hugged Wanda. He asked about court, but learned right away that these girls were over it. He laughed. By the time the parents arrived, they were happily talking about school and the rest of their lives.
“The rest of our life,” Tink said to Heather in the car on the ride home. Blane sat in the back seat so they could talk.
“We still have to go to the sentencing,” Heather said.
“I know,” Tink said. “I don’t have to testify or anything, right?”
“Exactly,” Heather said.
“Then I’m done,” Tink said.
“How does that feel?” Heather asked.
“Like a breath of fresh air,” Tink said. “I have a whole new, awesome life ahead of me.”
“Yes, you do,” Heather said.
Smiling, Tink leaned back against the seat to watch the city go by.
“You asleep?” Heather asked in a low tone after a few blocks.
“Just happy,” Tink said.
They drove the rest of the way home in silence.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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