“Rain, would you please stand?”
Rain stood, his chair scraping, the man beside him remained seated, attention and pen on a pad of lined paper in front of him. Two women and three men sat at the end of the room. It was a fairly handsome, clean-shaven twenty-something year old in a suit and tie who was doing the formal stuff, it seemed. The guy put more attention into his grooming and styling his longer blond hair than anyone else at the table had put into theirs, the woman from the Wardens possibly excepted.
“Today we’ll be addressing the case of Rain F, that’s R-A-I-N, full name redacted, case number seven-seven-one-one-two to pass our desks here at the Meadows-Corona office. Rain is a minor at seventeen years of age, and his middle and last names will be redacted and abbreviated, respectively.”
Fat lot of good it would do to trim his name when it was as unique as it was.
“Our intention today is not to sentence, but to assess if the case is worthy of the court’s attention. Spoiler, there are charges of manslaughter, so it probably is. Our secondary duty today is to decide what we’ll do with the person or people in question in the time between now and when the courts can see them. Have you sought or been provided with counsel, Rain?”
“I was provided with counsel, yes.”
There was a pause. The stenographer shifted her keyboard on her desk at the side of the table and it squeaked as it moved.
“To summarize, Rain was one of many to submit himself to the custody of the patrol block when the independent farming settlement outside of New Haven was raided. Both heroes and villains were on the scene, with members of the patrol block supporting the heroes.”
Rain hesitated, then bent down to whisper to the lawyer that sat beside him. The men and women at the table at the far end of the room waited until Rain straightened and raised his hand.
“Yes?” The response came from a man with a gruff voice, a nice suit and white facial hair and hair in need of a bit of a trim.
“Can I clarify something?”
“If we’re summarizing, I think it’s important to note that the compound was run by the Fallen. It was a cult.”
“Your statement will be noted, Rain,” was the gruff response.
There were two women at the table: one was from the Wardens. The woman that wasn’t was Hispanic, slightly overweight, and dressed a little more casually than I’d expected for a court proctor. She offered a more gentle elaboration, “This office has more than a hundred people from that settlement to process. To avoid bias and to be as fair as possible, we’re not going to make any early conclusions about what it was or wasn’t. As we address you and your situation, we’ll hold to this idea, but we won’t hold you to it. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am. I can say things as I saw it.”
“Exactly,” she said.
The second of the men went on with the formalities. “On that note, to continue the summary, Rain is one of many that this office will be sorting through in the coming days and weeks. For easier processing, most are being addressed as groups, where the circumstances are similar. Rain is a unique case.”
Hard to deny.
“Rain is unique because, point one, he has turned himself in to the authorities with respect to a case of multiple manslaughters. He expressed the intention of pleading guilty. Some of those affected are here at the office today, and will provide testimony.”
As Rain looked over his shoulder to glance at the people in the room, I followed his gaze. There were others seated, and any number of them could have been people from the mall.
“Point two, Rain admitted to the authorities that he killed a costumed villain with his own hands, known to this office as a Jonathan Seiter, in what Rain states was self defense.”
Snag. How that particular thing was addressed would impact Ashley quite a bit. Ashley wasn’t conveying much. She sat with Kenzie.
“Point three, Rain admitted to the authorities that he committed, quote, more crimes than he could count, with crimes including theft, grand theft, auto theft, vandalism, and arson. Much of this occurred before the end of the last calendar era, at what the individual claims was the behest of a villainous group.”
He’d done stuff with the Fallen between the time he was a child and the incident at the mall.
“Point four, Rain provided information and assistance during the attack on the farming settlement outside New Haven, and this information and assistance was instrumental in mitigating damage and saving lives.”
That was our contribution, in part. I’d spent the better part of a day trying to figure out how to word my letter to the court proctors. It had been a distraction from the surgery I’d had looming.
“Point five, not unique to Rain himself, but necessary to state for the record, is the fact that he and others were under varying degrees of… how did you put it, Kimberly? We didn’t write it down in the notes.”
“Soft mental compulsion,” the woman from the Wardens said. “Those affected weren’t controlled like a puppet, but they were under threat, much as if there was a gun to their heads or the heads of a loved one.”
“Thank you. The Wardens, corroborating witnesses and others have given us their input on this. It’s a thing, this compulsion, but it’s not a thing we can prove was in place.”
Rain raised his hand again.
“Rain?” the woman with the frumpier clothes asked.
“I don’t want her power to be a mitigating factor. I do want to make sure that woman goes to jail and stays there for a long time, that’s the only reason I brought it up.”
“Have a seat, Rain,” the woman said. “Let’s have a conversation.”
“A conversation?” he asked. He took his seat.
“I do think we want to talk about that, but let me start off by saying what our goal is here. When a case crosses our desk, it’s our job to decide if it’s worth the time of a proper court. If we say yes or no, that doesn’t mean it’s a for-sure yes or no.”
“My personal view is to imagine four cases. If I put yours with them, is yours going to be the standout case? Manslaughter, murder, arson, and grand theft are serious things. I think yours might stand out.”
“You’re turning yourself in. I imagine your lawyer advised you that if you kept to yourself, you might fly under the radar. It’s a lot easier to recommend your case to the courts for processing if it’s a plea.”
“He did tell me that.”
“Why turn yourself in?” she asked.
“Because-” Rain started. “Before that thing at the mall happened, I was a kid, it felt like a long, unpleasant dream. I was raised with these people, they chose what I read and what I watched for most of my life, and I was raised in compounds like the one that was attacked last week, or in small towns, or cabins. Nobody really questioned, nobody said any different. But then the mall happened and for the first time I had to make a choice.”
“Elaborate,” the man with the nice hair said.
“I was told to guard the door of the mall. It was left so I could open it if I had to. I knew… I knew it was a trap. I was threatened, told not to open it no matter what, but I realized that if I didn’t open it then I’d be in trouble too. I still didn’t open it, even when I realized people were hurt and scared. That’s not okay, and I deserve to be punished.”
“Were you compelled?” Kimberly asked.
“Um. By Mama Mathers, you mean?”
“The soft compulsion,” she said. “Mama Mathers, yes.”
“She was there in the back of my head. You see visions of her if you think about her, and I thought about her and what she’d do. She was there, then.”
“She can make people lose their minds if they don’t do what she wants,” Kimberly said.
Someone in the back stood up.
“Sit,” the gruff man said, annoyed.
“You can’t go easy on him,” a man said.
“Sit. We will ask you to speak when your turn comes. If you do not take your seat and remain silent, you will be removed.”
There was a pause as people got settled. There was murmuring, and a bald man at the end of the court proctor’s table banged his cup against the table a few times, in lieu of a gavel.
When all had nearly settled, Rain said, “I don’t want you to go easy on me.”
“We want a full understanding of the situation,” Kimberly said. “She could have made you lose your mind, yes?”
“Not as much as some did back at the attack on the camp. I hadn’t talked to her recently, so it wouldn’t have been as strong.”
“Still. She could have.”
“Yes,” Rain said. “But people died and were hurt. I see and hear them every night in my dreams. I should have made the call and opened that door.”
“Do you think turning yourself in will make that better?” the frumpy woman asked. “Seeing them in your dreams?”
“No,” Rain said. “I don’t see how that matters.”
In the back, Dr. Darnall stood and left the room.
I set down on the rooftop as Dr. Darnall erected a blue patio umbrella.
“That was quick,” he remarked. “I thought you would take a few minutes to spot it.”
“There aren’t that many rooftops that are that easy to lounge on,” I said. “A lot of them are in pretty scary shape, actually. Flying over, I see cracks and water that’s been there long enough to have algae or something form.”
“That would explain the mosquito-like flies we’ve been getting,” he said. “I’m glad to have you here. Is Victoria okay, or do you prefer a cape name?”
“Victoria,” I said.
“Victoria,” he said. He reached over for a handshake, and I shook his hand. It was cool- probably from the recent work with the umbrella. “I’m Dr. Darnall. You can call me doctor, Wayne, or whatever you prefer.”
It was hard to imagine calling him Wayne and taking him seriously. “Doctor,” I said.
“Very well,” he replied.
He worked with the umbrella for a bit, and I offered my assistance with my one good hand, pulling the fabric of the patio umbrella around one of the prongs.
We each settled into chairs. The metal was cold- even though it was only September, the weather was turning. There was a gravity to the seasonal change that I couldn’t remember ever experiencing back home on Bet.
“Did your friends have their turns in front of the tribunal?”
“No. Rain had his. Ashley will have hers soon. I’m helping her pack up her apartment tomorrow.”
“With one arm?”
“It’s for emotional support, as much as anything.”
“Drink?” he asked. He reached down and pulled a small cooler out from beneath his chair.
“Please,” I said. “Whatever you have would be great.”
He had an assortment of sodas, water, lemonade and iced tea. I took the iced tea, set it down, and got the papers out of my bag.
“The stuff you asked me to fill out.”
He took it, leaning back in his seat. It was disconcerting to deal with the silence, when I was used to one person guiding and leading conversation, steering things and making the most out of the hour and a half or however much time was set aside.
That had been back at the hospital, though, and maybe the need to fill the silence had been because I’d been something less human.
He read through the paperwork, and put it down on the table with the last page on top.
My ‘homework’. I’d submitted the critical information back when I’d made my first appointment, which I’d had to cancel for surgery. I’d walked away with some information on therapy and what to expect, and this. Questions.
The page he’d left on top had been the unusual exercise in the batch. The bottom half of the page had been left empty, but for a circle with a thick bold line. The instruction had been to draw, not write, how I was feeling, and to leave the paper and pen in arm’s reach for a while before and after using the space.
I’d settled on a face, drawing it like I might a sighing emoji, eyebrows slightly turned up in worry. I wasn’t much of an artist.
In letting it sit, though, I’d drawn around the perimeter of the face, lines circling the bold circle that framed the face.
I felt self-conscious about it. Now it sat on the table, between the two of us, the page facing nobody in particular.
“Anything you want to get off your chest before we start?” he asked. “Some people come to a session with something in mind.”
“Uh,” I said. I leaned back, holding my iced tea. “No, no I guess not. This feels pretty different from what I’ve experienced in the past.”
“The therapy you got at the hospital?”
“And what I saw of the session with the group,” I said.
With Jessica. The rooftop seat gave me a view of the broken skyline, and the place where Jessica might have died. It made me uneasy. Powers had taken my body from me, they’d briefly taken my heart, and they’d almost taken my mind. They’d taken my forcefield and strength and given it over to something else.
Now they’d taken the sky, and with it, they’d taken the one person that I’d known in my life who could make things better without betraying me.
Maybe that was unfair to Crystal and Gilpatrick, to give them the unfair label of people who had helped me but who didn’t help, in that way that I couldn’t put words to.
“Thinking of Jessica?” he asked.
“Yeah. I don’t want to dwell on it too much,” I said. I put my iced tea down. “I’m here for therapy.”
“The therapy I provide is going to be different because I’m new to working with capes. My background is in cognitive-behavioral therapy, and in the past I worked with police officers, paramedics, firemen, doctors, and other rescue personnel.”
“It seems pretty relevant,” I said.
“I think so,” he said. “But powers are complicated and you might have to talk me through some things you take for granted. If you can be patient with me, I’d like to work with you on identifying problems and goals, then addressing your patterns of thought and action to change your emotional landscape, fix the problems, and reach the goals.”
“You might have a bit of an uphill battle, doctor.”
“Which part?” he asked.
“Thought, action, emotional landscape, problems and goals. All of the fucking above.”
“Do you want to try explaining it?” he asked. “A big part of what we would be doing is setting goals. A starting point in figuring out what to address or explaining yourself in totality could be starting off with where you’re coming from, where you are currently, and where you’re going.”
“I-” I started. It was hard to put things into words. “Currently I’m bothered. Because I feel like ambushing me at the courthouse, having me draw the image instead of writing out my feelings, leaving that image out where I can see it, and having this meeting on the rooftop, it’s… confrontational.”
“Confrontational,” he said. His eyebrows went up briefly. “Can you elaborate?”
“Pushing me, or testing my boundaries, trying to catch me off balance. It feels like little plays I’ve had to deal with for a long time. I don’t know if you’re doing it intentionally because you want to get past my guard or if it’s unintentional and you’re doing it because you’re insecure. Because I have experience dealing with people who do that.”
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s get back to that in a minute.”
“Fine. Where am I from? I was raised by capes to be a cape, and after finally getting powers I lived a lifetime in three years. I was reborn, I rushed through my education, I made mistakes, I started working, I found someone who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, I… started losing people. I went to the funerals. I gave my dad showers, because he needed the care. Then it was my turn, except… worse than death. I ended up in a hospital and a care center, broken and kind of forgotten or ignored. I can’t leave that hospital room or that feeling.”
“I’ve heard the general story. We will touch on that. I think I can help you if you want that help. I’ve dealt with a lot of people who had rooms or scenes they couldn’t put behind them.”
I shrugged. “I don’t think it’s that easy. It was two years that I was like that. Every moment was a scene unto itself.”
“Understood. Just do me a favor and don’t dismiss the idea of it being fixable right away.”
“Okay,” I said.
“That’s where you’re coming from, then. A lifetime of crisis is hard enough to deal with, and you didn’t have the tools to deal with it.”
“I had some,” I said, annoyed. Annoyed because he wasn’t jumping to the right conclusion and because he wasn’t Jessica. There couldn’t be a Jessica because Jessica was gone. “I was raised to be a heroine. I didn’t do it all right, I cringe at who I used to be, and how I used to hurt people, but I was given more tools than most people my age, I think.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Yeah. I’m getting sidetracked. Where am I now? I’m trying to make sure that a whole lot of people, some of Jessica’s old patients foremost among them, don’t end up like I did, because there’s nothing I’m willing to do to undo that or unlive those years, but I can at least save other people from it.”
I stabbed the table a few times with my finger to punctuate the last few words.
“You feel what you had to deal with with could have been averted, and you want to avert it for others.”
“One thousand percent,” I said, with emotion. “One thousand fucking percent, it could have been averted.”
“By an outsider? Or by someone close to the situation?”
“Both. By- by any of us paying more attention or communicating more, or paying more attention to powers and how powers work, or being a little bit more of an actual family. It could have been better if I’d fought better or harder and torn through some mutant dogs and gotten home sooner, if I’d dodged that one acid spittle or follow-up hit and avoided being taken out of commission, or if one less person had died maybe those of us who were grieving might have been clearer headed and we could have steered things away.”
He gave me a sympathetic look. When he answered me, I couldn’t hear him that well in the physical feeling of how agitated I was and how uncomfortable I was in my own skin. I hadn’t nosedived into panic or feeling off, but I’d walked here and I’d gotten out of breath walking. Now I couldn’t get back into breathing regularly.
I wasn’t making sense, because he didn’t have the context for all of that.
I didn’t want to make sense.
I wanted to put him off balance, to shake him and get more of a sign than a sorry look and kind, quiet assurance that he could put me on the right track.
I wanted to gut him. Not to impale him or tear his stomach out, but to make him feel a fraction of what I felt, emotionally.
“Breathe,” he said.
“I’ve become pretty-” I started. I stumbled on the word.
“Pretty accustomed to the breathing, thank you very much.”
“Okay,” he said. “Good. Come back to here. This rooftop. Cool weather, your drink. Have a taste.”
“I’m not not here,” I said. “Okay?”
“Got it,” he said. “Do you want to take a minute to catch your breath? What works for you?”
“I don’t-” I said. I stopped. “I’m fine.”
“Do you want to carry on with that thread of conversation, or would you like to change topics?”
“I don’t see the point in carrying on, I guess,” I said. “I don’t want to sound like I’m resistant to therapy or anything, but I’m kind of frustrated.”
“Okay,” he said. “You don’t see the point- are you frustrated because you think this is insurmountable? Or is it because you don’t feel heard?”
“Both,” I said. “No. Actually, neither.”
He nodded slowly. “Neither, then.”
“I think there are skills I can learn and ways I can deal better. I think this is doable. But I think the way we’re going about it is wrong. Because you hear a good bit of what I’m saying, not all, and you don’t understand.”
“Fair,” he said. “I can’t know your experience. I do think I can come to understand it.”
“That feels like a canned answer,” I said. “Like the kind of thing someone says when they can’t come up with a good response.”
“Victoria,” he said. “I am on your side here.”
“I know,” I said. “Absolutely.”
“Okay?” he asked. “Yes, maybe the response was a little trite, but I don’t think it’s wrong. I can’t know where you’re coming from. From what you describe, that could be a good thing. From what you describe and from what I was told, the experience was legitimately horrifying. Sometimes when you’re in a bad place you need someone who isn’t in that place to lead the way out.”
I drew in a breath. He held up a hand.
“Canned, I know. Bear with me, please.”
“Bearing,” I said.
“If it reassures you, I have a lot of experience helping people through trauma. I’ve spent twelve years with people, with heroes, who were traumatized on and off the job. I’ve dealt with people who were scarred head to toe, and their experiences after were not too dissimilar to what you most likely experienced in that hospital room. Others have been through what you’ve been through and they found their way through it. I have confidence that I can help you do the same.”
I drew in a deep breath.
“You are not alone,” he said.
“You spent a lot of time with heroes, you say, but you don’t mean capes when you say hero. You’re new to helping caped heroes, you said.”
“Yes,” he responded. “I get it. You came from a background that celebrates capes, that puts a lot of importance on costumed heroics. You value that and it matters that I admitted I’m not that experienced.”
“I celebrated capes, yeah, but you know my aura is all about awe and fear, right? I put my awe of capes behind me a good while ago,” I said. “So that background? It’s not that I’m elitist. It’s that I’m worried. I’m worried you don’t understand because the normal rules do not apply. Every cape you deal with is alone and unique. They have their own rules and neuroses. They have their unique, personal powers and challenges.”
“Everyone’s unique, Victoria. I don’t think that’s exclusive to capes. We can look to common ground.”
I shook my head. I was getting annoyed again. I couldn’t put words to what I was trying to encapsulate for him. Something I felt Jessica Yamada got. The consequences. “Capes magnify, okay? They exaggerate. The personalities, the issues, the disorders. Everything gets bigger or more distorted. It’s why, if you really truly understood what I’m trying to convey, you’d hear what I said back at the courthouse, and you’d find those kids someone. Because Jessica was worried and Jessica got it. If you understood, you wouldn’t be here with me, you’d be running to get these kids some attention.”
“There aren’t resources. I’m sorry.”
I drew in a breath, then huffed it out, because I couldn’t quite get enough oxygen. I was too agitated to be still, even to the point of keeping my lungs in a state of equilibrium.
I hadn’t responded, so he carried on. “If you were to work with me, we’d work on outlining goals. What I would work on you with would be fundamentals. Fundamentals work because they apply whether you’re a five year old, a police officer, a surgeon, or a person with powers. You are human. Most of the rules still apply.”
Hosting this first meeting on a rooftop was a mistake, because I felt the very real impulse to just stand from my chair, put down my iced tea, and fly away.
I felt other impulses too. To break the table, to try to drive some point home by scaring him through a display of power.
The Warrior Monk wouldn’t have approved of that, though.
My voice was small. “I don’t know if I’m human.”
“I beg your pardon? Is this a case of arguing the idea of ‘parahuman’?”
“No,” I said. My voice sounded very automatic, as I found the words. “When my- when the incident happened. I was mutated, changed into a tangle of limbs, heads, torsos, pelvises and connecting tissue. I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t eat without assistance. I could barely move under my own power.”
“That was outlined for me,” he said. “I can’t even imagine.”
“I had my emotions twisted around. To make me fall in love with the person who did that to me, and to experience unending heartbreak over the fact that she couldn’t be with me and I couldn’t be with her. My- she was family, I always saw her as family. I didn’t exactly leave that behind or stop seeing her that way, so it felt wrong, twisted, even as I felt it in full.”
“You would argue, then, that this is beyond the usual human experience?”
“I don’t think I’m human, doctor, because when Gold Morning happened, she put me back together. She fixed the feelings and she stripped away the excess flesh. She made me the way I had been on the day I’d been when I was turned into a monster. People came and wrapped blankets around me, and I was numb from shock and trying to remember how to move again when she talked to me.”
“She talked to you?”
“She rambled. She was never good in a crisis and me being fixed was a crisis, I guess. She told me, um-”
I scratched at my arm, then stopped myself.
“There’s no rush,” Doctor Wayne said.
I met his eyes. “She told me that when she made that body, larger than mine, the sprawling, broken, wretched thing, raw materials were harvested from stray cats, dogs, and rodents. Birds, bugs, other things. People’s household pets that were left behind after Leviathan attacked. She said, um, she said-”
I felt like I’d get caught up in a loop of ‘ums’ if I let myself continue talking. I stopped to drink some of the iced tea I’d barely touched.
“Um,” I said, defeating the point of the pause. “Just, you know, I should be careful about giving or getting transplants. There’s a chance it wouldn’t be compatible with humans. Understand?”
He didn’t respond. Good.
“Because she didn’t want to get carried away, she wanted to get me as close to normal as she could get me and stop herself there. Then she said- she’d ask if I wanted more fixes, and I couldn’t talk so I shook my head no. She asked if I wanted my memories of things erased and I couldn’t let myself have that because there’s nobody left in the world I trust enough to protect me from her, except me. So I told her no, and I told her never to show her face in front of me again. So I’m- I’m-”
I blinked away tears.
“I am very alone, doctor,” I said. “My maybe-not-one-hundred-percent-human self is going to fight like hell to save people from… from that-”
I indicated the horizon. The portals speared and lurched up into the sky, frozen where they were, the sky on the far side a different shade.
“-And from other horrors. I’m not going to win every fight. I would really appreciate some help to keep me in the fight. Because we have a brief moment of calm, and history suggests the periods of calm before the crises get shorter and shorter.”
Again, there wasn’t an immediate response. He fixed his gaze on the broken horizon because it meant he didn’t have to make eye contact with me.
I’d gutted him. It was wholly satisfying and far from being a good feeling. He’d felt something, been shaken, he was forced to reassess his perspective, and now maybe there was a chance he’d understand.
These things weren’t easy. They required a little baring of the naked and vulnerable soul. Revealing who and what we were.
“Enough, thank you. Please.”
The formalities of a courtroom were looking pretty darn sweet, now that things had reached this point. Rain’s accusers were noisy, and the officers in the room were fighting an uphill battle to keep the peace.
They’d been given a chance to speak and make their arguments, and every one was as angry and vicious as the last.
I felt uncomfortable. I was only on the periphery of it. I couldn’t imagine what Rain felt, being the focus.
“That should be enough. Thank you. Your feelings have been made abundantly clear, and I and the other court proctors, I’m sure, agree that the pain and loss are real, profound, and very much present.”
There were more noises from that part of the room.
“May I speak?” someone asked.
“If you have something to add, that hasn’t already been stated.”
“I do, sir.”
It was a young girl, twelve or so. She had thick, straight dark hair with severe bangs and an ankle-length dress.
“Hi, Rain,” she said. Her voice was steady, but she held a paper or a letter, and it fluttered in her hands.
“Hi,” Rain said, his voice faint.
“My name is Staci. I was at the mall, the day the Fallen attacked it, but I was not inside when the attack happened. I really do not hope that people get upset because they think I have no place to speak. Two of my friends died that day and I think because I saw the aftermath and how the school and the families dealt with it, my perspective is valid.”
Her speaking style was stilted, as she read from the page.
“Two people died and three families were left devastated. Many of their friends were anguished to hear about what happened. School has not felt the same.”
“I’m so sorry,” Rain said.
The girl nodded, an intense motion that betrayed nervousness.
“I can not imagine what it was like to come from where you did. I wrote another letter that I planned to read here or give to you and I changed my mind while I sat here listening. I wrote this down over the last hour. I don’t think you should blame yourself. You were a teenager and teenagers don’t always make the best decisions. I have a big sister, so I know.”
It was an attempt at a joke, as she turned to her sister in the seat beside her. Nobody really laughed, though, and the silent disapproval of the people sitting around her seemed to drive things home, because her nervousness amplified tenfold. Her mom reached over to rub at her arm and shoulder.
“I don’t speak for everyone. I definitely don’t. But I’ve hurt and cried a lot over the past year and I’m glad you came here and you did this. Thank you. I don’t expect others to but I forgive you.”
There were noises of discontent. People couldn’t shout down a child, but they could make it clear they didn’t agree.
“Thank you,” the court proctor said.
“Everly?” Rain asked. “That was your friend? With the red hair?”
“Yes. And Sarah was the other. How do you know that?”
“I see and hear them every night, in my dreams,” he said. “Sarah had the blonde hair then.”
“I’ve memorized the faces,” Rain said. “I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t blame you for them dying,” Staci said. “The people who set the fires were the ones to blame.”
“I didn’t save them.”
“You were scared.”
Rain had wet eyes. “I was so stupid.”
“You didn’t have a chance to know better.”
The noises from Rain’s detractors grew louder. Things dissolved from there, with the officers trying to keep order. Staci ducked out, her parents providing a bit of a shield. They left through the door.
The man with the nice hair announced, “The court would like to take a brief recess. We’ll give Staci and her family a minute, and then we’ll leave. There are refreshments out in the hall. Rain’s acquaintances can stay, as they wanted to provide their testimony regarding his character in private, without giving up identifying details.”
The room emptied. The court personnel, minus some guards that went to the hall, Rain, Rain’s lawyer, and our group remained.
“This is hard,” the gruff man with the white, messy hair and beard said. “We’re short on heroes.”
“I know,” Rain said. He wiped at his eyes. “I’m not much of a hero. But I’ll be one in the future, given a chance.”
“But you’ve expressed a desire to go to prison,” the gruff man said.
“This kind of thing can’t be something where nothing happens,” Rain said. Sveta’s sentiment.
“Prison isn’t there solely for your absolution, Rain,” the frumpy woman said.
“You reported one attempt on your life. Do you think you’ll be safer if you’re in custody?”
“No,” Rain said. “Probably the opposite.”
“We’ll do what we can. Your friends. We will have some questions for the record, but to start us off, do we have any arguments against a stay in the juvenile prison while we wait for the courts to process the young man?”
“Yes,” Kenzie said. Heads turned her way. “No. I just think it isn’t right.”
“These things rarely are,” Kimberly, the woman from the Wardens said. “Then to get this out of the way, we note no strong arguments against a stay in our custody. The crimes are severe enough to warrant one. You have a few months of wait before the courts will even begin to address your case, but it should be quick once you reach that point. Time served will count against any sentence. There will be no remuneration if no sentence is doled out.”
“I understand,” Rain said.
“Then when the recess concludes, we’ll note the verdict and seal the paperwork. Until then, if my colleagues don’t mind, I’d like to get as much information as possible from you and your group, for the court record and the Wardens.”
“I will help however I can,” Rain said.
“Then, to go back to the timing of when you provided information about the Mathers, why the time provided?”
“I was sedated for a surgery, swapping my eyes and ears out. I started to provide information as soon as I was able. Before then, Mama Mathers was in effect.”
“Tell us about the timing of your interactions with her. We would welcome input from the rest of the group as well.”
Rain continued, and I added my own comment.
In the moment, though, I was mostly just taking in how Rain seemed to be. He sat straighter, and he spoke with more conviction. Something in him that had been bound up was free. In the face of his sentence and an interrogation from a staff member of the Wardens, Rain looked at ease for the first time I’d ever seen him. He still wasn’t one to smile, but I imagined he could come close.
If only we could all have a Staci.