Severance by Isabella Parker

         “The Prosecution may call its first witness” the judge orders, and I immediately feel my legs obeying his command. My lawyer, David Huntley, puts his hand on my shoulder as he stands. I try not to flinch.

         “The People call Rowan Finley to the stand.” I see Mr. Huntley motion for me to walk towards the little wooden chair I will have to sit in for the majority of this trial. As I walk, I keep my eyes to the ground, my chaotic hair concealing some of the polished wooden floorboards in my line of sight. My black heels click on the floor, echoing loudly throughout the room. I can sense the onlookers holding their breath. The silence surrounding me is deafening. The hungry eyes of the crowded courtroom follows me as I walk to the seat where I will have to say everything out loud, again. I scratch my arm, trying to dig out the bugs I feel crawling underneath my skin. I keep my head down when I sit on the wooden chair, my whole body facing out towards the people who have come to see his fate. The fate of the young man whose gaze I have been maliciously haunted by every day since that night. I can feel his eyes on me, too, angry, taunting. I try to look everywhere but in front of me, where he sat, as I swear on a book I no longer believe in.

         “Please state your first and last name for the record,” Mr. Huntley asks, peering down at me through frameless glasses hanging off the tip of his nose.

         I avoid stares from the beady eyes of the jury as I answer, “My name is Rowan Finley.” My voice sounds hoarse, dry from the days I have spent surrounded by my own loneliness. The quiet is easy to get sucked into.

         “Can you please spell out your last name for the record,” my lawyer breathes out, going through the obligatory questions like he is reading a script.

         I look up towards the judge, sitting next to me in his silky gown, and he nods expectantly; I say “F-I-N-L-E-Y.”

         “Can you identify the defendant, please.” I snap my head up to look at Mr. Huntley, my eyes pleading Please don’t make me say his name. I can feel the words rise up in my throat like venomous bile, searing. I make the mistake of letting my eyes wander, landing on a boy I will never get out of my mind. He smirks.

 

         Ian Wright is looking at me. I can feel his boyish charm radiate from across St. Mary’s cafeteria. The light from his smile brings warmth to a rather cold day in Colorado Springs, and I cannot be happier. I smile at him, secretly telling him that I welcome his stares, that I like them. I had liked them for a while actually, ever since I met him last year, my freshman year. I can still remember when he asked me why I looked so young for a junior. His face held a look of shock when I explained how I, a fourteen-year old, could possibly be in trig. I grin, remembering how he would always greet me every morning when class was held.

“Row?” I hear Olivia murmur before getting louder. “Earth to Rowan?”

“Yes, hello.” I turn to face her; I’m greeted by my favorite freckled face. “What’s up?”

        “Are you done eye-fucking Ian?” she teases, slightly pushing my arm. I feel my face get fiery, red with embarrassment. She chuckles for a moment before falling silent.

“Was that really your question?” I ask, smirking through my harsh tone.

        “No, of course not.” Olivia’s lips crinkle around the edges as she smiles. “I was wondering if you were still coming to the fall showcase on Friday?”

        “Of course!” Her eyes brighten. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” I smile warmly at her as she rambles about her bandmates before drifting off into the depths of my lovestruck brain. I can’t help but let my mind wander through thoughts of Ian that blossomed like sweet asylums in my mind.

        When I feel a slight tap on my shoulder, I get shocked out of my mindless state. I look over to Olivia. Her expression is blank and her blue eyes wide.

“Hey, Rowan.” I turn towards the sound, husky and inviting.

        “Oh! Ian, you scared me a little.” I chuckle nervously, absentmindedly biting my lip as soon as his name comes out of my mouth.

        “My bad. I definitely didn’t mean to.” He smiles, flashing his white teeth and putting his hand on my shoulder, giving me an apologetic squeeze. I try not to focus on his fingertips grasping my Oxford shirt, how it makes butterflies flutter around my stomach clumsily, bumping into various organs. “I miss having you in my math class. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in there anymore.” I laugh a little too loudly.

        “Well, if you ever need a tutor, I am more than happy to help out!” I grin as I think about him coming to my house,helping him figure out his homework, and seeing that cute little crease form between his eyebrows while he’s focused.

        He looks me in the eyes as he says, “I don’t know if I’ll need tutoring, but I am definitely willing to spend more time with you.” He smirks.

 

 

        “He’s sitting right there.” I motion towards him, accusatory. I hold my breath as if I would gag on the toxic air that seems to have spread throughout the courtroom. I can feel his eyes beat me down, making me feel small and ashamed. How can he make me feel so ashamed when I’ve done nothing wrong?

        “Ms. Finley, could you please identify the defendant by first and last name?” Mr. Huntley asks, and I try not to scream at him--to tell him that everyone here already knows his goddamn name. I keep my composure as the energy drains out of me, spilling through the crack of my lips as they form his name.

        “Ian Wright,” I say through my teeth, which are clamped together tightly, not planning on letting go anytime soon.

        “How do you know Mr. Wright, Ms. Finley?” I watch Mr. Huntley’s feet move across the light wooden floors, avoiding his smooth stare as he lays another question on top of me.

        “We go- went- to St. Mary’s . . . the Catholic high school . . . uh, together,” I mumble out, scratching the skin surrounding my thumbnail. The flesh had been broken for the past week, and I can feel my nail slicing the small cuts open again. “I knew him for a little over a year, I think.”

        “Thank you, Ms. Finley.” Mr. Huntley pauses, taking a breath, and I look up. He gives me a reassuring smile before opening his mouth to speak again. “Can you explain the details of your relationship with Mr. Wright?”

I cough, choking on the air attempting to enter my lungs. “Our relationship?”

        “Yes, how you met the defendant and how you came to be together on October 12th, 2018,” Mr. Huntley clarifies, and he starts pacing again. I watch him take a step or two, focusing my thoughts before I answer.

        “We met my freshman year of high school in our first period class. . .  Trigonometry . . . He was a junior.” I feel my lips turn downward, my chin puckering at the movement. I try to take heavy breaths in between words, attempting to calm myself while I begin to talk about the lead up to the most humiliating moment of my life.

        “We talked a lot . . .  He’s not good at math, so I helped him out in class.” I breathe through my nose, trying to discreetly chuckle. He is really bad, and it would be a federal crime to lie on the stand.

        “Did you ever have romantic or sexual feelings for the defendant, Ms. Finley?” Mr. Huntley asks, and I can feel the light of rare humor flicker away, receding back into the drawer my mind. No matter how this trial ends, I will still be the one held prisoner.

        “Yes . . .  I, uh, I did.” It’s hard to admit. I can feel sweat bead on my forehead, the small amount of sunlight peeking through the court windows scorches my skin. “Up until that day, I liked him.”

        “Ms. Finley, can you clarify which day you are referring to when you say, ‘that day,’ please.” Mr. Huntley turns, pacing back towards the poor souls on jury duty.

        “The day . . . October 12th, the day . . .  he raped me,” I whisper, feeling tears brim my eyes, and Mr. Huntley asks me to repeat myself. I don’t know if I can.

 

        “Olivia!” I sing her name as I round the corner of her street. She’s standing by the fire hydrant next to her house, just like she does every morning before school, waiting for me.

        “Hey! You’re late today!” she says, putting her pointer finger accusingly in the air.

        “That’s because I was super busy talking to a boy.” I feel a blush creep onto my cheeks, unwelcomed, and I chuckle.

        Olivia comically gasps and covers her wide mouth with her hand, “A male suitor? And you? How can this be . . . ” She moves her hand from her mouth to her chin, looking deep in thought.

        “Shut up, you asshole.” I laugh, and she breaks from character, joining me. We start to walk toward our school, only about five blocks away from Olivia’s house.

        “Anyways, this man . . . is it, perhaps, Ian Wright?” She wiggles her eyebrows and I giggle again, briefly, before tucking my hair behind my ear.

        “Mmm . . . Maybe . . .” I smile and look to her mischievously. She rolls her eyes at me, and I continue, “Yes, and he asked me to hang out on Friday, but I said I would only be able to if it didn’t conflict with your showcase.” I look into her blue eyes, assuring her that I will be there no matter what. She smiles.

        “I’m glad you’re coming . . . It means a lot.” She looks down, blushing herself this time. I walk up to her and pull her into an embrace, smelling the same coconut and vanilla shampoo she’s been using for the four years I’ve known her.

        “Of course. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” She pulls me in tighter before letting go.

        “Thanks, Row.” She smiles and takes a breath before continuing. “Enough of this sentimental shit. What did you and Ian talk about?”

        Olivia looks into my eyes, and I break eye contact to pull my phone out of my backpack, showing her our messages. “He was just really cute. I don’t know. I like the way he talks, I guess. . . He said he wants to take me on a picnic after your showcase, just to stargaze. Is that romantic, or . . .?” I trail off, imagining our hands touching on top of a quilted blanket, looking up at the stars that surround us. I sigh.

        “A stargazing picnic? For your first date ever? That is literally so perfect. I’m jealous.” She scoffs for a split second before the corners of her mouth curve like a crescent moon. “I’m happy for you, though.”

        I chuckle for a second before saying, “I don’t know why you’d be jealous. That date you had with Peter Davis in seventh grade was pretty steamy, especially when his mom let you guys hold hands while she chaperoned your dinner at P. F. Chang’s.” Olivia punches me in the arm lightly, her eyes wide and wild with embarrassment and hilarity.

        She gasps. “We do not speak of Peter Davis! It is forbidden, and you know that!” I laugh as we walk, and she hands me back my phone. We reach our school’s grounds a lot sooner than I thought we would. I feel my phone buzz in my hand when Olivia and I walk up the stairs, leading to the bleak building my homeroom is held in. I look down to read the notification, blushing as I glance over the message from Ian: You look pretty today.

 

        “Ms. Finley, can you please describe what you were wearing the night of the alleged assault?” His lawyer says, tinkering with the tailored seam of her pinstripe blazer.

“Objection. Relevancy?” Mr. Huntley stands from his seat immediately, looking directly to the judge.

        “Your Honor, this is pertinent to building my client’s case and proving his innocence,” she pleads, keeping her tone professional and cold. I don’t like her.

        “Overruled. Proceed,” the judge speaks, crossing his arms over his plump belly while awaiting my answer. I look to Mr. Huntley, his eyebrows raised in disbelief.

        “Ms. Finley,” I hold my breath and look to the ground. “Please describe what you were wearing on the night of the alleged assault.” She presses again, her tone more confident this time.

        “I . . . I was wearing a black skirt and tights.” I exhale slowly and close my eyes tightly, trying to push away the thoughts. “He ripped them, the tights. They were ruined.” I can feel tears begin to flood my eyes, brimming around the edges in anticipation of falling.

        “Ms. Finley, please finish answering the question.” She speaks, almost like she’s bored. I can hear the nonexistent tap of her shoe on the court floor while she waits for me to calm down.

        “I had my favorite sweater . . .” I choke, my body violently reacting to the information I have to say out loud. Things I haven’t forgotten . . . Things I can’t stop remembering. I dig my fingernails into my leg, trying to distract myself from the thoughts inside of my head. I can barely feel it. “It was a red turtleneck,” I whisper, remembering the greedy hands that clawed through the knitted material. I dig my nails in deeper.

        “And, Ms. Finley, would you consider your outfit to be provocative in any way?” his lawyer asks, her heels clicking as she walks towards me--tap, tap, tap. I move my line of vision from my shaky knees to her. She stalks towards me, predatorily, with her head tilted slightly, awaiting my answer.

        “Uh . . . N-no,” I stutter, raising my voice as if it were a question. I feel my eyebrows knit together in confusion.

        “Were you, perhaps, attempting to seduce Mr. Wright?” she asks, her voice shifting towards a more domineering tone. Overpowering. Wrong.

        My eyes widen. “No,” I state firmly, grinding my teeth together in anger. “That’s not the intention I had at all.” I can feel fury boil inside of me, my anxiety rising like steam and condensing into anger. “If the roles were reversed, would you ask the same question?” I ask in disbelief, my tone becoming more enraged as I continue. “Are you trying to seduce anyone in this room with your blazer? Is your power suit an invitation for sex?” I hear a member of the jury gasp quietly, but I don’t look over. Instead I look towards Mr. Huntley, who’s giving me a look of warning, his gaze stern and his brows furrowed. I look back down at my lap. My fingernails dig into my skin once again.

 

        “Olivia! That was fantastic!” I shout down the back hall of our high school’s auditorium after spotting her polishing her prized bass guitar. She snaps her head up to look at me, her short orange hair flying around her face. She grins, flashing her white teeth at me before quickly putting away her instrument. I start jogging lightly towards her, my feet lightly tapping on the linoleum floors.

She stands up fully after laying her guitar in its case. “You liked it?”

        “Yes! Of course I did! I’m glad you decided to play an original. I love your guys’ music.” I smile, hugging her tightly.

        She holds me at arm’s length and asks, “When are you going to go be with Ian? If you finish early enough, I know a bunch of us are going to a party later.” She wiggles her eyebrows and laughs.

        “As much as I love seeing drunk Olivia, I don’t know if I’ll be able to show up. My mom does set a curfew for me, after all.” I roll my eyes before smiling at her.

        “Ah yes, the infamous 10 p.m. rule. Well, what time are you meeting up with--” Olivia pauses, her eyes shifting behind me to stare down the corridor. She grins, “I guess I don’t need to ask.”

        I turn around, breaking out of Olivia’s grasp to see him, Ian, smiling brightly at me down the hall. He waves and starts walking towards us, shyly sneaking his hands into his front pockets and looking towards the floor. I start walking towards him, waving goodbye to Olivia. I can feel my nerves rustle in my veins, dancing wickedly at the thought of the firsts that might happen tonight. Is he going to kiss me? I feel blood creep into my cheeks, warming my face without my permission. He glances up as I approach him, putting his hand on the back of his neck and chuckling timidly.

“Hello, Ian,” I say, giving a small wave and a tight-lipped smile.

        “Hello, Rowan.” He stretches his hand out into the short distance between us, and I just look at it. “You look gorgeous. I mean--” He pauses and chuckles a bit. “Are you ready to go?”

I grab his hand, anxiously intertwining my fingers with his. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

 

        “Ms. Finley, can you please describe where you and Mr. Wright went on Friday, October 12th, 2018?” Mr. Huntley asks, pacing slowly around the courtroom again.

        “H- . . . He took me to the Garden of the Gods.” I lift up a finger to wipe the sweat off of my brow before I continue. “On the West side of town . . . the place where a lot of people go bouldering.” I exhale, crossing and uncrossing my legs too many times to count. It’s starting to feel hot inside the room, like someone turned every furnace in the building all the way up.

        “Can you please describe what you and Mr. Wright did leading up to the alleged sexual assault?” Mr. Huntley asks, his voice remaining monotonous. I suck in my breath sharply, the air slashing me as it makes its way through my esophagus and lungs.

        I try to speak, but my words trip out of my mouth clumsily, “He . . . We listened to music in his car on the way there. It was fine . . . good, I thought. At first.” I take a breath and try to collect my thoughts. I work on letting little memories from that night into my mind, allowing only a handful at a time so they don’t trample through the door I try so hard to keep locked.

        “Take your time, Ms. Finley,” Mr. Huntley says, his tone a step lighter than before. He knows how I get when I start panicking like this, and he always helped bring me back to tranquility while we prepped for the trial, and that wasn’t an easy task for me as of late. I close my eyes briefly, trying to remind myself that this trial is bigger than me.

        “He drove us deep into the park, really far from the visitor’s center . . .  He--” I breathe out, clenching and unclenching my fist. “He said it would be like we were the only two people in the world. We ate food . . . spaghetti with meatballs. He said he made it himself.” I brush my hair back behind my ears, only to untuck the strands again. “After . . .After that--” I stop speaking, my heart pounding in my chest, beating so hard I feel like it’s going to escape. I can feel my breathing become shallower, panicked, as ringing sounds in my ears. I squeeze my eyes closed, not even allowing tears to form. The memories start to pop into my head; briefly, loudly, violently. I want it to go away.

 

        “I can’t believe how bright the stars look here. I can see so many constellations!” I point towards Cassiopeia, one of my favorites, while we lay next to each other on his blanket. I can feel warmth radiating from his body, and I subconsciously gravitate towards him, seeking refuge from the cold.

        “It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?” I hear him whisper, and I force my eyes off the stars so I can gaze at him instead. When I turn my head, I see just how close his face is to mine, and suddenly the blanket we’re on feels much too small. He adjusts his body, turning towards me and resting his head on his arm. For a second, we just look at each other. Nothing is said, and I can feel my nerves build up in my chest.

        “It is really pretty.” I speak softly, like I could get caught saying something I shouldn’t. I keep my body still, only moving my eyes to different parts of Ian’s face, studying his movements. He smirks at me and moves one of his calloused hands towards my face, tucking a piece of my hair behind my ear before resting his fingers around the back of my neck. I hold my breath as he moves closer, and when I see his eyes close, I follow suit, the stars disappearing from my vision.

        I don’t know what I expected a kiss to feel like. Maybe something more magical than Ian’s rough lips on mine. I try to move my head away slightly, so our lips will part, but he keeps his hand on my neck. His light grip becomes more forceful, sturdy, locking my head in place. He moves one leg over my body, caging me in like a small animal. I put my hands on his chest and push lightly, but he doesn’t let up. He kisses me harder, breathing out of his nose heavily as he moves his free hand down to my waist. I push harder against his strong chest and mumble into his merciless mouth, signaling for him to stop.

        He lifts his head, and I speak up. “Uh, do you know what time it is? I have curfew by 10, remember?” I wait for him to get up, to say he remembers and it’s time for me to go home, but he doesn’t.

        “Don’t worry about that. You’re fine here with me. Let’s just do this.” He smiles, moving to put his mouth on mine again.

        I stop him, saying, “Yeah, but I really can’t piss my mom off right now, so I kind of need to stop and be home soon.”

        “Come on, Rowan. Just relax, chill out.” He chuckles, forcing his mouth back on mine before I can get another word out. He pushes himself onto me, resting his body weight on top of me, his large frame covering me completely. His kisses become sloppier, his tongue trying to wriggle its way into my mouth like a worm. I keep my lips tight and try pushing against his chest again, hard. I feel a shred of hope as he takes his grip off of neck, and I get ready for him to let up from this horrid mess of a first kiss. Except he keeps kissing me. He grabs my hands in his, swinging my arms above my head and pinning my hands against the sharp pebbles that lay outside of the blanket. I hear alarms going off in my head, my limbs wriggling around violently, yelling at me to leave, letting me know that they don’t like what’s happening. He tightens one of his hands around both of my wrists, squeezing them so tightly I fear the bone might fracture. I try to talk, try to say stop, but his mouth doesn’t leave mine no matter what I do. He moves his free hand along my body, trailing down my side, making me shiver. I feel disgusted, repulsed. I just don’t understand why he won’t stop? I keep trying to push my legs against him, get him to move off of me, but his body rests so heavily on top of mine that I become trapped. I feel the rocks against my pinned hands, breaking open my skin. I think I can smell the blood.

 

        Sometimes I like to take a step back from the thoughts of worry I have for my own well-being. How can I make myself feel so humiliated by my own thoughts? My own memories? Instead, I’d rather be here, inside my own head. I can feel myself drifting often, floating in the vicious waves of contemplation, becoming a castaway on islands of my own imagination. I like to get lost in the lush forests on these islands, pretend like I’m in a new reality where I don’t feel the way I do. Somewhere I don’t just want to escape to, but, rather, bury myself in the sand of the beach--enveloping me completely, swallowing me whole. I feel like the only way to pull myself out of my own thoughts is to make some of these fantasies become reality. The waves of self-doubt pound down onto my beach of hope, taking parts of it away to drift off forever. Maybe if I didn’t second guess myself so often, thinking more of the consequences of my actions rather than doing the action itself, I wouldn’t get lost inside the rainforests of possibilities. I need to be planted like one of those trees, settle my roots into the reality I am presently in and stay there. It’s hard when I hear the waves call me, beckoning me to dip my toes back into its unforgiving waters. Begging me to stay in my own thoughts, reminding me of the storm that is anticipating my return. Plotting my demise.

 

        I sit in the cold metal chair, the steel causing an array of goosebumps to form single-file lines on my skin. I rub at them, trying to warm myself with the tips of my trembling fingers. Think, think, think. All of my thoughts come in flashes, striking me, electrifying my emotions, like lightning. Come on, come on, come on. I clamp my eyes shut, my wet mascara sealing the lids like glue. I don’t have the desire to open them ever again. My hands move from their spot, halting the warmth spreading along my thighs and reaching into my matted hair. The lump rising in my throat wants to be heard, like something hidden deep inside of me is trying to scream for help. Stop, stop, stop. I don’t think I can breathe anymore, every inhale causing the snake slithering inside of me to constrict tighter and tighter around my lungs. I gasp, trying to breathe while being drowned in my own sorrow. I open my eyes as I hear a light scrape on the metal table in front of me, a tissue box appearing in my line of vision.

        “Rowan, for us to help you, you need to tell us what happened.” The voice attacks my self-contained silence, the authoritative grumble shocking me out of my state. I breathe out, my heart beating too fast, and it’s the only thing I let myself feel.

 

        I keep my eyes on the ground while Mr. Huntley questions him, and each question he’s answered in the past half-hour sends shockwaves of displeasure through my whole being. I can feel myself dissociating, slipping away so I can ignore the assault to my ears. Mr. Huntley asks him questions about his life, and I try to ignore his smugness. But then I can hear Ian getting antsy, his annoyance showing in his answers for whatever was in Mr. Huntley’s line of questioning.

“Your Honor, permission to treat the witness as hostile?” Mr. Huntley asks, his body facing the judge.

“Permission granted,” the judge speaks, adjusting his glasses higher on his nose bridge.

        “Mr. Wright, is it true that you took Rowan Finley to the Garden of the Gods on Friday, October 12th, 2018?” Mr. Huntley asks, walking closer to the witness stand. I watch my lawyer’s feet on the ground so I don’t have to look up at him.

“Yes, that is true,” Ian says, his voice wavering but calm. He’s trying to keep up his complete façade.

“Had you had anything to drink the night you took Ms. Finley on a date?”

        “No, sir. I just turned eighteen,” Ian says, his voice dripping with confidence. Oh, me? How could I drink officer, I’m only eighteen! I try not to scoff, careful not to give him any hint that I’m listening to every word that comes from his duplicitous mouth.

        Mr. Huntley hums, as if he’s pondering over his next question. “Did you ingest any substance that could alter your state that night, like marijuana?”

        “No, sir. I don’t do drugs. You can look at the drug tests that I’ve taken for the for swim team.” Ian cocks his head, and I am surprised that his trademark smirk doesn’t show itself.

        “I see,” Mr. Huntley remarks quickly before continuing. “May I ask why you asked Ms. Finley on a date that night?”

        “Sure . . . I thought she was pretty, and I could tell she really liked me.” I see Ian glance toward me as I stare in front of me, looking at nothing particular whatsoever. “So, I decided to get to know her better.” Ian sits back in his chair, exuding a calmness that would be abnormal for anyone on the stand--guilty or not.

        “So, is it correct of me to say that physical attraction was the only reason you took Ms. Finley to star gaze that evening?” Mr. Huntley asks, slowly making his way closer to Ian as he paces.

“Isn’t that what I said?” Ian says, annoyance dripping from the cracks in his constructed persona.

        “Mr. Wright, I asked you a yes or no question. Please respond properly so we can continue with this trial,” Mr. Huntley deadpans, and I can see Ian squirm in the same seat I was in when I was forced to recall that night.

        Ian gives a shake of his head before he responds, more politely this time, “Yes, that would be the main reason.” Then he continues, unnecessarily, “If I knew that she would end up bringing me here, then I wouldn’t have bothered.”

“When you say ‘she,’ are you referring to Ms. Finley?” Mr. Huntley inquires.

        “Yes. Who else?” Ian says, his tone becoming more annoyed despite his effort to collect himself. I see his lawyer move cautiously, some sort of intent hidden behind her motion, in my peripheral vision.  I think she knows just how thick-headed her client is.

        Mr. Huntley ignores Ian’s quip, asking, “And is it true that you had an objective of having sexual relations with Ms. Finley that evening?” Mr. Huntley asks pointedly, his regular pacing coming to a halt.

        “I mean, I was taking her on a date, so, I figured . . .” Ian states, as if the answer is obvious, and trails off. I look up briefly, seeing his eyes trained on his lawyer as she signals for him to stop talking. Panic flashes across his face briefly as he finally comprehends whatever his lawyer is trying to communicate with him. I stare ahead blankly, listening. Waiting.

        “You figured what, Mr. Wright? That you would just have sex with her regardless of her consent, or lack thereof?” Mr. Huntley presses, taking a small, intimidating step towards the stand. Mr. Huntley’s tone is forceful and almost overpowering.  I look at Ian, and I see he’s scared. Worried. It’s just for a brief moment, however.

He clears his throat before he answers, “No, I just figured that it was implied.” I watch as his lawyer puts her head in her hands momentarily.

        “You ‘figured’ that my client knew of your intention to have non-consensual sex with her?” Mr. Huntley asks, and I see Ian’s eyebrows twitch, his mask cracking slowly as Mr. Huntley continues to press him.

        “Yes--I mean, no. I meant to say no. I mean . . .” Ian says, and I watch the diverse jury shake their heads in response, looking down on Ian. He loosens his tie, shifting in his seat under their gaze. It’s hard to lean back in your chair when everyone in the room is watching each move you make. I look over to the judge, seeing him leaning back in his chair nonchalantly. He’s the most difficult person to read in the room, and I think that the jury is realizing that too.

“So, which is it, Mr. Wright? Yes or no?” Mr. Huntley asks, taking one more step closer to Ian.

        “No, it’s implied that we would hook up, but not non-consensually, sir.” Ian raises his voice towards the end slightly, making his answer seem more like a question than a statement.

        “So, Mr. Wright, does the term ‘hooking up’ include battery and sexual assault?” Mr. Huntley inquires, and I flinch; I can’t help it. He presses on with questioning. “My client reported bruising on her neck, as well as severe contusions on her wrists and various markings on her thighs. The park ranger that found her testified to seeing ample bruising the night of October 12th. Is that in your definition of a ‘hook up’?”

        “N-no, it is not,” Ian says, his voice losing the confidence it always had, even in the beginning of this trial. His body bounces up and down mildly, signaling the nervous shake of his leg as Mr. Huntley continues to interrogate him. Ian glances around the room, letting his gaze land on each unsatisfied jury member’s face for brief moments. I can imagine the droplets of sweat beginning to form above his thin upper lip, seeing the sweat burst from his pores because of the pressure of Mr. Huntley’s interrogation. I can see the way his eyes flicker restlessly from person to person as he slowly recognizes the lack of conviction the jury has in his testimony.

        “Then why did you physically abuse Ms. Finley during this encounter?” Mr. Huntley asks, taking his last step towards the witness stand. I see Ian’s lawyer begin to rise to her feet out of the corner of my eye, but before she can make an objection, Ian begins to answer.

        “I didn’t abuse her!” he whines, his tone raising because of the accusation. “She just wouldn’t lay still, so I had to hold her down, okay?” Ian admits quickly, and I could see something vanish behind his eyes after he said that. Maybe it was the hope he had for this trial.

        “That’s all I would like to ask for now, Your Honor,” Mr. Huntley says, turning around and walking back towards me. He smiles to himself for a split second.

 

        “I mean, his lawyer was a woman . . . like, doesn’t that make you think she was just lying?” I hear a boy say quietly, only sitting a table away from me and Olivia. I imagine him saying this in between bites of his lunch, still chewing his food as he opens his mouth to whisper about me. I wish the roar of students conversing and laughing inside the lofty cafeteria would tune him out. Olivia lightly taps my arm and gives me a look, a warning that’s not meant for me.

        “That doesn’t mean shit! You know how loaded Ian’s family is? I bet she got a fat check from his parents. I would defend him, too, if I got paid that much” another person chimes in, a female this time, and I can feel my skin crawl at her words.

        “Either way,” another boy joins in, “the fact that he only got two months when he ended up pleading guilty . . . That’s ridiculous. He turned eighteen right before the trial, too. He would’ve been seriously fucked then.” I see Olivia tap her fingers on the top of our lunch table rapidly, each tap forcing more pressure on top of the laminate.

        “Guess he got lucky, then. In more ways than one, am I right?” the original speaker says, earning a few chuckles from his friends, and when I turn around in my chair I recognize him as Ian’s teammate. My eyes widen slightly at the realization, and I whip my head back around to focus on my packed lunch. I hear Olivia sigh before standing up next to me.

        “You can shut the fuck up at any time. It’s free to do so,” Olivia says loudly, disturbing the conversations that had been echoing throughout the cafeteria all lunch period. The boy, Michael, I think, looks at her wide-eyed, like he’d been caught by the police. Then his gaze turns to me, he sees my unamused stare, and I see his cheeks become reddened with embarrassment and shame.

        “What’s your problem? Can’t you mind your own business?” the girl sitting at their table says, and I turn to look, only to recognize her from a class I had last year. She stares Olivia down, her gaze intimidating and low. I take a deep breath before lifting myself out of my seat to support Olivia . . . just like she did for me.

        “Excuse me,” I speak up, and I can feel every eye in proximity of Olivia’s outburst land on me, studying me like an unknown creature. “Instead of being a complete bitch to my friend for defending me, shouldn’t you be focusing on the boys surrounding you who are making fun of my rape? Or are you too focused on impressing them to care about the fact that they think sexual assault is a joking matter?” I say politely, awaiting her response. She sits there in her seat, her plump lips hanging open in confusion and discomfort. She coughs loudly before turning away from my stern look, returning to her food.

Olivia turns to look at me, her blue eyes saddened, saying, “Let’s get out of here.”

        “Okay,” I agree, and I begin to wrap up my half-eaten sandwich. Olivia and I make our way through the cafeteria, and I can feel the stares sear into me, harshly, but I try to ignore them. The gazes haven’t stopped since the trial three weeks ago, and I don’t think they’ll stop any time soon. Olivia follows me through the rest of the cafeteria, glaring at the people who are giving us questionable looks. I feel more comfortable knowing she’s there with me, for me.

        Once we get into the spotless hall, I speak up, “Thank you, Olive.” I use her favorite term of endearment. “You know you don’t have to do that.” I look down, crossing my arms over my waist.

        “I know I don’t have to, but I want to. I won’t ever stop defending you, Row,” she says, grabbing my hand in hers. This time I don’t flinch, and she smiles.

        “I love you, you know that?” I smile at her, watching her reaction to my words. I see tears well up in her blue eyes, looking like two pools of sadness, big enough to swim in.

        “I just wish I could’ve stopped it . . . I should have.” Her tears fall rapidly, not ashamed to show themselves. I stop walking and pull her close to me, wrapping her in my arms as she sobs lightly on my uniform. My body feels stiff like a board, ready to stick a splinter into whoever touches me. I won’t let myself give Olivia any of those splinters.

        “Hey, hey. There’s no way anyone could have stopped it, okay?” I soothe, rubbing my hands in shapes on her back, trying to get used to the feeling of being close with someone again.

        “I kn-knew . . . S-so many girls have talked to me about his reputation . . . I should’ve s-stopped it.” She sobs harder, grasping onto my body as tightly as she can.

        I hush her. “Olivia, I knew about his past with girls too. I knew he got with a lot of them, but no one knew that he was capable of doing that. It’s not anyone’s fault but his, okay?” I hold her for a few minutes, letting her cries calm into occasional sniffles. We walk further down the hall in silence, just letting ourselves calm down. Once we reach the doors to the courtyard, I stop Olivia.

        “What matters most, to me,” I breathe out, turning to Olivia and grabbing her shoulders, holding her at arm’s length, “is that I have you and my family supporting me through this. I wish it never happened, obviously, but if it had to . . . for him to get in trouble . . . or prevent him from doing it to another girl . . .” I trail off, hoping and praying no other girl would have to experience what I did with him. That no one else would feel the pain he inflicted on me. So no one else would have the same ugly mark that’s been left on me, showing the violation I had to endure.

        Olivia just hugs me, and I try to let myself feel comfortable in her arms. I try to let myself feel comfortable again, for the first time in a long time.

Isabella Parker

Isabella is from Phoenix, Arizona and is a sophomore at Northern ArizonaUniversity. She is majoring in English while completing the BA-MA TESL program at NAU. After completing her schooling, Isabella wants to help build schools and teach English in

developing countries. During her free time, Isabella likes to read (go figure) and she will go to various lengths to spend time out in nature.

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