Landmark Case

It was 9:05PM and Greg was beginning to get nervous. He tapped his finger to the side of his moist water glass and watched the door, caught between inhale and exhale, waiting to breathe again. It’s only five minutes, he told himself. Nothing to worry about, probably traffic. And then, he wondered what sort of traffic there was at 9:00 at night. Or at 9:05, to be precise. And precision mattered to Greg, especially when waiting on a friend who, twenty-four hours earlier, had been missing. He watched his phone as the digital clock changed to 9:06. Greg’s eyes flew to the ceiling and down again. They were the longest six minutes of his life.

And then, the door opened, and Greg let out the breath he had been holding as he saw Nick hurry through, tipping his hat at the waitress as he slid into Greg’s booth.

Greg glared at him. “Where’ve you been?”

Nick frowned, as if unaware of what Greg was so anxious about. “What are you talking about?” he checked his watch. “Were we supposed to meet earlier?”

“You’re six minutes late,” Greg said. “Six minutes. I never had to wait six minutes for anything, not even in the seventh grade in the closet with Sheila Monroy.”

Nick cocked an eyebrow. “Was she that easy?”

“No,” Greg returned. “After three minutes of trying to avoid kissing her, I panicked and burst out of that place like a bat out of hell. But that’s not the point.”

Nick sighed, his expression sobering. He ran a hand through his hair and managed a shrug. “Greg… I’m sorry. I guess my watch is a little slow, all right? I thought I left on time. I didn’t mean to freak you out.”

Greg was clearly still agitated. He wriggled in his seat, tensing his muscles and dragging his hands across his face. And then, he asked, “How’d you sleep?”

Nick blinked, then tossed his head to the side, casually. “After a shot of Jack and some of my mom’s pie, pretty well, actually.”

“I slept like I did last night,” said Greg. “I kept… waking up and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember why. I felt like I was forgetting something important, or that there was something I had to do, something I should have done, but didn’t…”

Nick was quiet. He stared at the table for a moment. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Greg.”

“Didn’t I?” Greg burst out. “That’s what’s been bugging me, Nick, because I played this scenario out in my head, about how we’d find you, and best and worst it was always, always me that found you, and… I never considered this. I never considered that when I found you, you… wouldn’t want to be found.”

“Greg…” Nick began, sounding exasperated. “It wasn’t that I didn’t want—”

“I know,” Greg interrupted. “I know, it’s just… God, Nick, my whole life, everyone has been trying to protect me from something. If it wasn’t my mother, then it was my teachers, even you guys.” Nick opened his mouth to speak, but Greg cut him off. “No, it’s true, I’ve seen the way you and Sara watch me out in the field, ever at the ready, in case something goes wrong. The way Warrick stands between me and the violent suspects. The way Catherine tilts her head and asks if I’m OK, and… I mean, I get it, I do. I’m the rookie CSI, even after two years, and you still feel like I need… supervision, or something.”

“Not supervision,” Nick broke in. “Greg, we know you’re a good CSI, that’s not why we—”

“I know,” Greg interrupted. “You do it because you don’t want to see me get hurt. You want to… I don’t know, protect me, save me, even, from the big bad world, but Nick, these last few days? I wasn’t the one who needed protecting, I wasn’t the one who needed saving, you were. And last year, it was the same thing, and I remember… I remember that I just panicked. I froze up. I could barely say or do anything other than what I was told to do. I found… next to nothing to help find you, no evidence, I was just there, and when Warrick told me to dig, I dug, when Sara told me to look in one corner, I looked, but without them… Without them, Nick, I wouldn’t have known what to do.” Greg’s monologue slowed to a stop. He sighed and rubbed his eyes with his hands. “I just got in the way. If I hadn’t been there, they would have found you faster.”

“Greg, shut up,” Nick finally said.

Greg looked up. “You’re the one who wanted to talk about this!”

“I know,” Nick said. “But I didn’t realize it would involve you just ragging on yourself the whole time!”

“Well, I’m not finished,” Greg said, defiantly. “Because that was last year. This year was supposed to be different. This year, I was gonna step up, and save your ass, no matter what. And then I get there, and I see you, and… You don’t need rescuing. You didn’t need me. And!” Greg added, noticing Nick rolling his eyes. “And! That’s exactly my point. That’s what bugged me. I mean, I was glad you were OK, but a part of me, a part of me was a little disappointed that you weren’t not OK. And that is what’s wrong with me. I am the most conceited person on the planet!” He leaned back in his seat and gestured at Nick with both hands. “OK, there. I’ve said it. Have at it.”

Nick placed his palms together, his thumbs beneath his chin, his fingers to his nose. “I don’t really know what you want me to say…”

Greg gave a half-hearted shrug. “Anything, really. Say anything. Call me stupid, tell me I’m not conceited, tell me that my reaction is totally normal and understandable…”

Nick frowned. “I don’t think you’re… entirely conceited, Greg.”

“Oh, great, not entirely,” Greg mumbled, folding his arms and pouting.

“But…” Nick went on, his brow still furrowed. “Greg, this isn’t about you.”

Greg sighed, as if he expected that. “I know. I know, it’s about you. Should be about you, anyway, but here I am, somehow making it about me. Right? I know, it’s about you.”

“No, it… it isn’t…” Nick said slowly. “It’s about her.”

Greg grew cold. “About who?” He knew perfectly well what the answer was.

Nick’s eyes were far away. “Alexa.”

“Why?” Greg asked, like a child jealous of the new baby. “Why does it have to be about her? How exactly is she the victim in all this again, Nick? Because frankly, I still fail to see it.”

“How is she the victim?” Nick gasped. “Have you seen how deeply scarred that poor girl is? By her own father?”

“Have you seen how scarred you are?!” Greg retorted, gesturing at the wound on Nick’s face. “My God… Nick, look what she did to you… And not just the physical stuff… You haven’t been right since you’ve been back, and I’ve been so caught up in myself and my own guilty conscience, I haven’t really…” Greg shivered, involuntarily and shook his head.

“Greg, you saw her in that interrogation room,” Nick went on. “I saw the look in your eyes when I came out of there, after I spoke to her. You saw it too, how damaged she is. That’s why you didn’t give me crap about caring about her for the rest of the night.”

“I get that she’s fucked up,” Greg said. “I even get why you might feel sorry for her. But Nick, you feel more than just sorry for her, and that’s what scares me. And she did that to you… Maybe you’re not so OK after all.”

“I don’t think that this is something I can ever really explain to you, Greg…” Nick said quietly. He turned and made to leave the booth. Greg’s hand shot out across the table like a bullet and he latched onto Nick’s arm. The older man stopped and looked at him.

“You’re not OK,” Greg said, quietly. “I see that now. Nick, talk to me. Let me—”

“No,” Nick interjected. “Because you know what this is? This is you, looking for an opportunity to play the hero. It’s still not about you, Greg.”

Greg withdrew his hand, wounded by these words. His eyes slowly softened and glistened in the harsh florescent light of the diner. For once, being the hero was the farthest thing from his mind. “Nick… I just…”

They were interrupted by a ringing phone. Nick waited, watching Greg a moment to see if his friend would finish his thought. He didn’t. Nick reached into this pocket.

“Nick Stokes.”

Greg looked on as Nick’s brow furrowed. There was a long pause as he listened to the person on the other end of the line. Then, “You’re talking a mile a minute there, Wendy. Take a deep breath and slow down.”

Greg, his curiosity piqued, leaned his arms on the table and tried to hear what Wendy was saying over the phone. He couldn’t quite make her words out, but the way Nick blanched told him that she wasn’t saying anything good.

“Don’t tell them anything,” Nick ordered. “At least, not yet. I’ll be right there, I’ll talk to them about it. Thanks.” He hung up and looked at Greg with a dazed expression.

“Nick, talk to me,” Greg pleaded, on the precipice of desperation.

Nick’s mouth was partially open. He closed it, blinked, and looked up at Greg. “I gotta go,” he said, and before Greg could say anything else, he was out of there like a bullet.

Wendy marched down the hall to her lab, ready to face a brand new day. But she slowed to a stop as she saw the last two people in the world she wanted to see, hovering and talking to each other quietly. Warrick and Sara looked like they were waiting to ambush her.

She panicked. Wendy immediately did an about face and pulled out her phone as she did so. She dialed Nick’s number, praying that he would answer, and not one of his parents. It rang a few times. “C’mon, c’mon…” she pleaded as she dodged Hodges’ confused stare as he passed.

“Nick Stokes.”

“Oh, thank God, Nick!” Wendy exclaimed, stopping in the middle of the hall. She turned her head left, then right, and saw the ladies room. She ducked inside. “Look, uh, I tried to call yesterday, but you were asleep, and then I was going to call later today, but I show up and Sara and Warrick are already at my lab, waiting, and I know they’re going to ask about the results, and I can’t lie to them and say I don’t have them, because I do.”

“You’re talking a mile a minute there, Wendy. Take a deep breath and slow down.”

“The evidence, Nick,” Wendy explained, frantic. “The evidence at your crime scene, where they found you. There was blood, and other things, namely, well, semen. Because, you know, Warrick said we had to make sure that there were only four victims, right, and that there weren’t any others! So we found three donors. Lincoln Meyer, James Sherman, and, well… well, you, Nick. You know, with the… blood and semen. I just wanted you to know. I have to tell them. I can’t not tell them. But Nick… I mean, what do you want me to say?”

There was a pause. He told her not to say anything. He told her he was coming, and he hung up. Wendy took a deep breath and leaned against the bathroom door. Again, her mind searched for an explanation. She ran through discussions she’d had with her friends about men raped by women. She remembered her ex-boyfriend Scott scoffing and saying that a woman physically couldn’t have sex with a man unless he also wanted it. Had Nick, on some level, wanted it?

Wendy shuddered and remembered her prosecutor friend, Jamie. Jamie had defiantly said that no matter what Wendy’s then-boyfriend thought he knew, that it was physically possible for a woman to rape a man, provided that she was strong enough to overpower him, keep him restrained, and physically stimulate his—

Wendy didn’t allow her thoughts to go any further. In the past, these conversations had been purely hypothetical. Wendy had been able to discuss it in clinical terms, and it had, at the time, all been quite a fascinating debate. Inevitably, Jamie claimed that the only reason Scott denied it was possible was because he was afraid that it actually was, and he couldn’t face it. Wendy later learned that Scott had a problem with women who asserted themselves. They’d soon parted ways, and Jamie’s opinion held more weight than Scott’s.

Wendy peeked out of the bathroom and glanced down each hall before stepping outside. She wasn’t sure how long she could avoid going to her lab. She’d already signed in with Judy, so they’d know she was there, lurking somewhere.

“Oh, uh, person!” someone called, and Wendy looked left to see that visiting detective striding up to her.

She raised her eyebrows. “Yes?”

Riley Adams shook a finger at her. “You, you’re the DNA tech, right? Sara and Warrick are looking for you.”

“No, you have me confused with Wendy. She’s the DNA tech.”

“Oh…” Riley said. “Well, then… could you pass that message on when you see her?”

“Sure,” Wendy chirped.

Riley’s phone began to ring. She took it out, looked at it, then put it away. “Great. It’s pretty important. I’m this close to slapping a rape charge on that bitch.”

“Oh?” Wendy intoned, trying to sound casually interested. “How do you know it’s rape?”

“When there’s blood and semen, it often is,” Riley replied, as if it were obvious. “Not to mention the fact that these men were held captive against their will.” Riley took a deep, shuddering breath and clenched her fists. She took a second to collect herself. “Lincoln Meyer was a dear friend of mine. To think of him… humiliated like that? No. That woman is going down.”

Her phone continued to ring. Wendy pointed at it. “You going to get that?”

Riley closed her eyes and quickly shook her head. “It’s not important.” But even so, she walked off, staring at her phone, seeming to have forgotten about Wendy.

The DNA tech sighed with relief as she leaned against the wall. She closed her eyes and took deep breaths, asking why she had decided that moving to Vegas had been a good idea. San Francisco had better beaches and softer crimes, or at least that’s how it seemed in retrospect. She knew it wasn’t true. Deep down, she knew that there was ugliness no matter where she went. She couldn’t run from it anymore.

And then, there was a soft hand on her arm. Her eyes snapped open to see Nick Stokes standing in front of her. He appeared calm, but his eyes were black and unwavering, and Wendy recalled that old adage about still waters.

“Have you told them yet?”

She shook her head before articulating, “No.”

Nick swallowed, and nodded. “The samples you tested,” he began. “They weren’t all mine, were they?”

This time, she just shook her head.

Nick raked a hand through his hair and looked back down the hall. “I don’t know what to do, Wendy. They’ll use this to hammer another nail into Alexa’s coffin.”

“I don’t understand why that’s such a bad thing,” Wendy whispered. “I’ve been working these cases, Nick, and there were three separate DNA sets on that bed, not just yours. Blood, saliva, semen… She’s done this before, Nick, to other guys, and she killed them.”

Nick covered his face with his hands and took a deep breath. “I’m tired of trying to explain this to everyone… You don’t see what I do. No one asks why.”

“I know why,” Wendy said. “She was molested. And that’s sad. But it doesn’t give her a free pass for rape and murder.”

At the words, a tinge of red crept into Nick’s cheeks and he looked away, and Wendy finally definitively made up her mind on the possibility of a woman raping a man. She reached out to try and comfort him, but stopped, not knowing if it would be welcome or not. It was probably a good idea, because Nick took a step away from her.

“It wasn’t rape.” The words were steady, but quiet. He was staring at the floor, refusing to look her in the eyes when he said it. Wendy’s heart rolled over in her chest.

But she gave him this one last shred of decency. “Maybe it wasn’t. For you. But there were two other samples on that bed spread.”

His hand flew to cover his eyes, and she heard him inhale a shuddering breath. It was the first sign of raw emotion she had seen from him, and she heard him choke out, “I know.” He wiped his eyes, blinked a few times as he stared upwards. He shifted on the spot and folded his arms. He swallowed again, seeming to try to regain his composure. And then, he repeated, “I know that. That’s why I don’t know what to do. Whatever she… whatever she did, Wendy, she didn’t know what she was doing. She can’t be held responsible…”

“Let the courts decide that,” Wendy said. “She has her own lawyer.” She didn’t want to give him advice on how to help the woman who had abducted him. But she could see how upset he was. “Look, you can… be a character witness at her trial. That… should influence things a little. But Nick, you’ve gotta let me do my job. And you’ve gotta let Warrick and Sara do theirs.”

He continued to stare at the floor for a moment before he closed his eyes and bowed his heads. “You’re right,” he told her. “Go.”

She knew he wasn’t OK. She didn’t want to just leave him there. She hesitated, watching him, but he didn’t move. She took a step forward so they were shoulder to shoulder. She turned her head to see if he’d noticed, but he was as still as a statue. With a sigh, she headed down the hall to deliver her news to Warrick and Sara.

Nick was hunched over a table in the lounge, clutching his Styrofoam cup of coffee with both hands. The lab was eerily quiet, and he waited for the storm to hit. He stared into the muddy brown swill that was pooled between his palms and he thought of Greg at the diner. He wondered where his friend was at that moment, and whether or not he had arrived at work yet. He wondered what Greg would say, what the look on his face would be when he learned the truth.

Nick shivered, trying not to think about it. He loathed being the victim, and being thought of as someone to feel sorry for, someone to treat carefully. He recalled growing up in his house, the youngest of seven, always being talked down to, always having his hair ruffled, always treated like a child, even now. It was like he was nine years old all over again and everyone was trying to protect him.

Protect… Nick looked up. Greg’s words echoed in his head and there was a dull thud in his chest. You want to… I don’t know, protect me, save me, even, from the big bad world. Nick realized that this was the curse of family. Everyone always scrambled to keep their family from harm. It was as much for their own preservation as for their family’s sake. And Greg wasn’t the only one with the hero complex. Nick needed to save someone, too. And then, another thought occurred to him. Does that, in some twisted way, mean I think of her as family?

The thought and the coffee left a bitter taste in his mouth and an overwhelming urge to spit. But he swallowed instead. He knew he had been too hard on Greg. But he needed to stand his ground. He needed to put up a strong, aggressive front. So people would stop seeing him as someone easily injured. Someone… weak.

“Knock, knock.” Catherine had said it, instead of actually doing the action, but it only multiplied the awkwardness that lingered in the air between them. She tried to smile.

“If you’ve come for the coffee, turn back now before it’s too late,” Nick said, getting up to pour his own cup down the drain.

“Oh, I know,” Catherine sighed. “Greg’s bogarting the Blue Hawaiian again.” She paused, her wide blue eyes scanning him as if running some sort of emotional diagnostic. “How are you doing?”

“I’m OK,” Nick blatantly lied. “It’s… difficult. Readjusting. But also a bit déjà vu, too, you know, because I’ve done this before, felt this before…”

“Yes,” Catherine said pointedly, her eyebrows arching. “You have, haven’t you?”

Nick wasn’t sure what she was implying. “And the pie,” he continued, deciding he’d rather not ask her. “My mom made it for me last year, too, after I… came back…” It was a clumsy euphemism. It almost sounded like he had returned from vacation or something far more trivial than a near death experience. “I just hope I don’t start associating it with trauma.” He tried to smile. He tried with all his heart.

But Catherine actually was smiling, and her heart was in every curve of her lips. “Sweetie, I…” But she seemed to run out of words.

Nick tried to remember the last time Catherine had called him that and failed. And then, he noticed the elephant in the room. The topic Catherine was dancing around but couldn’t bring herself to say.

So he did. “Right. Yes. OK.” He forced a laugh. “Ah, so… you talked to Wendy?”

She released a breath she’d been holding and her shoulders fell, grateful that Nick had decided to broach the topic so she wouldn’t have to. “Sara, actually.”

“Sara, yeah…” Nick said casually, as if they were catching up about an old friend. “Right, that’s what you meant… about how this has happened before.” Catherine, of course, was the only one who could have made the connection. Not a single living soul on the planet knew his secret. “Catherine…” He frowned. “We don’t have to talk about this, do we?”

She shook her head. “No, Nicky.”

He nodded. “Good. Um. I told you what I did in confidence, you know that. And you’ve been real good, about, you know, not bringing it up again… until now. If you could just… keep doing that?”

She nodded. “Of course.”

“Perfect,” Nick said, nodding slowly. And then, suddenly, uncontrollably, he blurted, “Catherine, I hate this.” The worlds tumbled over each other, as if they couldn’t wait to escape his lips.

“I hate it too, sweetie…” Catherine told him, with a warm smile. “But you know what I know?”

He felt his eyes begin to sting. He closed them and shook his head before tilting his chin to his chest. She stepped forward and nudged it back up again. “I know you’ll beat this. Because like Grissom says, you’ve established a pattern, Nicky. A horrible, ugly, tragic pattern, but the evidence never lies. You are, by far, the strongest man I know.”

And when he looked at her, he finally found that elusive, genuine smile.

Riley held the file so tightly to her chest, she was trembling. She had a seat next to the prosecutor, Meagan Kretz and across from Alexa King and the pair of lawyers her mother had hired. Alexa was staring meekly down at the table, refusing to look up at the detective at all.

“What’s this all about?” the lawyer on her left demanded. He was tall and scrawny, with a mop of brown hair. He would look young, were it not for the beard. His colleague was broad shouldered and silver-haired, and very quiet. “Our client has already pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. She has a diagnosed dissociative pathology, and she was not taking her medication at the times she committed these murders.”

“We’re amending the charges,” Riley explained, venom dripping from her words. “Three counts of rape in the first degree.”

There was no response from Alexa, but the bearded lawyer took deep offense to these charges. “On what grounds?” he demanded.

“Semen of the three victims were found at the scene,” Meagan said, evenly.

“That by no means proves rape,” the bearded lawyer argued. “For all you know, the victims may have consented.”

“The victims were abducted and tied to a bed with rope burns on their limbs,” Riley couldn’t help but snap. “They were branded, beaten, and subsequently killed. You really think they consented to all of that?”

“Who are you to say that they didn’t?” the bearded lawyer shot back. “You have no physical evidence that what took place on those beds was anything other than consensual sex. There was no penetration involved. At most, the charges should be dropped to sexual abuse.”

“There was penetration,” Meagan argued. “Subsequent tests found Alexa King’s saliva and vaginal fluids on three of the victims. Rape is defined by forcible penetration of any orifice – it doesn’t necessarily identify the penetrator as the rapist.”

“I’m still not hearing anything that definitively establishes force.” He saw Riley open her mouth to retort and quickly added, “And restraints prove nothing, detective. Several couples use them to heighten arousal. How do you suggest my client aroused these men enough to be able to rape them in the first place?”

“The penis responds to physical stimulation,” Meagan said. “And studies show that erections can be maintained under severe stress. Just like women can experience arousal during rape, it doesn’t prove consent.”

“It doesn’t disprove it, either,” the bearded lawyer said. “You’ll have a hard time proving that to a judge, let alone a jury. Face it, Kretz, juries don’t believe that men can be raped.”

“Are you being serious right now?” Riley asked, her mouth agape. “These men were tortured and killed. They would never consent to sex after being abducted by a serial killer.”

For the first time in the conversation, she saw Alexa’s shoulders flinch. She glared at the woman, daring her to look up, so she could look the crazy killer in the eyes. She began to grind her teeth, her stomach flipping as she imagined Lincoln tied to that bed, his eyes closed as he pretended to be anywhere but there. She slammed the table. “Look at me, why don’t you?”

“That’s enough, Detective,” Meagan admonished.

Riley leaned back in her chair and shook her head. “Link would have never let you near him. He just felt sorry for you and you took advantage of that, you psycho bitch!”

“I said that’s enough, Detective,” Meagan repeated.

Riley tried to calm down and bit her tongue.

Finally, the brawny, silver-haired man spoke up. “You say three counts of rape. There were four victims, one of which, as I understand it, survived. My colleague has asked for proof of non-consent. Surely, your living victim might clear up this matter. Is he your complaining witness?”

Meagan straightened in her chair. “Nick Stokes does not wish to comment on the matter.”

The brawny lawyer’s eyes widened. “Indeed? But surely, you have physical evidence to press charges without his testimony.”

Meagan looked at Riley, who was still silently seething. “He has asked us not to pursue the matter in his case.”

Alexa finally looked up at the two women across from her and blinked several times. A sinister smile curled across the brawny lawyer’s features. “I see.” He looked at his colleague. “Foster, I believe we’re done here.”

“I agree, Fairchild,” said the bearded lawyer as he rose to his feet.

“Wait.” Alexa’s voice was small and scratchy. It was almost like the cry of a tiny, wounded bird. Her lawyers stopped.

“Miss King, we advise you to remain silent,” Foster reminded her.

But Alexa was looking at Meagan. “Did Nick really say that?”

“Unfortunately,” Meagan sighed.

Alexa looked at her lawyers, then back to Meagan. “And if I confessed. To rape. What would that do to my sentence?”

“Miss King—” Fairchild began to protest.

“Hush,” Alexa replied, holding up a hand. “I’m not saying I am. I’m asking what would happen to me if I do.”

“Life in prison,” Meagan said.

“But I’ll already have that,” Alexa replied. “Four counts of murder will do that anyway.”

“You’ll be registered as a sex offender,” Meagan continued, “for life.”

“And what would that matter, if I spend my life in prison?” Alexa returned.

“That’s if you are convicted,” Foster clarified. “Which you haven’t been yet. Miss King, you were non compos mentis. If the jury understands that, you’ll probably spend your life in a treatment facility, not a prison.”

Alexa looked at her lawyers, then back at Meagan. “I have done... unspeakable things. I see that now. I know those men weren’t my father.” She looked at Riley specifically, and for the first time the detective actually wished she hadn’t. “I know they were good men.”

Riley tried to maintain the eye contact, but inevitably had to tear her eyes away when she felt them begin to sting.

“Miss King, we strongly advise that you keep silent at this point in time,” Fairchild said. “You should discuss any serious legal decisions with us, before speaking to ADA Kretz here. What you say may mean the difference between getting the treatment you need and a life-long prison stay as a sex offender.”

Alexa’s eyes remained on Riley, and it was the detective’s turn to avoid her gaze. “You were there, when they arrested me. I remember. You must know Nick. You must be his friend. That’s why you’re so angry with me, isn’t it? I don’t blame you. You have every right to hate me. So does he…” She paused. “Tell him… tell him I’m so sorry. For everything that I did to him. Tell him that it is really important to me that he knows that.”

And then, Riley couldn’t keep it at bay anymore. The clouds broke and the hail tumbled to the earth. “It’s not just Nick Stokes,” she spat. “You destroyed one of the most decent human beings I have ever known. Lincoln Meyer tried to help people like you, and what’s really killing me is if he were alive, and this was St. Louis, he’d actually want to be your lawyer because he would see in you the exact same things that Nick Stokes does, and honey, that’s what really pisses me off. You took advantage of something so altruistic, and you tortured and annihilated it. And because of you, society’s outcasts have one less defender, and I have one less friend.”

Alexa seemed to take this in stride, or perhaps she was just stunned. Her face was vacant, her eyes glazed over. “I’m sorry.”

“Two of the emptiest words in the English language,” Riley snarled. “I don’t need your apologies, King. And neither does Nick.”

Alexa’s lawyers were pushing in their chairs. The older one, Fairchild, extended a hand to her. “Come on, Miss King. It’s time we should be on our way.”

But Alexa just sat there, staring at Riley, looking somewhat like a doe frozen in headlights, right before being splattered across some station wagon’s fender. “I don’t know what else to give you, then,” she said. “Except to let you hate me. Both of you. Hate me, with all your heart, if that’s what it takes to help you overcome what I did to you.”

Riley said nothing. She had nothing left to say. She simply exhaled sharply through her nostrils. Her phone began to ring. She looked down at the name flashing across the display and denied the call. Her lip began to tremble, but she would not show weakness. Not here.

Eventually, Alexa pushed her chair back and rose to her feet. She looked at each of her lawyers. “I’m ready to go now.”
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