Chapter 22

Changing into a suit feels weird after wearing t-shirts and sweatpants for a month. It's much stiffer than the cotton and I’m already starting to sweat.

They let me stay in the room to change while the other kids went down to breakfast. The trial's scheduled for the morning and the way Amelia's been talking about it, it's probably gonna last a couple of days.

I fumble with my tie for a minute, then give up and turn to the empty room. “Hey. I know you're there and I just wanna say thanks...even if you are a figment of my imagination, you're the only thing that's kept me sane.”

There's no answer. I didn't expect one.

I wait around, trying not to wrinkle anything until Gina's dad comes to get me. He handcuffs me, muttering apologies under his breath, explaining that it's just a precaution. I've seen enough violent movies to know that handcuffs can be easily used as a weapon, but I don't say anything.

He and two other guys lead me outside to a cop car and put me in the backseat, one of them sitting next to me. I’m not sure why they're taking all these “precautions” with me. I mean, what am I gonna do? Summon all the animals of the forest and make them enslave humankind?

The courthouse isn't that far away and it doesn't take long to get there. It's one of those huge, needlessly intimidating buildings with lots of columns and gargoyles and stuff. Despite all that, the name kind of detracts from its appearance – “CANTO COUNTY COURTHOUSE”. Somehow, alliteration doesn't inspire fear in the hearts of criminals.

They lead me into the huge, echoey lobby and Amelia walks over to me quickly, high heels clicking on the marble floor.

“Are you okay?” She undoes the knot in my tie and starts retying it.

“Yeah,” I’m barely speaking above a whisper, but my voice still sounds loud. “Though my humor is pretty deadpan.”

She gives me a quick smile, straightens my tie and steps back. Gina's dad undoes my handcuffs, and murmurs “Good luck, kid.”

I flex my wrists, wiping my sweaty palms on my pants. My heart is already beating faster, my empty stomach is churning and the suit is soaked through under the arms.

Tanya, I hope you appreciate this.

It's still a little early, so by the time we actually get inside the courtroom, not everyone is there yet. There's already a couple of news stations though, setting up their cameras and checking their microphones and pointing to me when they don't think I’m looking.

There's a bunch of people in the audience and, trying not to be too obvious, I locate my friends and my uncle. Wood smiles at me and gives me a little thumbs up, but Rock and Melissa don't see me or at least don't look at me. They're both dressed formally and she looks beautiful in her dress, despite the miserable expression on her face.

I glance over at the jury, hoping to see some indication of how they're going to feel about me. They're not all here yet, but of the eight that are, none of them look especially compassionate. Not that they look mean, just...passive. Bored. They don't want to be here. Neither do I, people.

We sit at the little defendant table and Amelia fusses with her papers and twists her hair around her finger and generally makes me more nervous. I just stare at the wood of the table and try to do some breathing exercises Dr. Joi taught me.

In the background, I hear more people coming in and the reporters starting their spiels – “Coming up next, live coverage of the Chamall trial. A young boy who broke the law in order to carry on his parents' work...will justice prevail? This is Channel 5 News.”

Does justice mean I’m innocent or guilty? It must be one of those “you decide” things.

I concentrate on my breathing, attempting to tune out everything else and failing miserably. Behind me, a different reporter describes me as “a delinquent Good Samaritan” and my throat starts to hurt.

“All rise...”

The noise stops and I get to my feet awkwardly.

“Court is now in session. The right honorable Judge Gianni presiding.”

I look up at the bench, expecting Judge Judy but hoping for someone more sympathetic, and see a big burly man with beady eyes and slick, black hair. He bares his teeth in such a way that I can't figure out whether he's smiling or grimacing.

He doesn't look very sympathetic.

It's too hot in here.

The lawyers are making their opening statements, but I can't focus. The heat's too high and my suit is scratchy and my feet are falling asleep...I only catch fragments of their speeches.

Though I can't really grasp what she's saying, Amelia does a good job of speaking. Her voice is steady and besides some slight finger twitching, she doesn't do anything to let on how nervous she is.

I barely notice the prosecutor at all. He sounds more confident and he does a lot of shouting and finger-pointing in my direction. The very image of all those lawyers on T.V.

I give up on the breathing exercise and just try to breathe normally. My throat's all closed up and I’m afraid if I talk, I'll break down. Why the hell did I ever go to that stupid fight in the first place?!

After he's done with his soliloquy, Mr. Stereotypical Attorney puts his hands on his hips in an almost-heroic stance. “Your Honor, I'd like to call Owen Chessy to the stand.”

Owen? I didn't see him here. I look around.

He walks right by our table and mutters something to me as he passes. It takes me a second to figure out what he said.

Prepare for trouble.”

I swallow.

He steps up to the witness box, swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and glaring at me the whole time with venom in his eyes.

The S.A (Stereotypical Attorney) begins to pace. “Mr. Chessy, can you tell us where you were on the night of December fourteenth?”

He already looks cocky. I wonder if he's faking – I can't tell. “At my friend Cheryl's house. There were lots of people there, they can back me up.”

“Where were you before that?”

He shrugs. “School.”

“And after school? Where were you between there and Cheryl's?”

He hesitates. If he tells the truth, then he could say I was at the fight but he'll get nailed for being there. So of course, he lies. “I went straight from school to Cheryl's. I passed the old gym on the way and saw Dash running away from it, holding the...Nonextant.”

I grind my teeth and shake my head at the table, afraid of moving any more than that.

The S.A looks at me for a second, then to the jury. “Can you describe what the animal looked like?”

Owen nods. “It was brown and orange and had a little tuft of hair on its head...and it had four tails.”

My brow furrows. The only time he had seen Tanya was when she was in my backpack... and he had only seen her head, not her tails. How did he know...?

“And did you ever see it again after that day?”

He nods again. “Yeah. I saw it once in Dash's backpack.”

“Oh? Was he taking it somewhere?”

Owen pretends to look puzzled. “He...said he was taking it to Gina's. Said it was her dog and he was returning it.”

I want to beat my head on the table. I settle for digging my nails into my palm.

“And was it Gina's dog?”

Owen shook his head. “He still had it after that.”

“How does he know that?” I say it out loud this time, though only in a whisper. Amelia pats my leg under the table semi-reassuringly.

“Do you know where he kept it?”

Owen shook his head again. “No...probably at his house or something...”

“Oh, really? And if he kept it in his house, where do you think he could've hidden it?”

Amelia stands. “Objection! Your Honor, that's just speculation – ”

The judge bangs his gavel. “Overruled.”

She sits again, slightly flushed.

There are more questions about the animal and my behavior and moral character...Owen makes me seem like a total screw-up, but I guess I should have expected that. According to him, I go to the fights all the time, I act suspiciously all the time and I've only got two friends who are kind of sketchy as well.

I want to punch him.

I’m imagining doing it right there, in front of everybody, when the S.A finishes and it's Amelia's turn to question Owen. She stands, fingers twitching more violently than before. “Owen, can you tell the court just how familiar you are with the Chartreuse City Gym?”

At least she called him Owen. He doesn't deserve 'Mr. Chessy'.

Owen glowers at me for a second before answering it. “Not that's in my neighborhood and I walk by it sometimes. Why?”

“Do you know of any activities that have occurred there since the gym closed?”

He's thinking again, calculating how much he can give away without exposing himself. “It's...been closed since before I was born...”

She folds her arms, looking very tough. “Answer the question, Owen.”

He swallows. I wonder if he’s actually nervous or if he's just trying to make himself look cute and innocent. “Well...there's the fights...everybody knows about them.”

“Can you tell us more about those?”

He shrugs. “I don't know much about them. I've heard that they're like dogfights...only with Nonextants.”

“And you've never been to one?” She unfolds her arms, but her hand starts trembling, so she crosses them again.

Owen shakes his head. “No.”

“Really. Then how would you know that the animal my client was carrying was a Nonextant?”

He squirms. Maybe he really is nervous. “ had four tails. Normal animals don't have four tails.”

I glance at the judge. He's looking at Owen and he's...smiling. I guess Owen's charm is working on him too. I can't blame him...Owen's story is pretty good. I barely remember my own now.

“You said you got a good look at the animal?”

“Well...not a good look...he ran by me really quickly...”

“But you saw it several times after that.”

“Um...yeah...” He's practically sweating. Amelia's doing great.

I think she realizes this because she finally unfolds her arms and not one part of her hand shakes. “So you wouldn't be able to identify it because you've never gotten a good look at it. Unless of course, you know what a Nonextant looks like.”

“Objection!” The S.A stands up. “Defense is leading the witness!”

“Sustained,” Gianni bangs again and gives Amelia a hard look.

She smiles sweetly and walks back over to the table. “No further questions.”
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