Cheryl's the next witness. Her story matches up with Owen's, more or less, and she spices it up by telling everyone what a jerk I am to her. She even cries a couple of times. Amelia doesn't bother to question her.
I manage to stop sweating, though the knot in my stomach just keeps getting tighter. Five months didn't sound that bad before, but the way this judge keeps looking at me, it's probably going to be a lot longer.
I start worrying again...about this trial and about Wood's job and about Melissa and about Tanya and about spending more time with Jared and as weird as it sounds, about school. I'd give anything to be back there, even if it was raining and I was sleeping through lunch again.
I’m tuned out for a long time, thinking about all of that, but when Gianni bangs his gavel and everyone stands up, I tune back in.
“What's going on?” I stand up, almost losing my balance. I think both my feet are asleep.
“Recess. We'll come back after lunch.” Amelia puts a hand on my back, steadying me. “You're in my custody now. I can take you to a restaurant if you want.”
“What's the alternative?”
“Going back to the correctional center.”
Is that what it's called? 'Hell' would suffice. “A restaurant sounds nice.”
Melissa and Rock are waiting for us right outside the courtroom door. She smiles at me, but it's really forced. He's untying his tie, but he frees a hand to punch me on the shoulder.
I pull Melissa into a hug. I won't kiss her yet – I'm saving that for when I actually get released – but it feels great just to hold her again. “Don't cry.” I whisper into her hair, rubbing her back.
“I'm trying...” She shakes a little and lets out a long, shuddering sigh.
Rock turns away from us and talks to Amelia. “Wood left...he said to tell you that you did a great job and he'll...pay you tomorrow.”
I squeeze Melissa a little tighter, hoping none of the T.V cameras are around. “I love you...I miss you so much.”
“I miss you too...”
“Are you guys gonna be back tomorrow?” I let go of her and tuck her hair behind her ear.
She shakes her head. “Tomorrow's Monday. School.”
I run my finger over her cheek. “Are you going to be okay?”
She nods and smiles again, weakly but at least genuinely.
Rock's mom is already waiting for them outside and I wave goodbye while Amelia fights off some reporters. A couple of them stick their microphones in my face too, but I just shake my head and walk away.
Who would listen to me anyway.
We go to IHOP. A weird place to go in a suit, but it's practically empty – only one family with a couple of little kids. Besides, it's not like we could really afford going anywhere fancy.
“Order anything.” Amelia smiles.
“Thanks.” I scan the menu, but I’m obviously getting pancakes. Seriously, who gets anything else at IHOP?
The waitress comes around after a while and takes our orders. From the way she looks at me, I can tell she recognizes me – after all, they did cover the trial live – but she doesn't say anything and I give her an appreciative smile when she takes our menus.
“So...” I take a sip of my strawberry-iced tea thing. It's amazing. “Where is Wood, exactly. I mean...I know vaguely what he's trying to do, but...how is he doing it?”
Amelia plays with her napkin. “It's pretty complicated...but essentially, he's got to convince a federal court that the law is unconstitutional. He's at the state court today...federal court is the next step.”
“Shouldn't you be there? Or does he have some other lawyer?” I doubt that though, unless there's some lawyer who accepts broken Christmas decorations as payment.
She shakes her head. “He's representing himself. But as a leading scientist in his field and one of the people who initiated the law in the first place, I’m pretty sure he'll be okay.”
I nod. I hope so.
We're silent for a while, and I find myself staring at the other family. One of the smaller kids looks back at me and I smile and cross my eyes, making him laugh. I look back across the table and consider asking Amelia if she'll have any kids, but that would be too sappy-deep.
After another while, the food comes and I do my best to eat my pancakes without getting syrup on myself. Harder than it sounds.
“So what do you think?” I say finally, trying to fish out an ice cube with my straw.
“About the trial,” I get it and pop it into my mouth, crunching frostily. “Do you think it went well? Is the jury on our side?”
“It's a little early to say,” She wets a napkin and dabs at my cheek, a maternal gesture that I appreciate.
“Well...can you guess then?” I’m not sure why I’m asking her. Either way, I’m still going to feel doomed.
She shrugs. “The media seems to be slamming you pretty hard...but they always do that. But then again, the jury seems sympathetic. It really could go either way...it's about 50-50.”
The second half of the trial is even worse. Now I’m not only hot, I’m full, and it's a physical effort to keep my eyes open. I think most of the other people feel the same way...at least three of the jurors are resting their chins on their hands. I doubt the lawyers are even listening to each other.
I shoot a glance at the judge and catch him yawning.
We are never going to win this. I sigh, louder than I mean to, and slump a little in my chair. I didn't realize I had been so tense.
My mind starts to wander again. I wonder if I somehow got ADD since I was arrested. I stare at a floorboard that's lighter than the rest and wish I had some paper to draw. Even if it was only an angry scribble, it would still make me feel better. On top of that, I've almost forgotten what it feels like to pet Tanya...I’m trying to remember when I hear my name.
“Daniel Chamall to the stand.”
Am I still called Dash? Nobody else seems to think so.
Amelia gives me an encouraging little nudge as I stand up unsteadily and walk towards the front of the room. I wonder which would be worse – crying in front of all these people or not being able to say anything at all.
Somehow, I get to the witness box and put my left hand on the Bible.
“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
I hope he does help me. “I do.”
The Bible guy goes away and Mr. Stereotypical Attorney walks up to me. “So, Mr. Chamall, I hear you go by Dash.”
He looks tired and for a minute, I feel a pang of sympathy for him. After all, he's just doing his job...he was probably randomly assigned this job, since no one's suing me or anything...he probably doesn't want to be here any more than I do.
“Sometimes, yes.” My tongue feels really heavy. I notice, for the first time, how many people there are. Don't they have anything better to do?
“Why do you have that nickname?”
I calm down a little bit. At least I can answer this part. “I'm a fast runner.”
“Good at running away from sticky situations?”
Ouch. “Yes, sir, if I have to.”
He spins on his heel to face the jury. “Can you tell the court where you were on December fourteenth?”
This guy is so cliché, it's painful. “Home.” Technically true. Not the whole truth, but my shoelaces were crossed during the oath, so I'd say that's a loophole.
The S.A raises an eyebrow. “Not in school?”
I stifle the urge to roll my eyes. “I was in school. Then I came home.”
“Where is home?”
I glance at Owen and Cheryl, sitting next to each other, stone-faced. “Downtown Chartreuse. Near the old gym.”
“So you know the gym.”
“And you know what goes on there.”
I nod again. “Owen's right, everyone in our neighborhood knows about the fights.” I catch the faintest glimpse of a smirk on Owen's face. He thinks he's going to win.
“Have you ever been to one of these fights?”
I shake my head. “I've never seen one.” Also true...I never watched, I just stared at the floor.
“Then how did you come to be in the possession of a Nonextant?”
Amelia stands up halfheartedly. “Objection...counsel is making assumptions.”
She's already sitting before Gianni says “overruled”. He's overruled every one of her objections so far and sustained all of the S.A's. It's really not tough to see whose side he's on.
“I found an animal on the street...” I start my speech, talking slowly so it's not obvious I prepared this three days ago. “It – she was starving and hurt and I brought her home. I didn't even think about it. It wasn't until later I found out she had four tails and by then it was too late to do anything about it.”
It was quiet in the courtroom before, but now it's virtually silent. A couple of camera flashes go off in the back of the room.
Even the S.A is quiet and he usually shouts. “Why didn't you inform the authorities?”
I shrug and look at Amelia. She smiles and gestures for me to go on. “What would that have done? She would have been shot and I would have gotten busted for even touching her in the first place.”
For once, he's speechless.
“She was happy with me,” I press on. “And healthy. She would have died if I hadn't found her and she would have died if I went to the police. I couldn't let that happen.”
I’m aware I sound cheesy, but it's all true and the media people seem to be eating it up. I’m also aware of Gianni glaring at me out of the corner of his eye. Maybe he doesn't approve of my subtle jab at the justice system.
The prosecutor opens his mouth and then closes it again. “No further questions.”
I’m almost positive he does have further questions and I don't think my testimony moved him in any significant way. Maybe he's just trying to cut me a break.
Amelia stands up. “Dan – Daniel. Did this animal cause any harm to anybody or anything while it was in your possession?”
“No.” I say it as firmly as I know how.
“You know what incident caused the law that made these animals illegal, correct?”
I take a deep breath. “Yes.”
“Can you tell us what you know?”
Oh boy…here I go. Gotta make this better than the speeches I gave Amelia and Melissa. “My parents, Samuel and Tanya Chamall, loved Nonextants. They studied them and lived with them…and eventually died because of an accident involving one of them. But it was an accident…they wouldn’t want Nonextants made illegal because of it.”
She gives me a quick smile. “And it was your uncle who proposed the law, correct?”
I nod. “I think it was out of grief. He didn’t understand what Nonextants meant to my parents.”
The S.A stands. “Objection! Witness is assuming – ”
The rest of the questioning goes pretty much the same way. The S.A objects to every other word out of Amelia’s mouth and by the time she’s done, we’ve barely said anything and her face is bright red from frustration.
“No further questions,” She finally snaps and I follow her back to our table.
The prosecution calls a few more witnesses, but Amelia doesn’t cross-examine them. She, too, looks like she’s about to cry – which just makes me all the more nervous. In fact, the only person who looks confident in this courtroom is Gianni…and that’s not exactly comforting.
I stare out the window, trying to distract myself. It’s raining, the kind of nasty winter rain that is freezing cold, but still melts all the snow.I’d give anything to be out in it right now.