Chapter 5 – Lesson

I, Bette Porter-Kennard, of a somewhat sound mind and body, fierce competitor, powerful business woman, unstoppable force to be reckoned with, do sit here on this lounge by the pool, gazing into the laughing face of my handsome little man and proudly proclaim, “Ah… boo boo boo boo boo,” in the silliest voice I can manage. I feel like a simpleton as the nonsense spews from my mouth; But the happiness radiating from my son’s smile as I accompany the nonsense with tummy tickles, dispels any sense of demureness. The wonderful sound of his tinkling giggles is like soothing music to my soul. I wallow in the satisfaction he brings me in return for his own, nervously scanning the area to be sure I’ve not been seen.

I return my gaze to his handsome face and grin so fully my cheeks ache. We continue this way for long moments, me making an ass of myself and him rewarding me with his happiness. There’s a bright flash of light and I cringe, caught red-handed. I don’t even look up to know what is happening. It is, quite literally, expected. And it is, of course, my sneaky wife documenting a life so steeped in love that it would drown if that submersion weren’t the very stuff that makes life possible. Even without the obnoxious light or any of the olfactory senses at my disposal, I would know her. I would know her anywhere. She’s the best part of me, the home inside.

I hear the warmth and infinite love in her laugh and I can’t help but join her despite my chagrin. Chance’s giggles are infectious. The tender touch on the bare skin of my shoulder sends a warming shudder down my spine as the velvet voice of an angel invigorates my spirit. “God, Bette, no one makes him laugh like you do.”

I smile up at my wife, beckoning her closer with a glance. She does not fail me as her lips touch my own. How I love her lips. They are a wellspring of life for me, for these children. She pulls away, stroking the haphazard curls from my forehead and I soak up the adoration in her gaze for several long moments.

I realize that it’s incredibly quiet, and the movement in my arms has stopped so I gaze down to see that Chance is asleep, his unruly hair charming me to my core. Tina reaches down, kissing his forehead before she whispers, “Do you want to walk him upstairs or can I?”

I grin at her. She’s such a sucker for a sleeping baby. I can’t begrudge her. He is, quite possibly, perfect, especially when sleeping. She grins back, joy written clearly on her face as she gently takes him from my arms. I lean back and sigh as I watch her disappear into the house. The pendulum is still there, swinging steadily, and it’s so close that it’s grazing the skin of my neck, but I refuse to be paralyzed by it. I just have to keep reminding myself that it’s almost over, and I feel that Whit is doing a fantastic job.

I hear movement at the back gate and look over to see Alice peek her head inside. She seems subdued as she asks, “Can I come in?”

I sigh, feeling deep remorse for the words I spoke earlier today. I didn’t mean to accuse her, but the honest truth is that it’s definitely within the scope of reality. But she says she didn’t do it, and I believe her. I smile at her and wave her forward. “Of course. You don’t have to ask.”

She brightens as she steps up and wearily settles into the adjacent lounge. It’s dark out, and the sound of the pool water and the effect of the shimmering lights as they dance off the surface are comforting. Neither of us says a word as we absorb the calming atmosphere and relax. Tina comes back out with three empty wine glasses, a bottle of wine, and a can of Perrier. I’d swear she’s psychic. She just seems to hone in on hurt and instinctively know how to make it better.

Alice shifts as Tina arrives and still not a word is spoken as Tina pours us each a glass. I do miss the indulgence, but I savor the moments I have rocking my children and feeding them while we bond. Tina settles between my legs, and all three of us sip from our glasses. I watch as Alice lazily presses the call button on her phone. It’s so quiet we can all hear the rings followed by the voicemail picking up and informing us that the mailbox is full. She hangs it up and drops it onto her lounge, again sipping her wine.

Alice being so quiet… so pensive, it’s a little disconcerting. Just as I’m about to snap her out of it, she speaks. “I’ve called Duffy, over and over. I’ve left tons of messages. I guess you were right, Bette. We can’t count on her. I mean, the trial could end as early as tomorrow.”

I sigh, tucking my arms around Tina’s waist and squeezing her for comfort as the pendulum drops infinitesimally closer. There’s another long moment of silence before Tina speaks. “Alice… you aren’t here to talk about Duffy or the trial.”

Alice sighs heavily and turns to face us, picking at some imaginary lint on the lounge. Her voice is sad as she says, “Tasha broke up with me.”

She meets my eyes and I again feel responsible. “I’m sorry, Al. I shouldn’t have said those things the other day.”

She waves a dismissive hand at me. “It was going to happen no matter what. She knows that I’m in love with Dana.” She snorts indelicately. “I know it, too.”

I rest my head against Tina’s and ask the obvious. “Then why are you fighting it?”

Alice downs her wine and sets the glass down irritably. “She made me feel terrible.”

I furrow my brows. “What do you mean?”

I release Tina and she stands to refill Alice’s glass. Alice lies back on the lounge, staring up at the unusually bright stars as she rests an arm over her forehead. “She told me that I was kinda crazy… and jealous. It just, she made me feel so bad. I could tell that she wasn’t in love with me, but I was just so in love with her… I couldn’t lose her, you know?”

I nod and Tina returns, nestling into the still warm nest between my legs. “It’s just, I mean… maybe I made myself feel bad, but I was turning into someone I couldn’t stand. I didn’t even know I was turning into someone who was all smothery, and needy, and codependent, but I was. I mean, gross. I can’t think of anything worse…”

She sits up and crosses her legs Indian-style, facing us as she picks up her glass and sips it a little more slowly this time. “I’m glad she said something, but I mean, things got super intense between us super-fast. And I… I had never felt that way! I don’t know… it made me act weird!”

Tina’s voice is gentle as she says, “Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? Isn’t that a good thing?”

Alice seems defeated. “Not when I got too attached to it.”

Tina sits forward and I run my hands over her shoulders. Her head lolls forward and I smirk, brushing her shiny hair aside and manipulating the pliant muscles in her neck. Her voice is sedate as she continues. “Alice, you can’t fall in love without attachment. That’s just not possible.”

“This was different, TK. I felt like…” She starts to stutter and use her hands to explain herself. “I felt like that guy with the – with the mouse. And, you know, he loves the mouse, and he holds – you know, he…”

She holds up her hands like she’s squeezing something and I stop my motions at Tina’s neck to stare at them intently, trying to decipher what the fuck she’s saying. “What are you talking about?”

She sighs and soldiers on. “Where he’s like, he loves the mouse so much, and he’s like…” She makes this goofily sweet noise as she squeezes the invisible mouse in her hands and it clicks. Lennie from Of Mice and Men. “Ohh, yeah, I remember Lennie.” Alice sighs relieved as she gives up the charades.

Tina leans back into me, sipping her wine. She’s utterly content as she says, “Okay, so you were getting clingy. That still doesn’t explain why you’re running from her if you know you’re in love with her.”

Alice rolls her eyes. “I don’t want to be that way!”

Tina chuckles. “Al, you know it won’t work, right? Running away…”

Alice sips her wine, determination set in her jaw. “Oh, it’ll work. I’m not going to go there again. In time–”

I interrupt her. “In time, she’ll have moved on to be with someone she doesn’t love as much as she loves you because you’re not an option. In that same time, you may or may not do the same.” I shrug. “You both might be able to live with it, but ultimately, you’ll be depriving yourselves of what you want most for no good fucking reason. You’ll regret it, Al.”

Tina smoothes a hand over the arm at her waist in silent communication and I sigh as I kiss the tender skin beneath her ear. Alice throws a hand up and stares hard at me. “What am I supposed to do?! Be with her and hate myself or be without her and hate myself? Both of those fucking suck…”

Tina twines her fingers with mine. “Or… you could be with her and trust her. You won’t hate yourself and you’ll still have her.” Alice downs her wine again and Tina sighs, sitting up. “Al, you’re going to have to change either way. You can choose to grow bitter and resentful at the life you wanted but wouldn’t let yourself have, or you can choose to loosen up and have the life you want. It’s a no-brainer.”

Alice stands abruptly and we watch her as she strides the few feet to the bottle, uncorks it, and takes a deep draft before returning to her lounge. She sits down hard and looks at us. “How can I trust her? I told you that I knew she wanted to break it off before she got sick. What if I choose to be with her and she decides she doesn’t want me again? What if…” She takes a huge gulp of wine, her expression slightly pale. “…what if she gets sick again and…?” Her eyes glaze over in pain and I know how she feels so I tighten my hold on the very alive, warm, soft body in front of me. “I won’t survive that, you guys.”

Tina’s voice is compassionate as she says, “You never know how long anything’s going to last. The only thing any of us knows in this life is that anything can happen. You never know what’s going to happen next.”

Alice swipes at condensation on the bottle, looking down and breaking Tina’s gaze. Her voice is small and resigned. “That’s too hard for me.”

Tina exhales heavily. “So, what are you saying? You wish you’d never met Dana? That because she got sick and that was really hard for you, that you’d rather she just never existed in the first place?” Alice stands abruptly and glowers at Tina. “Alice, I don’t think it’s any less painful to lose someone to a tragic misunderstanding than it is to lose someone to a fucking heart attack.”

Alice’s stare is stony as she slowly shakes her head, tears welling in her eyes as she replies. “That’s not true because I can get over a misunderstanding.”

Tina runs a hand through her hair. “Not always.”

Alice flops back onto the lounge, all the fire gone as she replies succinctly, “Fuck…”

She jumps, nearly dropping the bottle and fumbling to catch it before it shatters on the concrete. Some of it spills but she’s able to save it. She shifts her weight, reaching beneath her ass to grab her phone, gasp at the caller ID, and scramble to answer it. “Duffy! It’s about fucking ti–” Pause. “Okay…” Pause, relieved sigh. “Thank fuck, what–” She pulls the phone away from her ear, staring at it in disbelief before saying, “She fucking hung up on me!”

She grumbles unintelligibly as she drops the phone on the lounger and grins at us. “You owe me something big and awesome, Porter. A Porsche maybe. Yeah, that’s a good start. A Porsche.” She thinks for long moments, a smile on her face. “Yellow maybe, like bright yellow. Ooh, no, maybe metallic red…”

“Alice! What did Duffy say?!” Tina’s outburst makes me smile, and I squeeze her until she relaxes, but I’m just as anxious to hear an answer as well. Alice gapes for a moment. “Sheesh, okay! She said…”


The entire room stands at the bailiff’s booming demand as the judge and jury enter. We take our seats and all the usual information is provided by my own personal escort through hell, the bigot otherwise known as Cornelius T. Compton III. He seems to be in a particularly foul mood today and I sigh as he asks Merle for another witness. Her harsh voice pricks my ears as she responds, “The People call Carmen de la Pica Morales.”

The bailiff radios his comrade and Carmen is escorted to the clerk to be sworn in and seated in the witness stand. She looks around the room, running her fingers through her hair nervously. She meets my eyes and faintly smiles as Merle steps forward. “Carmen, thank you for being here today.”

Carmen’s nose twitches as if she’s smelled something distasteful. She exhales heavily, leaning back in her chair and gazing head on at the enemy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I truly like Carmen. She has a way of being entirely honest that’s so innocent that even when it’s brash it’s endearing. She doesn’t reply to Merle, choosing instead to nod curtly. Merle proceeds. “How do you know the defendant, Elizabeth Porter-Kennard?”

Her intent gaze doesn’t falter as she answers. “I met her through mutual friends several years ago and in that time, she and her wife have become like family.”

Corky’s cheeks burn hot with intolerance and I shake my head, almost compassionate for what must be a sad and lonely life. Merle paces a few steps. “She’s like family. What does family mean to you?”

“Family means everything.”

Merle nods. “They mean absolutely everything to you?”

Carmen nods, conviction evident in her strong, but quavering voice. “Yes.”

“And you extend that term to the defendant and her family?”

“Yes.”

“Is there anything you wouldn’t do for your family?”

Carmen thinks hard on this for a moment. “I’m sure that there are some things that might be too extreme, but no. I would do anything within my power to help my family.”

Merle smirks. “Would you lie to protect your family?”

“I… maybe, but-”

“Are you lying now?”

“No!”

“You’re not lying but you would?

“Yes, but–”

“You stated you’d do anything for family.”

“Yes.”

“So you’d lie, torment someone, threaten them, steal from them, and vandalize their property if it is for the sake of family?”

“In certain circum–”

“Yes or no?”

“It depends…”

Merle gazes at Carmen stiffly, her gravelly voice low. “Yes, or no?”

Carmen’s eyes darken almost black with anger. “Yes.”

“Did Ms. Porter-Kennard come to you for help with Candace Jewel?”

Carmen’s gaze still doesn’t waver. “No.”

Merle tips her head. “Then who did?”

“No one did. I offered.”

“What sort of help did you offer her?”

“Protection.”

“What sort of protection?”

“I am close to Bette and Tina–”

Merle interrupts Carmen. “Ms. de la Pica Morales, I’d like to rephrase my question. Please list the types of activities you partook of by way of protecting to the defendant.”

Carmen sighs. “We threatened her in the same ways she–”

Merle doesn’t let Carmen finish. “How did you threaten Candace specifically?”

Carmen blows out a breath. “We used paintball guns to intimidate her, took photos of her, the types of things she was–”

Merle’s voice is loud as she interrupts again. “Carmen, did the defendant know you were committing crimes on her behalf?” Carmen hesitates. “You’re under oath. Yes or no?”

“Yes.”

“Did she further encourage this criminal activity?” Carmen’s intense gaze still doesn’t falter, but I can tell she’s afraid to tell the truth. I know she doesn’t want to damn me anymore than she already has, but I won’t have her perjure herself for me. She’s helped me enough. She meets my eyes and I smile at her, doing my best to reassure her that I’m not angry at her. If anything, I’m grateful to her.

She exhales heavily and looks back to Merle. “Yes.”

Merle paces a few steps to the right. “Did you have any interaction with Candace directly?”

“No, not really.”

“Not really?”

“I… saw her once, but never spoke to her or touched her.”

“So for all you know, Bette could have been lying and you were tormenting an innocent woman – committing crimes against her – for no reason?”

“No.”

“How can you know that if you never spoke to Candace?”

“I saw what she was doing-”

“You stated you didn’t speak to Candace or touch her. How did you see what she was doing?”

“Alice showed us the photos and the billboard, and I was at Bette and Tina’s bachelorette party when Candace showed up.”

“So the information on Candace came from a third party, one Alice Pieszecki?”

“Yes.”

“How long did you commit these crimes against Candace at the defendant’s request?”

“She didn’t request anything–”

Merle’s voice is loud as she interrupts. “How long?”

“About three years.”

“Up until the day Candace died?”

“No.”

Merle paces to the left. “When did you stop?”

“We lost track of Candace about a year ago.”

“You lost track of her?”

“Yes, she just… disappeared.”

Merle nods. “Because you tormented her for three years.”

Whit stands. “Objection, your honor. That wasn’t a question.”

Corky sneers but has few options. “Sustained.”

Whit continues. “The defense moves to have the last comment stricken from the record.”

Corky’s voice is mocking as he says, “The jury will disregard the last remark.”

Whit settles back in his seat and I have to wonder how a man like Corky got to be an elected official. I’ll never know, unless of course it was on his knees or bent over a bench much like his own. Merle’s voice saves me from the unwelcomed mental images assaulting me, and for once I’m thankful to her. “Ms. de la Pica Morales, if someone had been doing those things to you for three years, how would you feel?”

“I’d be angry, and I’d confront her.”

“You’d be angry and confront her, but what if she didn’t stop?”

“I guess I’d retaliate.”

Merle nods. “And if it still didn’t stop?”

“I’d go to the police.”

“You wouldn’t kill her?”

Carmen’s jaw drops and her voice is high in agitation. “What?! No…!”

“So you disagree with how Bette, your family, handled the situation?”

“No, I don’t!”

“You stated that you would go to the police?”

“Yes!”

“But you feel that Bette shooting Candace was acceptable?”

“Yes!”

“You agree but you wouldn’t do it yourself?”

“I-I’m not sure if I would!”

“It’s an easy question. Is it right or wrong to kill someone?”

“Wrong… but sometimes–”

Merle raises a hand and interrupts. “You think it’s wrong to kill someone but you think it’s okay for Bette to have killed someone?”

Carmen has tears in her eyes and I can tell she’s shaking with frustration. Her voice is low and hard as she says, “No, but–”

Merle becomes sympathetic as she continues, again cutting Carmen off. “Carmen, is it possible that you were taken advantage of, that your faith and desire to help your family was used to abuse an innocent woman?”

“I don’t believe that.”

Merle shakes her head. “You testified that you never spoke to Candace. You state that you wouldn’t resort to violence, and yet you believe that the defendant had no other choice based on hearsay?”

“I believe that’s Bette’s an honest person and a good person.”

Merle leans in. “Carmen, she cheated on her spouse. She has a far-reaching reputation for being cold, cruel, and using women. Are you positive, without any doubt, that you weren’t used to torment an innocent woman?”

Carmen hesitates and then says, “Yes.”

“Do you really find it excusable to have damaged someone’s property, flattened their tires, threatened bodily harm, and kill in any circumstance?”

“Extreme circumstances, yes.”

“Extreme circumstances that you heard second-hand? Are you absolutely certain that there was an extreme enough circumstance to justify your and Bette’s actions?”

For the first time, Carmen lowers her head and breaks eye contact. “No.”

“Thank you. I have no further questions.”

Carmen relaxes back in her chair and I watch as she looks past me, a more genuine smile reaches her eyes, lighting her sad face. I can only assume that she is pulling strength from Shane and I am overwhelmed with happiness for them both, despite the hell of this situation. And, I wish I had Tina for that same type of support just now.

Whit stands and approaches Carmen and she seems to relax more as she gazes up at him. Whit’s lilting voice is gentle as he says, “Thank you for being here today, Carmen.”

She nods, responding this time. “I wish it were under better circumstances.”

Whit smiles in agreement. “You testified that you would lie for your family?”

“Probably, yes, but it doesn’t really work that way. That’s what I was trying to explain earlier. I’d never need to lie for them. They never would never put me in that position.”

“You consider Bette your family.”

Carmen nods. “Bette, her wife, their kids; they are my family.”

“What makes them family?”

“When I need them, they are there for me.”

“How have they been there for you?”

Carmen smiles. “When I needed support, they’d drop what they were doing to help me. That’s family.”

“And when you saw them struggling and hurting at the hands of someone else, how did that make you feel?”

Carmen’s expression becomes pained. “It broke my heart.”

Merle stands. “Objection, your honor. The witness is testifying on events that are based on hearsay.”

Whit is prepared. “Just as Ms. Rothman stated yesterday, hearsay is a valid part of this witnesses motives and therefore, it should be admissible.”

Compton pushes his bifocals up his greasy nose and chokes out the only answer available. “Overruled.”

Whit paces to the left, tucking his hands in his pockets. “Carmen, what did you see Candace do to the defendant?”

“I saw the photos that Candace put on a billboard on Sunset Avenue and OurChart, and I saw Candace start a riot in the bar we were visiting in New York at Bette and Tina’s bachelorette party.”

“Ms. Pieszecki revealed the photos and you were directly present for the barfight?”

“Yes.”

“How did my client react in these three separate encounters?”

“She was angry, but mostly she seemed… apologetic… regretful. It was Tina who took it the hardest.”

“How did Tina react?”

“She was angry too, but really, I think she was just hurt, deeply hurt.

“So, based on your observations, what you saw and heard, you believed that my client was just as surprised as anyone when informed?”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe that she or Alice had lied about the information, possibly even fabricated it?”

Carmen scoffs. “Please. Everything was fine for Bette and Tina until Candace butted in. Why would they fabricate problems for themselves?” She shakes her head. “No, it’s obvious that Candace was trying to hurt Bette and Tina. So I have no reason not to believe Bette when she says that she had no choice but to protect her family.”

“You stated that you would do anything to protect your family.”

“Yes.”

“You also stated that you wouldn’t result to killing.”

Carmen sighs. “I wasn’t allowed to finish. I wouldn’t kill someone unless I absolutely had to.”

Whit nods. “So if someone unlawfully broke into your home and waited for you, just to talk, completely unarmed, what would you do?”

“I’d talk to her.”

“And if she started to get angry, maybe even violent, without being life threatening, what would you do?”

“I’d call the police.”

“So you’d only kill when?”

“When someone I love is being threatened with a gun, or a knife… just, any violence that makes me scared that they might die.”

“What about the other things you mentioned: vandalism, photos, etcetera. Where do they fall in the spectrum of acceptable behavior?”

Carmen sighs. “I don’t know if what we did was ‘acceptable behavior,’ but sometimes the only way to get someone to stop is to show them that you won’t be pushed around. What Candace was doing wasn’t technically illegal. The police couldn’t stop her. I didn’t like it, but Bette needed help and I was happy to help her.”

“Would you call what you were doing torment?”

Carmen thinks on this for a moment before shaking her head. “No, I could see it as frustrating, but she knew how to make it stop. She just didn’t want to.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Carmen sighs. “We sent a clear message to Candace, just like the message she was sending to Bette. All she had to do was walk away and we’d have done the same. She wouldn’t let it go, so we kept at her. Maybe she felt tormented by the fact that she couldn’t continue the way she had been, but it was self-inflicted.”

Whit nods. “And that was a year before Candace resurfaced at Bette’s house?”

“Yes. We thought, hoped, that she had finally given up, but apparently not.”

“Did she ever threaten you or your cousins with bodily harm?”

Carmen nods. “Yes, all the time.”

“Did she ever attack one of them?”

“Not that I’m aware of, at least not seriously. There was some retaliation on her part. But if she had managed to really hurt one of us, we’d have had her arrested, and she knew that.”

“How can you be sure?”

Carmen sighs. “The night in New York, when we forced her to stay, she was especially volatile. Every time she’d try to attack one of them, they’d laugh at her and goad her saying, ‘Give us a reason to have you put away for good.’ That shut her down pretty quick.”

“And you witnessed this directly?”

“Yes. That is the only time I ever actually saw her. Again, I never touched her or spoke to her.”

Whit nods. “Carmen, you realize that by answering these questions honestly, you are putting yourself and your cohorts at risk of legal action?”

She nods. “Yes.”

“So why take that risk?”

“Because it’s true and I do not, for one second, believe we did anything wrong by protecting our family. She was crazy and the police had their hands tied. You can’t arrest someone for taking photos, or putting up billboards, or even slashing tires and cornering someone in a bathroom stall… unless, of course, you can prove they did it. And even then, it’s a slap on the wrist. Ultimately, it was our word against hers, and a restraining order just isn’t enough with someone like that. We did the best we could with the options we had.”

“Thank you for being so honest, Carmen. I have no further questions.”

Carmen is excused. The atmosphere in the room is tense with overwhelming quiet before Corky clears his throat and speaks to Merle. “Does the prosecution have any further questions?”

Merle stands. “No, your honor.”

He looks to Whit who stands as well. “The defense may call its first witness.”

Whit straightens his blazer. “The defense would like to call Christina Porter-Kennard to the stand.”

The air escapes my lungs as just a moment later Tina is escorted down the aisle, past the low dividing wall, and up to the clerk. I can’t help the thrill of nervousness that pricks the hair at the back of my neck, or the low burning sensation in my hips that just the sight of her ignites, or the proud smile on my face as she stands straight, holding herself as a woman unshakable. This is Tina at her most alpha, and it is intoxicatingly sexy. She is sworn in and seated next to the judge, who she little more than ignores.

Whit steps up to Tina. “Mrs. Kennard-Porter–”

Compton bangs his gavel and makes everyone jump. He points at Whit with the tiny hammer that’s obviously compensating for his smaller attributes, the vein in his forehead throbbing as he seethes. “That was the last straw, counselor. Do it again and you’ll be detained for contempt.”

Globules of saliva spring out with the plosive, ‘t,’ sounds in contempt, hitting Whit squarely in the face. He sighs as he pulls a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and wipes it off with thinly veiled disgust, saying, “Yes, your honor.”

Compton lowers the gavel and puts a hand over his chest. For a moment, I hope he’s having a massive coronary. He hunches over his desk, breathing deeply to relax. No such luck. I again focus on Tina, seeing the love in those hazel eyes reach out to me, solidifying our connection as it pulls tight across the room, linking us together and feeding us each comfort and strength. The room doesn’t feel quite as small or stifling. The harsh fluorescent lights bouncing off the bright faux wood walls almost feel like a warming ray of sun, and it’s all because she’s here. Anywhere she is, I will find satisfaction.

Whit tries again. “Tina, thank you for being here today.”

Tina crosses one leg over the other, relaxing into her seat. Her countenance is calm and composed as she replies. “You’re welcome.”

Whit paces to the left. “You are partnered to the defendant, Elizabeth Porter-Kennard?”

Tina smiles at me as she says, “I most certainly am.”

I wink at her, my whole soul feeling light and carefree despite the intrusion of our surroundings. “How long have you known your w–” Whit glances at Corky and sighs. “…your partner?”

“Close to thirteen years.”

“How many of those years have you been partnered?”

Tina sighs. “Well, officially married, four and a half years. However, we were partnered for seven years before that.”

“Did you date for two years before becoming partnered?”

“No, we dated for about six months before we moved in together. We were together for seven years before we separated.”

“Can you explain what happened to cause that separation?”

She nods and I feel the need to strap myself down in preparation of the hideous tale she’s about to relate, one I’m sure I’ll have to relate myself. It all feels like it was a lifetime ago, and in a way, it was. That person died, and a new life began… my life. I pulled that person apart, keeping only the best parts of her, and reassembled her into the person I am today. Losing Tina was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me.

“We had problems like most couples. It wasn’t anything major until…” The bright light of the room highlights the tears that want to fall from her eyes, though they never get a chance. She breathes deeply, closing her eyes for just a moment, and then gazing at me. My heart would break if it weren’t already open to her, but it manages to drop into my toes. Her voice and gaze are soft as she says, “…I miscarried.”

I feel a stray tear roll hot and thick down my own cheek and the primal need to go to her is excruciating as I fight against it. Tina’s voice is gentle as she continues. “It got worse after that.”

“How did it get worse?”

Tina exhales heavily. “We were just… growing apart.”

“Was Bette hard to live with?”

“In some ways, yes, but in a lot of ways, no.”

“Did she abuse you or use you in any way?”

Tina’s voice is thick with emotion. “I don’t know if you’d call it abuse, but I felt as if she didn’t really love me, not like I loved her.”

“Why did you feel that way?”

“She was just distant and unavailable to me in a lot of ways. She focused on her work and her things and I felt like I was secondary to those desires.”

“Why did you stay with her?”

“Because I loved her and thought that, given time, she might return those feelings.”

“Did she grow to love you?”

“I know Bette loved me; we just had different ways of showing it. I think loving me frightened her, so she kept me at a distance.”

“Did you leave Bette or did she leave you?”

“I left her.”

“Why did you leave her?”

“She had an affair.”

The air in the room is thick with animosity and I can feel all the eyes in the room looking at me, judging me. Maybe putting her up there wasn’t a very good idea. I have yet to see how this is helping anything.

“With Candace Jewel?”

“Yes.”

“Did you confront Bette before you left her?”

“Yes.”

“What happened during that confrontation?”

“We argued and it became physical.”

Whit’s voice is gentle. “You hit each other?”

“No. I hit her, but she never hit me.”

Whit paces to the right, hands tucked in his pockets. “What did Bette do when you hit her?”

“She restrained me.”

“Did she hold you down?”

“Yes.”

“What did she do after she had you restrained?”

“She touched me… sexually.”

Whit nods. “Was it an unwelcomed touch?”

Tina sighs. “At first, yes, but when I was able to get out from under her, no.”

“Tina, did Bette rape you?”

I look up, realizing as if the for the first time where I am and what is going on around me. That word. That one little word with the power to destroy everything we’ve built. I catch Tina’s eyes and her expression is remarkable. She’s like an angel of destruction, radiant with righteous anger and banishing the shadows of doubt. Her gaze is piercing and steady, as if she’s speaking directly to me as she says, “No, absolutely not.”

Her words, her face,  the incredible children we have waiting at home, all of them are just reminders, but the memory of them stirs up a most potent mix of reassurance. I take several deep breaths, holding on to the fact that all of that is over. I’m not there anymore. I’m not that person anymore. And it’s okay to let it be dead. It’s okay to accept forgiveness, because forgiveness can’t be earned. It’s a gift, a gift given freely with no attachments or strings or expectations other than acceptance. It’s okay to let it all go, and I want to. I really do. I want to be free of all the remnants of poison in my system, to be purged, to be healthy and whole, to be sexy and in love like it’s the first time. I smile at her through my tears and realize I’m close, so very close, but I’m just not there yet. I am nothing if not resilient… and if I’m honest with myself, I’m stubborn.

“What happened after your altercation?”

Tina swallows hard. “I left, in the middle of the night, and I didn’t see her again for a year.”

“And you reconciled?”

Tina smiles. “Yes.”

“Would you say you know Bette?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

“Would you say you’ve been through a lot together?”

“Yes.”

“How would you describe the majority of your relationship with Bette, functional or dysfunctional?”

“In the past, I’d say it was mostly dysfunctional.”

“And now?”

“It’s very functional.”

“You trust Bette?”

“Yes.”

“If it was so dysfunctional, how can you trust her now?”

“The Bette that I’m with now, is the Bette that I always knew she could be. She’s warm, and caring, and so devoted to me and our family that it’s almost overwhelming at times. The woman sitting there right now is not the woman who had an affair and lost herself, and I trust her implicitly. She’s earned no less.”

“You know of her personal reputation?”

Tina nods. “Yes.”

“You know of her professional reputation?”

Tina nods. “Yes.”

“Has Bette always been driven in her goals?”

“Yes, very.”

“Did you ever feel secondary to those goals?”

Tina’s voice is small as she says, “Yes.”

“Do you feel that way now?”

Tina smiles. “No, not in the least.”

“What changed between then and now?”

“Bette changed. She’s just not like that anymore.”

“And you believe and fully trust in that conversion?”

The conviction in Tina’s voice strikes a chord in me. “She is the one thing in this life that I would swear by.”

“While reconciling, did you trust her again right away?”

Tina grins. “No. I put her through hell. I tried everything to push her away because I didn’t trust her at all. But gradually, over time, I just saw it, little by little.”

“When did Candace come back into the picture?”

Tina sighs, her smile gone. “There was the billboard. When I saw it I panicked. I thought I was making this huge mistake. I thought that at any time, Bette was going to cheat again. For all I knew, she was still with Candace and I had been foolish from the very start of our reconciliation.”

“So what happened?”

Tina blows out a breath. “I told her I needed a break, that I just couldn’t do it. Honestly, I couldn’t even look at her. She had given me everything, her most guarded secrets, her home, her money, and even her gallery. She gave me everything that meant the most to her and left herself destitute to try and prove her devotion to me, but I still couldn’t see it.”

“So, Bette Porter, a notoriously powerful and wealthy woman, went against everything she stood for and gave you everything she had to prove herself to you?”

A smile lights her face and I can’t help but match it as she meets my eyes. “Yes, she did.”

“Did you trust her at that point?”

Tina shakes her head. “No, not fully.”

“So why did you move forward with the reconciliation?”

“Because I loved her.”

“Did Candace do anything else?”

“Yes, she showed up at our bachelorette party in New York and cornered me in a bathroom stall of the club we were at.”

“What happened in the stall?”

Tina exhales heavily. “Candace was yelling at me but I ignored her. So, she pulled out her phone and started playing a recording of two people who were obviously having sex. I recognized Bette’s voice.” Tina’s jaw clenches. “That was the first time that I got really angry at Candace but I still didn’t respond. Even after the recording was done she kept yelling at me, pushing me, trying to provoke me. I was at my wit’s end and I lost it. I hit her in the face. She ran out of the bathroom and into the crowd on the dance floor. I-I tackled her and it started a riot.”

“But you still had a joining ceremony that weekend?”

“Yes, we got married.” Corky flinches at the terms Whit’s been carefully avoiding and I grin imperceptibly.

“Why did you go through with the ceremony?”

“I realized that even if I couldn’t handle Candace and her nonsense, even if I couldn’t fully trust Bette, even if our marriage was doomed to fail, that leaving her just wasn’t an option. If she was lying, she’d have to get rid of me because I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave her.”

“So you still didn’t trust her, but you were determined to move forward with her?”

“Yes. It wasn’t until I died giving birth to our oldest daughter, Angelica, that I finally let all of my insecurities go.”

There’s a small gasp from the collective courtroom and Whit smiles. “Your first-born daughter is named Angelica?”

Tina drawls, “Yes,” as if it’s two syllables.

There’s a low rumble of murmuring in the gallery from the name Angelica, the same name that Candace had told her mother she wanted to name our child, and Corky bangs his gavel. “Enough!”

The murmuring stops and despite Tina’s confusion, Whit continues. “Who named your daughter?”

“I did…”

“Where did you get that name?”

“Bette and I hadn’t settled on a name for her by the time she came. She came early, but the delivery was very hard. I knew I was dying and when I heard her crying for the first time, I just automatically thought of her as Angelica.” Tina shrugs. “I have no idea why. I just did. I told Bette, and that was it.”

“You died in childbirth?”

A chill rolls down my spine as Tina answers, “Yes. I died during birth and again a few days later. I was resuscitated both times.”

“And this is when you finally began trust Bette completely?”

She nods. “Yes.”

“Why? What changed?”

Tina smiles. “Me. I was in a coma but I could hear her talking to me, reading to me. She was with me every step of the way and I realized that she’d never leave me. She needed me as much I needed her. I felt safe and loved despite the chaos my mind was going through, and I knew in the deepest parts of me that she was honest and I could trust her.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Nearly four years ago.”

“And since then, have you had any reason to distrust Bette?”

Tina shakes her head. “No, not one.”

Whit paces to the left. “Did you see Candace again?”

Tina swallows hard. “Yes, just once. A couple of months ago Bette gave birth to twins, and when we brought them home from the hospital, Candace was there, in the house… waiting for us… with a gun.”

“How did she get in?”

“The police said that she broke out one of the small window panes in the back patio doors.”

Whit walks up to Joyce and I watch her hand him what appear to be police photos from our patio. He takes them to Merle who objects and then all the attorneys spend some quality time at the bench with Corky. I take the moment to focus on Tina. Her expression is sad and I give her a crooked grin. Her eyes are deep and bright with determination and I find it calming.

No matter what they force her to say up there, or what issues she’s forced to dredge up, I know what she knows: none of it matters. She loves me and I love her, and if no one else can understand why, or how, it’s irrelevant. It is irrelevant to what’s real. And what’s real is the connection spanning the distance between us and our three children waiting at home, blissfully ignorant to the damage that irrational hatred can cause to their lives. I know it’s impossible, but I wish I could protect them from it forever.

Joyce returns to my side and Merle testily takes her seat. I wink at Tina and her smile gives me hope. Whit makes his way to the projector and we watch as photos of our back patio doors are blown up on the screen. The police report does indicate that this is the point of entry and further proves that Candace broke into our home. He removes the photos, entering them into evidence, and returns to Tina. “Tina, you indicated that Candace was in the house when you arrived?”

Tina nods. “Yes.”

“What happened when you saw her?”

“Candace, um…” Tina swallows, fear written on her face. The trembling of her hands gives testament to how disassembled this memory makes her. “She pointed the gun at Bette and started screaming at her. Bette gave me Chance, our son, and stood in front of us, shielding us with her body. I was terrified, and angry. I felt helpless. I had two infants in my arms, Bette was being held at gunpoint, and I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. It was just too much. Then Candace shot at us. The babies started crying and I thought she’d shot Bette until a piece of the ceiling fell on us. I don’t know how it happened, but Bette and Candace started fighting for the gun and I took the opportunity to put the babies on the sofa and call for help.”

Tina’s voice becomes detached, as if she’s relaying a scene from a movie, not her life. “When I got through to 9-1-1, I looked up to see Candace pointing the gun at me. Bette jumped in front of the gun and it went off just a moment later.” Tears start streaming down Tina’s face and her voice is choked. “Bette turned to me, bleeding from her stomach and I rushed over to her, trying to stop it. There was just so much… I-I thought she was dead.”

My guts twist, sick with the memory of it, and sick with my inability to go to my wife who’s falling apart. It takes long moments but she calms down, Whit handing her a tissue before she continues. “Candace tried to leave, but fell at the door. She, um… I watched her die.”

“Tina, I know you’re upset, and I’ll do this as quickly as possible, but this is very important. Candace pointed the gun at you?”

Tina nods. “Yes.”

“You saw Bette jump in front of the gun?”

“Yes.”

“Did you see anything else before the gun went off?”

“No. I saw Bette jump in front of the gun, and thought she’d been shot. I didn’t realize until after Candace was dead that Bette was just bleeding from her stitches.”

Whit nods. “Thank you for sharing your story with us, Tina. It was very brave of you. I have no further questions.”

My head spins slightly as Merle walks up to Tina. I don’t want her anywhere near Tina, but it’s too late now. “Ms. Porter-Kennard, you testified that the defendant stepped in front of the gun as Candace pointed it at you.”

“Yes.”

“But you didn’t see anything else?”

“No.”

“You couldn’t see the gun?”

“No.”

“Why couldn’t you see it?”

“Bette was blocking my view. All I could see was her back at that point.”

“You couldn’t see the gun, but you could see Bette’s back?”

“Yes.”

Merle paces to the left. “Was Bette standing still or was she moving?”

Tina furrows her brows. “I’m not sure what you’re asking. She jumped in front of the gun.”

“Yes, but even from behind, you should be able to tell if she was struggling or moving her arms. Did you see anything that indicated that she was struggling with her hands?”

Tina thinks for a moment. “It happened too fast. I have no idea if she was struggling with Candace.”

“So it’s possible that there was a struggle, but you’re not certain?”

“Yes.”

“Could you see Candace at all?”

“No, all I could see was Bette’s back.”

Merle paces to the right. “So it’s possible that she got the gun from Candace and shot her?”

Tina’s jaw clenches. “I didn’t say that happened.”

Merle stops and stands straight. “No, you didn’t. What I’m asking you is, based on what you did see, is it possible that Bette had retrieved the gun and shot Candace, yes or no?”

Tina seems composed, but I can see the rapid rise and fall of her chest as her breathing increases and she considers how to answer. She finally shakes her head. “I don’t think it is possible. It happened too fast for that to have happened.”

Merle paces again. “So you’re saying that the gun was pointed at you?”

“Yes.”

“Bette jumped in front of the gun?”

“Yes.”

“And then Candace shot herself?”

“I-I have no idea.”

“You were there when the gun went off?”

Tina is getting agitated and I close my eyes, willing her to stay calm. “Yes.”

“But you conveniently can’t remember how Candace got shot?”

“I know she got shot, but I didn’t see what happened until after the gun went off.”

Merle nods. “Okay, so the gun goes off, what was the very next thing that happened?”

“Bette turned to me, bleeding.”

“Was she holding the gun?”

“No.”

“Was Candace holding the gun?”

“No. The gun fell to the floor.”

“The gun fell to the floor… before or after Bette turned to you?”

“Before… I think…”

“And when Bette turned to you, what did she do?”

Tina licks her lips, her voice hoarse. “Bette was looking at her hands.”

“Why was she looking at her hands?”

“She was bleeding and she was trying to stop it.”

“Was there blood on her hands?”

Tina sighs disbelievingly. “Yes, of course.”

Merle nods. “She had touched the blood coming from her wound?”

“Yes!”

“So she’d have had to drop whatever she was holding in order to do that, wouldn’t she?”

“I told you, I don’t know if she had the gun!”

“But it’s possible?”

“Anything’s possible because–”

Merle puts up her hand. “Do you believe that Bette is the kind of person who would use deadly force?”

“Only when necessary.”

“What about in other areas; is she generally forceful?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well, you stated that you had an altercation with her the night you separated and she used force. Is that true?”

Tina exhales loudly. “Yes.”

“Was her force that evening necessary?”

“Yes.”

“What happened during that altercation that required force?”

Tina’s demeanor becomes stony. “It’s hard to explain…”

“Let’s start at the beginning then. Where were you when the altercation started?”

“Our bedroom.”

Merle paces to the left. “Move step-by-step. What exactly happened next?”

“I told her I knew about the affair and she tried to hug me. I pushed her away. She said she was sorry, and I-I slapped her. She told me that she loved me and, and that’s when I lost it. I was screaming at her, trying to hit her, and she restrained me.”

“So she was trying to force herself on you?”

Tina’s voice grows cold. “No.”

“You state that she tried to hug you, you made it very clear that you didn’t want her to touch you, and then she restrained you. How was she holding you down?”

“Sh–” Tina clears her throat. “She was on top of me and holding my hands above my head.”

“And that force was necessary?”

“Yes.”

“How was it necessary?”

“I was attacking her!”

“And after she had subdued you, did she try to force you into anything else?”

“What are you asking?”

Merle paces to the left. “What I’m asking, Tina, is did she hold you down and force herself on you sexually?”

“No.”

“While you were being restrained, did she touch you sexually?”

“Yes.”

“How did she touch you?”

“I was losing it; I hit her–”

“Ms. Porter-Kennard, I asked how she touched you, not why. Please answer the question.”

“She touched my breast.”

“Through your clothes?”

“No.”

Merle tilts her head. “Had you undressed prior to the altercation?”

“No.”

“How did your breasts become uncovered?

“My dress tore.”

Merle smirks. “How did it tear?”

Tina stares daggers at Merle as she answers. “Bette tore it.”

“She held you down and tore your dress so she could touch your breast?”

“She was just–”

Merle holds up a hand. “Were you struggling while this was happening, yes or no?”

“Yes.”

“Did you, at any point during this struggle, tell her to stop, yes or no?”

Tina’s voice cracks slightly as she replies, “Yes.”

“You testified that she didn’t rape you?”

“Yes, because she didn’t.”

“Would you agree, based on what you’ve just said, that she attempted to rape you, yes or no?”

Tina sighs. “Your questions don’t warrant a yes or no answer. If you want me to answer honestly, then you’ll let me use more than one word to answer.”

Merle paces to the right, shrugging as she says, “It’s a straightforward question. She either attempted to rape you or she didn’t. What possible explanation is there to justify holding someone down, tearing their clothes, and touching them sexually when they’ve made it clear that it’s unwelcomed?”

“There is no justification, but there are sometimes reasons and circumstances. You make it sound like I was some random person that she picked up and tried to force into having sex. That’s just not the case. We had been lovers for seven years–”

Merle interrupts again. “The law states that giving consent once doesn’t give it indefinitely. So, I ask you again, did she attempt to rape you, yes or no?”

“If that’s how I have to answer, then I’ll have to say no, she didn’t.”

Merle stops and stares at Tina incredulously. “She held you down against your will, ignored your plea for her to stop, tore your clothes, and started touching you, but she did not try to rape you?”

Frustration is evident in Tina’s voice. “No, she wasn’t trying to rape me, or she very easily could have.”

Merle nods. “So she stopped?”

Tina sighs. “Yes.”

“What stopped her?”

“I flipped her over.”

“So you fought back and stopped her?”

“I wasn’t fighting back–”

“You pushed her off of you and her touching stopped?”

“Yes, but–”

“Why were you fighting if it wasn’t an attempt to rape you?”

Tina starts losing her cool as her words come out fast and clipped. “There was an altercation that became very confused. Neither of us was trying to hurt the other, we were just hurting and lost and out of control.” Merle tries to interrupt her but Tina holds her ground, her voice louder and her countenance more determined. “I don’t deny that how we treated each other that night was inexcusable, but we didn’t try to excuse it! We accepted it, forgave each other, and moved on! And honestly, none of this is any of your business. You can do what you like to try and paint Bette as a bloodthirsty rapist, but it’s a lie!”

Corky starts banging his gavel and yelling but Tina shouts louder. “Women want her! She doesn’t have to take anything!”

The judge yells at Tina, but she’s unaffected; fueled by passion and indignant anger, standing and bracing her arms on the witness box as one final yelled claim shuts the room into shocked silence. “Hell, you wanted her at one point if I’m not mistaken!”

The judge turns to Tina. “Ms. Porter-Kennard–“

Tina glares at him, anger radiating off of her in waves. “I am Mrs. Porter-Kennard!” She points at me. “That is my wife. Can you comprehend that, bigot?!”

Corky bangs his gavel harder. He stands angrily, his face red and mustache bristling with his labored breathing as the bailiff grabs Tina’s arm. I push out of my chair to go to my wife and stop the bailiff from manhandling her, but Joyce slams me hard back into my seat. The judge’s jowls waggle as he trembles with barely contained rage and he stutters out, “Ms. Porter-Kennard, I find you in cont–”

Whit stands. “Excuse me, your honor?” Compton turns to Whit, fire blazing in his eyes. “If it pleases the court, I’d like to request a short recess to speak with my witness. I assure you that another outburst of that kind will not happen again. I understand that you will not tolerate that sort of behavior, but I believe my client is suffering from duress. It was disrespectful to you and this court, and I’m respectfully asking for the opportunity to speak with her in lieu of contempt.” Compton is far too angry, despite Whit’s obvious attempts to placate his ego, but one final request seems to do the trick. “You have a reputation for being fair and merciful, your honor. I am asking for mercy…” Whit gestures to the crowd in the gallery behind us. “…in front of all these witnesses.”

Compton straightens his robes, holding his squat stature as high as he can behind the bench, as he looks around the room to gauge how he should answer. His eyes land on the cameras trained on him and he bangs his gavel magnanimously before raising his arms out as his sides and putting on a grand show for the cameras. “I will grant you mercy, but this is your final warning. The court will recess for one hour.” He turns to gaze at Tina’s flushed and furious face. “This is your only chance, Ms. Porter-Kennard. Pull yourself together or you’ll have sixty days at Metro to teach you a valuable lesson.” I watch as Tina wants to explode in anger, only to break down in tears.

Joyce releases me and we stand as the bailiff demands, though Corky has already retreated to his chambers. The other bailiff starts to pull Tina from the room and she shakes him off angrily, nearly running down the aisle. I have no choice but to watch her leave and wait for the fucking jury to get the fuck out so I can go to her.

She disappears through the double doors at the end of the gallery and several moments later, the last juror finally exits the room. I quickly try to walk around the low dividing wall but Joyce stops me again. Just as I’m about to throw her off of me, I see that Merle has approached us. She’s smirking smugly as she says, “I don’t think there will be a need to call her back to the stand. Her outburst did all the work for me. She’s obviously unbalanced.” She glances at me. “It’s probably Stockholm Syndrome.” She turns to Whit. “Thank you for convincing her to go up there, Whit. When this is over and I’ve secured another victory, let me know if you want to move into government. I have a spot for a deputy and I think you’d fill it nicely.”

I do my best to swallow the venom welling on my tongue as the lingering scent of cheap, musky perfume leaves a thick trail in her wake, but I can’t. Her gait is easy and self-assured as she exits the room and I follow behind her, not caring that the media is hot on our heels. “Merle!” She stops and turns to me, her smile stained with clumps of lipstick clinging to her yellowish teeth. I hold myself tall and feel Joyce wrap a tight hand around my bicep and tug at me, but I am unyielding.

I want to scream at her, tear her apart; I want to beat her into a greasy stain on the linoleum, but as I gaze at her empty eyes, I feel… I just feel… “I feel sorry for you, that the only way you can feel good about yourself is to bully innocent people. It must be a sad and lonely life you live, and I wanted you to know that… well, that I feel sorry for you. Even if you do manage to wrongfully convict me, I’ll retain my happiness. At least I know what it means to love and be loved. I wish… I wish you could know how that feels, too. Maybe then you wouldn’t be so bitter and pathetic.”

Everyone, even the chaotic bustle of the media is quiet around us as they document this exchange. And honestly, I’m shocked. I’m shocked at my words, not because I said them, but because I meant them. I shake my head sadly at her stunned face and turn to go to my wife. There is some serious damage control to do and I’ll not waste another breath on Merle Rothman.

The media gives me a wide birth as I quietly escape them, Joyce, Whit, Dana, and Shane are right behind me. We head into the small office on the other side of the hallway and I immediately see Tina crying piteously at the dark, oval table in the middle of the room. Alice and Carmen are trying to soothe her but have no clue what’s happened as I approach my wife, get to my knees in front of her, and tuck a lock of honey-hued hair behind her delicate ear.

Tina buries her head in my neck as she throws her arms around me and continues to cry. “I’m so sorry, Bette! I’m so sorry!”

I gather her tightly and shut my eyes. “Shh, it’s okay, T.”

She cries for long minutes while I coo and comfort her to the best of my ability. Finally her voice is more controlled as she says, “No, it’s not okay. I’ve just ruined everything. I lost it and now I’m going to lose you.” She leans back, gazing right into my eyes and baring just how broken she is in this moment. “Don’t you get it? I’ve ruined it. God, Bette, I’m so sorry! I’m just so sorry…”

I smile sadly at her. “Tina, no matter what happens, it’s not your fault. You were just honest. There’s no fault in that.”

She scoffs at me. “I trained with Whit for hours for this! I may as well have sentenced you to prison myself! I was a fucking fool to go up there, and I don’t even know how you can stand to look at me right now!”

I feel anger well within my guts. “Tina, out of everything you’ve said in the last hour, that is the first thing out of your mouth that’s pissed me off. I love you, and I’m not mad at you.”

She exhales heavily, taking my hands in her own and saying, “I-I’m sorry.”

I smile gently, pulling her forward to rest my forehead against hers. “No matter what happens, we’re in this together.”

She sighs, her voice quiet as she says, “If they convict you, I’ll never forgive myself.”

I kiss her forehead and have no clue what to say to her. If the tables were reversed, I’d feel the same way. I gaze out at nothing over the top of her head and watch as the pendulum swings in a little closer, biting a faint scratch into my skin. I think I have lost this battle, but really, all that means is that I have very limited time, time I don’t intend to waste. I say empty words that I don’t mean. “It’s going to be okay.”

She doesn’t respond and it’s for the best at this point. Whit steps forward. “Well, either way, you’re done on the stand, Tina. And Bette, you’re up next.” I look over at him and nod my head. Alice turns to him and asks, “Has Duffy called you?”

Whit sighs and shakes his head. “No. The last time I spoke to her was months ago. She called and told me to put herself and Kelly Wentworth on the witness list, but that was all. If she’s not here by the time Bette’s and the medical examiner’s testimonies are finished, that’s it. We’ll have closing arguments, and the trial is over.”

Alice pulls out her phone and hits the call button, waiting a long moment before angrily ending the call. She flops down next to Tina and everyone else does the same. I break away and take the seat next to my distraught wife who continues to cling to me, and a heavy, silent despair settles over the room. There really is nothing to do at this point. It all rides on what Duffy found, and she had nothing to say yesterday other than she’d be here today.

I close my eyes and Tina snuggles tighter into me and several long minutes pass this way before the door to the room opens and a bailiff steps in. I furrow my brows, we still have some time, or at least I thought we did. The bailiff steps aside and Duffy steps into the room smiling haughtily. “Sorry I’m late.” Everyone gazes up at her incredulously as she takes a seat at the far end of the table and rests her crossed feet high up on the surface. She throws a thick file on the table, leans back, and grins. “I have some news for you…”

 


The clerk tells me to sit and I lower my right hand, following the bailiff to the witness stand to settle in. It’s a different world up here. I could tell that people were watching me from the comfort of the defense desk, but they were behind me. Here, now… I can see everyone and I can study their faces as they gaze at me. The faces vary from compassion and comfort, to detached curiosity, and angry scorn as I scan the crowd. It’s one thing to know you’re being watched, it’s another to see it. My palms feel sweaty and the low scoop of my blouse threatens to somehow choke me. Whit approaches me and I wipe my hands on my thighs, crossing one knee over the other and adopting the most casual demeanor I can and hoping that it’s believable.

Whit’s eyes tell me to relax and that he’s on my side. I take a deep breath and he begins. “Ms. Porter-Kennard, did you know the deceased, Candace Jewel?”

“Yes.”

“How did you know her?”

“She and I were lovers for a brief time.”

“How brief?”

“We were together two weeks.”

Whit nods. “Who ended the relationship?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

I exhale a breath I didn’t even know I was holding. “I wasn’t in love with her and I was in a committed relationship.”

“You had an affair with Candace Jewel?”

“Yes. I slept with Candace once while I was still with my partner, Tina Kennard. The other times I was with Candace, Tina had left me.”

“Did you have any other affairs while with Tina?”

“No, absolutely not.”

“Why did Tina leave you?”

“I think the affair was the last straw, so to speak.”

Whit nods. “The night she left, what happened?”

“I’m not sure how she found out about the affair, but she did. We fought and it became physical. We went to bed and when I woke the next morning, she was gone.”

“During the fight, did you sexually assault her?”

“I –” I clear my tight throat. “I… God help me, I started to.” Tears gather on my lashes as I gaze up at Whit, his face the only one I have the nerve to look at in this moment. The others out in the crowd have already condemned me, but they’ll never know that their condemnation can never compare to my own. They’ll never hate what happened in those few months more than I do.

“But you stopped?”

I nod, closing my eyes for a moment and choking the pain of it back. “Yes, I finally realized what was happening and stopped. That was a big enough opening for her to flip us over. She had control at that moment.”

“Did you have sex?”

I furrow my brows. “I don’t know what to call it. Sex seems too superficial. It wasn’t sex, it wasn’t making love, and it wasn’t rape. It was… it was somewhere in-between. But we did do sexual things to one another.”

“Was it consensual?”

I nod. “Yes. She took what she wanted and I was willing to give it to her.”

Whit paces to the left. “And she left you that night?”

“Yes.”

“Why did you end the relationship with Candace after your partner had already left you?”

“Because it would be unfair to start something with her that I couldn’t finish. I couldn’t love her, and she deserved to be in a mutually gratifying relationship.”

Whit paces to the right. “How did you end the relationship?”

I steady myself and revisit that day. “I had spent the night with her. She woke me up and told me she loved me, that she was my future now that Tina had left. I considered it and realized that I could never love her, so I told her. She seemed… she wasn’t listening to me. I kept telling her it was over, and she heard me, but she’d just pretend that she hadn’t, or tell me that I was just upset and to give it time. I couldn’t seem to get through to her, so I got dressed and tried to leave. On my way out, she pushed me hard against the door and threatened me. I left and went straight to the police to file a restraining order.”

I watch as Whit walks up to Joyce who holds out a sheet of paper and moves to enter it as evidence. Merle can’t object so it’s successful and he puts it on the overhead projector, explaining its relevance. It is exactly what it says it is, a record of my desire to keep Candace as far away from me as possible. He doesn’t ask anything of me and puts it away, returning to continue our conversation. “Bette, how long was it before you heard from Candace again?”

I sigh. “She emailed me a couple times and called, but I didn’t respond and it stopped. I didn’t actually deal with her again until Tina and I reconciled.”

“So that was what, twelve months?”

“A little more than that, maybe fourteen months.”

“And outside of the emails and calls that you didn’t respond to, had you heard from her in those fourteen months?”

“No, I hadn’t.”

“In those fourteen months, did you have any other relationships?”

I lower my head. “Outside of one-night-stands, no.”

“Nadia Karella, Catherine Rothberg, and Katerina Ivanova are examples of these one-night-stands?”

“Nadia and Katerina are, but I have no recollection of Catherine.”

“Ms. Karella claimed that you promised her a job and to help with her dissertation in exchange for sex. Is that true?”

I breath in deeply. “Nadia Karella showed up after hours at the gallery, wearing little more than a trench coat and lingerie. She mentioned her dissertation, and when I tried to get her to leave, she flashed some skin. I allowed her in, but there was no substantial discussion. I-I had been drinking.”

“Did you promise her anything in return for sex?”

“No. We didn’t really say much to one another that night.”

Whit nods. “And you don’t remember Catherine Rothberg?”

“I’ve never met her in my life. I have no idea who she is or why she was here.”

“Did you know Katerina?”

“Yes. Most of what she said is true. I picked her up at the Starlight while on business in New York. I chose her because she reminded me of Tina. We went back to my hotel room and she spent the night. I woke early. She was still asleep so I decided to take a shower. When I came out, she was gone and so was all the cash in my wallet.”

Whit paces to the left. “At any time, did she proposition you for money?”

“No. We said all of three words to one another.”

“Would you call this pattern of behavior acceptable?”

I shake my head, breathing deeply. “No. I’d call it self-destructive. My life was a mess and I was miserable. There’s no excuse for the way I behaved, but I never hurt anyone. All of the women I was with were willing.” I look past Whit to Merle. “A lot of the time, they’d approach me.”

He nods. “And then you saw Tina again and started to reconcile?”

“Yes.”

“And that’s when Candace re-emerged?”

“Yes.”

“What did Candace do when she started contacting you again?”

“Well, someone took… personal pictures… of me and Tina on our back patio balcony and posted them to the OurChart website. I have no way to prove that it was Candace, unless you count the pictures her mother testified she saw Candace destroying.”

“What happened with the OurChart profile?”

“My friend who owns the site, Alice Pieszecki, locked the profile, informed us, and had one of her site admin try to locate an IP address so we could file a police report. It was determined that a proxy server was used to hide the originating IP, and without that, there was nothing anyone could do, not even the police. So she deleted the profile and we all moved on. I figured with my reputation, it could have been anyone. I had no idea that Candace was trying to come back into my life. It had been more than a year. I thought she had moved on.”

“What’s the first instance of contact that you can prove was Candace?

My guts twist as I remember that detestable photo on the billboard. “My same friend, Alice, showed me photos of a billboard that had been put up on Sunset Boulevard. It was a photo of me and Candace in bed, from that same morning that she woke me up. It was obvious that I was still asleep.”

Whit walks over to Joyce and moves to enter a new piece of evidence. Merle again, can’t contest it, and I watch as the photo is blown up on the projector. “Is this the photo you’re referring to, Bette?”

The sickening feeling in my stomach doubles and I force an answer out. “Yes.”

“Let the record show that the captions read, ‘Who’s the love of your life again, Bette?’ and ‘My name isn’t Tina,’ further substantiating the defendant’s claim that she ended her relationship with Candace Jewel.”

Merle stands. “Objection, your honor. This does not substantiate that the relationship had ended, only that the photo does exist and was placed on a billboard.”

Corky grins. “Sustained. The record will only reflect that the photo and billboard are substantiated, not that the relationship was ended. The jury is instructed to disregard the defense counselor’s last remark.”

Whit removes the photo from the projector and I let out a sigh of relief. It’s truly sickening to look at. I watch as Whit adds the photo the large file of court evidence, and it’s subtle, but for the first time he appears genuinely incensed, but it only lasts a moment. He approaches me again, the placid calm of professionalism snapping firmly in place as he continues. “Did that photo break you and Tina up?”

“No, thank God.”

“Did Candace try again?”

“Yes, unfortunately.”

Whit nods. “What was the next attempt?”

I rub my palms across my thighs and resettle myself. The sick feeling isn’t dissipating and I feel a slight sheen of sweat gathering at the nape of my neck. It’s an effort, but I force myself to appear calm. “She showed up at my bachelorette party, but I didn’t actually see her, at least I don’t remember it.”

“What do you remember?”

“We went to dinner and then went out to one of the better clubs in the city. I got very drunk. The next thing I remember is waking up in jail and being informed that a riot broke out while we were at the club. The policewoman who released us, Marybeth Duffy, told us that Candace had been there the night before, and was arrested as well, though she had been released two hours earlier.”

Whit moves to add another piece of uncontested evidence, again putting it up on the projector and explaining that it’s the police report for Candace’s arrest in New York. He adds it to the growing pile and returns to me. “Bette, what happened after you were released?”

I can’t help but grin. That was probably the craziest day of my life, and I’ve had some doozies. “Well, we were released, but Tina wasn’t with us. We spent the entire day trying to find her. She wasn’t at the hotel room and we couldn’t reach her on her cellphone. I was worried that Candace had done something worse than just try to interfere; I was terrified that she’d tried to hurt Tina… physically.”

“Did she hurt Tina physically?”

I frown. “Aside from fighting with her at the club, I don’t believe so. However, we found out that someone had cancelled our wedding venue and tried to cancel on our cake. Candace almost succeeded in cancelling the wedding altogether.”

Merle’s irritating voice sounds from behind Whit. “Objection. There is nothing to substantiate the claim that it was Candace that cancelled any wedding plans.”

Corky glares at me as he says, “Sustained.”

Whit tucks his hands in his pockets and I realize now why he does that so much. It’s a way for him to control his anger. “So someone cancelled your plans. Did you still proceed with the ceremony?”

I can’t help but smile. “Yes, by some miracle, Tina still wanted to get married. So we did.”

“What happened with Candace?”

I gulp. I don’t want to relate this, but I might as well be honest. It’s probable that I hang for her murder anyway at this point. “I had Carmen’s cousins in New York find Candace and bring her to me. We spoke and she wouldn’t hear reason. She was determined to make my and Tina’s life together hell until we separated. She just… she wouldn’t relent. So, I left her with Carmen’s cousins and the last I heard, they would make sure that she stayed in New York. That was the last time I heard from her or about her until the day she showed up at our home.”

The sickening feeling in my stomach spreads out and clenches at my heart. I know what Whit’s going to ask next, and he doesn’t disappoint. “What happened that day in your home?”

I release a shuddering breath and steel myself. “I um, I had just given birth to twins, Chance and Rory. Tina and I brought them home, and when we walked inside, we found Candace waiting for us… with a gun.” I drop my crossed leg and center my feet for balance. I feel dizzy and my heart is beating so fast I can feel it pulsing in my temples, the first signs of a headache thrumming to life as the walls of the harshly bright courtroom start to close in around me.

Whit seems to notice and goes to Joyce, adding the weapon into evidence. I’m thankful for the moment of respite and I’m able to catch my breath. When he returns to me, he hands me a bottle of water and I accept it gratefully. I open it and take careful sips with a shaking hand. “It’s okay, Bette. Take your time and continue when you’re ready.”

I nod, drinking some more of the cold water. It’s harsh against my churning stomach, and shocks my system into a state of focus. “Thank you.” I take a deep breath and start again. “I um… I tried to talk to Candace, but she just… she trained the gun on me and started screaming. I couldn’t really think, so I gave Chance to Tina and put myself in front of her, lifting my hands to try and show Candace that I wasn’t a threat, that she had the power, and I’d be compliant.”

I take another sip of water, clearing my throat before I continue. “I um, I tried to talk to her again but she fired the gun and I resigned myself to the fact that yet again, she wouldn’t be reasoned with. But this time, it was different. I had two screaming children and a wife, and she had a gun. Honestly, I didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have our purses. We had left them in the car, so we didn’t have our cellphones. Tina wasn’t able to phone for the police until I distracted Candace and she could get to the house phone.”

“So you were afraid for your life and that of your family’s?”

I nod. “Yes, absolutely. I was terrified in that moment.”

Whit paces to the right. “What happened next?”

My throat is tight, my voice hoarse, and the water isn’t helping so I just croak it out. “I grabbed for the gun, but she was strong, almost unnaturally so. I did manage to get her to drop it but she tackled me to the ground and started hitting me hard in the face. The gun was close and I tried to reach for it, but I was on the verge of blacking out and she had me pinned. She saw what I was reaching for and decided to go for the gun herself. She got the gun and I then things got worse…” Tears well in my eyes. “…it was worse because when I saw her, she was pointing the gun at my wife and children.”

The tears fall freely and I struggle not to fall apart completely. “I jumped in front of the gun, grabbing it and trying as hard as I could to wrench it from her hands and turn it away from me, and it just… it just went off. Candace stumbled back from me… I let go of the gun… and when I looked down… my shirt was soaking through with blood. There was… just, just so much of it.”

The room is quiet and silence rings with the growing pressure in my ears. “I turned to Tina. I-I thought I was dying, and I wanted to tell her that I love her, to tell my children that I love them, to say all these things, small and big things that I had neglected to say because somehow I never found the time or even just forgot because they were so insignificant. All of it mattered in that moment. There was just… so much that I wanted to say, but I couldn’t. She screamed and I-I just collapsed. I-I don’t remember anything after that… not until I woke up and saw that Candace was dead. That’s all I know.”

The tears are still falling, but I’ve reached that place of numbness that allows me to function around them. It’s a hollow feeling, but it’s better than blubbering and prolonging the inevitable. I just want to be done, and Merle hasn’t even had her go at me. I watch from somewhere far away as Whit adds another piece of evidence, the gun powder residue results. Both Candace and I tested positive, so that at least proves that she had handled the weapon when it was fired.

He adds another piece of evidence that shocks me. Both of our fingerprints are on the gun, but mine are nowhere on the handle at all, only Candace’s. Mine are only on the barrel. This is, at least, something in my defense. Like Whit said, all the evidence corroborates my story, but that affords little comfort at this moment. He shuts off the projector, and approaches me. “Bette, do you need a recess?”

I take another sip of water and shake my head. “No, thank you. Let’s just… I’d like to finish. I don’t want to prolong this.”

He nods and continues. “Bette, did you want to kill Candace at any point in the time that you knew her?”

“No… well…” I have no idea if I should say this. It’s the truth; I did want her dead in that moment. I look up to see that everyone is staring at me, waiting expectantly. I steel myself with a heavy sigh. “There was a moment, when I saw she was about to shoot my family. Something in me… snapped, and in that moment, I wanted to hurt her.” I can’t seem to catch my breath and I feel light headed with fury. “I just wanted her to move on and let me do the same. I just didn’t know how to make that happen and she refused to try.” My tears start to fall from some place angry. “I hate what happened. It was so senseless and frustrating. It had been years… why couldn’t she just move on?”

“Did you shoot Candace?”

I raise a hand and let it fall to my thigh in frustration. “I don’t even really know. I didn’t pull the trigger, but I did turn it away from myself and my family.”

Whit looks me in the eye and leans in, his voice serious. “Did you have any other choice in that moment?”

I nod, closing my eyes. “I had other options, but all of them meant someone I loved would get shot. It was a choice between them or her, and I chose her.”

“Thank you, I have no further questions.”

Merle stands, her expression one of the cat who ate the canary as she steps forward. I push all of the emotions down into the most hidden parts of me so that I can straighten my shoulders and face her with dignity. I will not be bullied, not by the likes of her. To give her the pleasure of breaking me personally would be too much. She might take my freedom, but she can’t have my spirit. “Ms. Porter-Kennard, you stated that your altercation with your partner wasn’t sex, or love-making, or rape, but something in-between?”

My voice is sharp as I answer her. “Yes.”

Merle paces to the left. “But you also state that you were holding her down, restraining her. Were you touching her sexually during this time?”

“Yes.”

“And she struggled and told you to stop?”

“Yes.”

“But you didn’t?”

“Eventually, yes, but not right away.”

“The definition of rape is the crime of forcing another person to submit to sex acts. Isn’t that what you’re saying happened?”

“No. I’m saying that I touched her in a way that showed sexual intent. No sex acts were carried out during that time.”

“What sort of touching took place?”

She must need some personal details to add to her masturbatory catalog. She’s little more than a glorified voyeur the way she seems to revel in these ‘pertinent details.’ “I touched her breast and I kissed her.”

She nods. “You didn’t touch her anywhere else?”

I gaze hard at her. “I almost did, but that’s what stopped me. I didn’t go all the way.”

“So you attempted to rape her, but stopped?”

“I wasn’t trying to rape her.”

“You were holding her down, kissing and touching her despite her pleas for you to stop. That is the very definition of attempted rape and yet you refuse to call it by that name. Why?”

“It’s more complicated than that.”

Merle nods. “I see. Do you believe that what happened that night is part of the reason your partner left you?”

“Yes.”

“So despite these ‘complications’, this pseudo attempted rape was enough for her to not feel safe and leave?”

“I’m not sure what all of her motivations for leaving were.”

Merle nods. “Would you say there were multiple reasons for her to want to leave?”

My heart constricts. “Yes.”

“How long were you and your partner together prior to your affair?”

“Seven years.”

“Was everything stable prior to your affair?”

“Not entirely. There were a lot of reasons we were having trouble, but the affair was just sort of the last straw, as I said before.

“Why was your relationship in trouble?”

I sigh. “I was under a lot of pressure as the sole breadwinner, we lost a child together, and we were personally attacked by right wing extremists.”

“Did you have a habit of abusing Tina that contributed to the failure of your relationship?”

The sick twisting in my guts burns with seething anger. “Of course not.”

“Not even emotionally?”

“No.”

Merle stops pacing and meets my eyes. “So Tina lied when she said that she felt secondary to your professional pursuits.”

“I neglected certain aspects of our life, but I never abused her.”

Merle smirks. “Did you believe that you were more important than your partner?”

“I didn’t mean to, but that time, my actions showed that I did.”

“So, if you felt that way about your partner of seven years, is it safe to say that you’d feel that way about your other relationships?”

“Yes.”

Merle paces to the left. “Did you feel that way about Candace?”

“Yes.”

“But you suddenly changed?”

“No, not sud–”

Merle’s voice is loud as it interrupts me. “Do you regret becoming involved with Candace?

“Yes.”

“Why do you regret it?”

I sigh. “Because I lost Tina.”

Merle nods. “Did you blame Candace for losing Tina?”

“No, I–”

“Did you resent her interruptions in your reconciliation with Tina?”

“Well, yes, but–”

“Would you have done anything to take the affair back, to have Tina back?”

“Well, yes, but not–”

“Did Candace make you angry?”

“Yes.”

“You stated that she told you she loved you and you rejected her.”

“Yes.”

“How did you reject her?”

“I told her that I wasn’t in love with her and that it was over.”

“Because you loved Tina?”

“Yes.”

“But Tina left you. Didn’t it feel good to know that someone loved you while you were upset over the loss of your partner?”

“Well, yes, but I couldn’t–”

“Didn’t Candace’s feelings mean anything to you?”

“Yes, but–”

“Did you use her to feel better?”

My heart is pounding so hard my vision is fuzzy. The questions are just too fast to consider the answers. “Yes, I mean, no, it wasn’t like–”

“You stated you didn’t even see Tina again for an entire year after she left. If you were turning to other women, why didn’t you turn to Candace?”

“Because she wasn’t stable.”

“Do you remember all of your encounters in that timeframe?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because… I was drinking a lot.”

Merle nods. “Is it possible you had seen Candace, spent time with her, and weren’t even aware of it?”

“What? No.”

“You stated that you can’t remember Ms. Rothberg. How can you be sure?”

“I was usually sober for the beginning of the encounters. I never saw Candace.”

“But it’s still possible?”

“Possibility doesn’t establish–”

Merle holds up her hand. “Do you remember your encounter with Candace at the club in New York?”

“No.”

“So you know that one encounter happened that you’re not aware of?”

I sigh angrily. “Yes.”

Merle paces to the right. “To be sure we understand, you’re stating that you emotionally and sexually abused your longtime partner until she left you, and then you became a self-absorbed alcoholic that had multiple one-night stands that you may not even remember, had at least one encounter with Candace that you don’t remember, resented Candace’s interference in your reconciliation with your partner, and were angry with her, yes or no?”

I glare at Merle. “You’re twisting things and you know it.”

“Answer the question, Ms. Porter-Kennard.”

“That’s not exactly how it was.”

“So you’re retracting your previous statements?”

“No. I’m just saying that there is more to it than that. I wasn’t perfect, but I never set out to hurt anyone.”

“Did you hurt people, Bette?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“So when Candace showed up at your commitment ceremony, you stated that you had her found and brought to you by the same people you had employed to torment her. What did you mean by that?”

“Just what I said, I had them find her and bring her to me.”

“Does that mean they brought her to you against her will?”

My stomach wants to rebel, but I somehow manage to only expel the words, “I assume so.”

“In what condition was she in when you saw her?”

Fuck. I am going to hang. “She was in the back of Carmen’s cousin’s van.”

“Was she restrained?”

“Yes.”

“Did you release her?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I wanted to talk to her.”

“Is that why you restrained your partner the night she confronted you about your affair?”

“No!” I didn’t mean to yell at Merle, but I’m on the verge of losing it and just accepting my fate. I don’t want to give up, but how the fuck am I supposed to handle this?

“So, you got what you wanted, despite Candace’s objection, and spoke with her?”

“Yes.”

“And what happened during that conversation?”

“I told her that if she’d leave us alone, we’d leave her alone.”

Merle nods. “Did you threaten her?”

I sigh, resigned. “Yes, I did.”

“Did you threaten to kill her?”

Did I? “I-I don’t know…”

“You remember everything else, can’t you remember that?”

“I remember telling her I’d do anything to protect my family.”

Merle leans forward. “And that’s what you say you did that evening she came to your home, when you shot her, isn’t it?”

“I DIDN’T SHOOT HER!”

There’s a long moment of silence as my voice echoes off the walls before Merle gazes hard at me. Whit stands. “Your honor, I’m requesting a recess for my client to gather herself.”

Corky looks to Whit and smugly says, “Denied.”

Merle continues. “So Candace shot herself?”

“It was an accident!”

“A convenient accident that fulfilled a thinly veiled threat from that night in the van?”

Tears stream from my eyes, the bile in my throat making me gag as I shake. “She threatened my family with a gun! I didn’t know what else to do! Sometimes I wish I’d have just let her shoot me!” Merle tries to interrupt me but I get louder. “I’ve been tormented by her death! If you think I enjoyed what happened, you’re wrong! I didn’t want her to even be there! She just wouldn’t let go! But I wasn’t going to let her hurt my family!”

“So you accidently shot her?”

“No! I stopped her from shooting my family, and I’m done paying for it!”

The courtroom is quiet and a surge of renewed determination hits my bloodstream. For the first time I feel completely free of my past. No matter the conviction, I don’t feel the need to justify myself any longer. I don’t feel the need to pay for it any longer. It’s gone, the guilt of it all is gone because no matter what happened, no one believes the truth anyway. I feel completely purged of it but it’s an empty victory.

I gaze at the twelve strangers of the jury looking at me just intently. I want them to see me open and unguarded. I want them to know that I am telling the truth, even if it falls on deaf ears. I don’t owe them anything anymore. I don’t owe my past anything anymore. I don’t owe Candace, I don’t owe all of the other women I spent a night with, and I sure as fuck don’t owe Rothman or Compton anything. The only person I owe is sitting distraught in a room across the hallway outside of the double doors at the far end of this room, and she only expects me to love her as she loves me. The rest of this charade and the puppets orchestrating it can go to hell. Orange jumpsuits and handcuffs be damned, I’m free.

Merle turns and strides away, her grating voice following her retreat. “No further questions, your honor.”


Continued in Chapter 6 – Lies.

61 thoughts on “Chapter 5 – Lesson

    • We need to work on this issue friend. Deep breaths. I don’t want you to pass out. 😉 You’re both awesome and thank you for the amazing encouragement. There will be 2 or 3 more installments before the end. I’m working on the last trial day now. I’m trying to post faster, but bear with me and thank you again. 😀

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      • wow you should be a lawyer. what a great update had to reread it cuz I always miss stuff cuz want to skip to the end to see what happens but I was good and didn’t cheat. I hope you make that bitch and the racist juydge both burn in hell. thanks for the update., ps is the next chapter done yet?

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        • lol I think you’re funny. No way would I be a good lawyer and you better not cheat! Though I know it happens… a lot. People are unabashed in saying, “I skipped ahead to the comments and now I’m scared to read.” All I can do is smh. I have started the next chapter and I hope to have it done quickly, but I make no promises.

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    • I’m so glad it felt real. That’s the goal though I know I’m not well versed in legal happenings. It’s a hard subject to really research. I hope to update quickly. I’m working on it. I know it will be faster than the last update. Thanks for being so patient.

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  1. I love the way you wrote the first page. It just engages the reader from the onset. I am going back to the story and will write more . On page 5, I found a reference to Candace but I think you meant to write, Carmen. Minor point.

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  2. DAMN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. Talk about explosive, that was outstanding. Sure hope you have the next chapter written and ready to post. Love a pissed off Tina, she is awesome when she gets her hackles up. I was hoping Tina would call her a dried-up leather lizard faced bitch that gets her jollies by charging people with crimes that won’t go to bed with her. And MR thinks that Tinas’ outburst hurt Bette when it actually served to hurt MR herself. Can hardly wait for Duffy’s testimony or the things that she has found to find its way to this trial because she will take down MR and hopefully Corky but, at least she will prove that MR has been doing some mighty bad things to try and get Bette convicted of murder. Then maybe, they can find a few people that MR has approached and get them to testify that she threatened women when they would not go to bed with her as she did to Bette. Thanks for posting.

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    • Oh and MR was bedgering the witness, and corky should have stopped her from going back over the same questioning about the supposed rape or attempted rape. A crucial point that was overlooked in questioning. Bettes’ fingerprints were only on the barrel of the gun where she turned it away from herself and Tina and the babies, not on the trigger, trigger guard and not on the butt of the gun or handle. That proves that candace committed suicide because she was the one to pull the trigger and that definitely was suicide. She knew waht she was doing and she knew that Bette would be charged for murder if she could pull it off. Hope she had been getting counselling for suicidal tendencies, that even her mother did not know about. And that is something that MR overlooked in her zest to charge Bette with murder. Hope Whit and Joyce can bring that up which brings up a motion to the court to dismiss all charges. Then charge MR with all kinds of things, namely perpetrating a hoax upon the court, false charges, all in the name of getting back at someone that turned her down. Thanks.

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      • You cracked my shit up talking about Merle. I know I suck at the legalese, but I’m glad you were able to enjoy it anyway. I’m working on the next part and should have it done in a couple days. I make no promises though.

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  3. Wow its Sunday and you posted my favourite story , no boss to look out for. Thankyoiu. So glad that Duffy is back jippie.. well from a very hot south africa thx for your story, thx for all the storys on this web site. Pps.

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  4. A very exciting scene! I can’t wait to see what Duffy had gathered for Bette and your are making just hanging there……my heart was pounding of this trial scene. You are really one good storyteller….please come back soon with a good turn out!

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  5. WOW! What an amazing story. I can feel Tina’s contempt and anguish. Bette’s strenght from the love of her family. Please continue to post this dynamic piece. Bravo!

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    • I’m glad the emotions felt real. I think they’re what I’m best at. The legal stuff is a challenge for me. I hope to post soon and really appreciate your kind words. It’s a good feeling, so thank you.

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  6. Wow that was intense! I know I wouldn’t have been able to handle questioning like they did. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. For a minute I thought Kelly had gotten ahold of Duffy and was keeping her away. Then I realized Kelly is busy with Val doing the Argentine tango (lol Dancing With the Stars joke). But seriously what does Duffy have & will it blow the case out of the water? Also if it goes to deliberation, will you write the jury discussion when they go over the evidence? The next chapter can be 200 pages if you like. I am sure there will be no complaints. Thanks for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awesome feedback. I can’t tell you what Duffy has or how it will effect the trial until the next installment, but as to the jury deliberation, I don’t think I’ll be writing that. I have torture in store for you all. 200 pages? lol probably not that long, but you still get an epilogue. 😀 Thanks so much for taking the time to speak up. I appreciate it more than you can know. 😀

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  7. Thank you for the incredible update!!! Loved the testimony and the fact that Bette finally forgives herself and is done paying for defending her family and Tina’s life. Can’t wait to watch the walls fall in on top of MR and Corky once the rest of the witnesses and Duffy are called to the stand. And where’s Helena? She may be the one that leaked what happened between Bette and Tina that night of Provocations and she might be able to shine light on the Catherine situation also. So looking forward to how this all will end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the awesome feedback! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’m glad you saw Bette’s growth. That’s the whole point of this trial, Bette’s complete restoration. I’m not giving anything away. 😀 Stay tuned and keep talking.

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  8. You do such an outstanding job writing these complex chapters that show thought, planning, structure and effort. You should thank your English teacher. He/She had great impact on you or you came out of the womb as a scribe. 😉 This opus could be retitled or subtitled in my opinion : “The Bette Porter Redemption or Transformation”

    Liked by 1 person

    • It seems to me that our BP would be described by the RL Bette aka Jennifer Beals’ Twitter acct. banner quote from Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.mostly earth…” What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think that the Whitman quote would only partially apply to our fave fic gal. While I think it does describe her for the most part, I think it would be a kick to her ego to reduce herself to earth, so something she would consider bleeding heart, spiritual nonsense. I find Bette to be practical, for all of her impracticalities. I think Bette, in the show, searched for spirituality, but found she couldn’t connect with it on the level she needed to in order to fully subscribe or find balance. Furthermore, I think she is the sort of person who looks inward, rather than outward, for answers and solutions. I think her quote would read, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes… and honestly, I have no desire to justify myself to you.” That’s just my two cents worth. Interesting question. I *heart* your open dialogue. Thanks for commenting.

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  9. good god… ur an amazing writer, viginawig! (i smile everytime i read ur s/n… for some reason) just finished ur two latest updates.. ahh i was saving it this wknd so i wouldn’t be interrupted.. haha thank you! gosh…please update soon. i know i wanna know where Duffy went or just disappaered!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I’m ignorant, what is an s/n? SS#, serial #, sex/and something that starts with ‘n’? lol I’ll answer about Duffy soon and hope to post Tuesday. No promises, but it’s a goal, a realistic one. I’m about one third of the way through writing it now. Thanks for reading and speaking up! I appreciate it!

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  10. Well, I am a little late in reading this one…it was a very busy weekend. Great update. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really can’t wait to seeMerle get hers. Merle and Corky are a disgrace to the legal system. Looking forward to your next post.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. These court scenes are great I love them……even though Merle is a jack ass …..I can’t wait to Duffy sticks what ever info they have to them and I’m glad Bette spoke her mind….and Tina’s part was my favorite I just loved her “Bigot” lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had fun writing Tina’s testimony and I’m glad you enjoyed them so much. Thanks for speaking up! Everyone – I appreciate you all so much! I didn’t get to finish it for tonight, but I’m close. I hope to post tomorrow. Thanks for being patient.

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    • You’ll be glad to know that the new chapter is maybe two hours away from being posted. The final rough draft is with JP now, and she’s working on it as we speak. Once I get it back, I’ll correct and post. I’m glad I turned off the ratings as well! 😀

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