Storm Warning

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Tell The Truth And Nothing But

--The Courthouse, Two Weeks Later--

Tandy gave her sister a reassuring look as she handed Rayna the coffee she’d gotten her before sitting down next to her on the bench outside the courtroom. She patted Rayna’s black pantsuit-clad leg. “It’s okay, sweetie, this will all be over soon,” she said sympathetically.

Rayna sighed and nodded, “I know, that’s what the DA said, but I hate that I even have to be here. I already gave my statement. I don’t see why I have to speak in front of this panel in the first place. You’d think they’d have enough for an indictment. I mean, they have my statement and Gunnar’s and Deacon’s. They have that cell phone footage of him practically mauling me. So really, why do I have to be here?”

Tandy sighed and shrugged. “Oh, you know how these legal things work. They’re all screwed up. But don’t worry. It’ll go quick, I’m sure of it. All you have to do is just go in the here and tell them the truth of what happened that night and that’ll be the end of it.”

Rayna nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. I just wish you could go in there with me. It’d be nice to have a friendly face in there with me when I do this,” she said wistfully.

Tandy frowned and squeezed her hand. “Me too, babe. I would if I could, you know that,” Tandy assured her. “But I’ll be right out here the whole time, I promise.”

“As will I…” a voice said from nearby.

Rayna turned and looked up to see Deacon approaching them. She immediately stood up. Reaching them, he took her hands in his, squeezing them before leaning in and embracing her for a sweet, all-too-brief moment. She held on, wanting to savor the moment and his touch. She hadn’t seen him since that awkward morning after when she’d bawled like a baby in his arms. After the kiss and their agreed-up halting of it and anything else, he’d held her for a while longer, then slipped out of the bed and left. He’d called her a several times over the subsequent weeks to check in and see how she was doing in the wake of everything and to see how the legal aspect of things was progressing, but that was it. They hadn’t discussed what had happened in her shower or whether or whether he’d confessed the details of which to Megan or not, for that matter. Part of her hoped that he hadn’t…as she’d meant it when she said she hadn’t wanted to cause any discord between the two. The other part of her that wished something else was the part she’d chosen to ignore for the time being.

She hadn’t expected him to be there, but seeing him there—she was glad that he was. She pulled back, smiling slightly. “Wh-what are you doing here? You didn’t have to come,” she said.

He shrugged, squeezing her arm by her elbow reassuringly. “I know, but they had me testify before the break and I heard them say you were up this afternoon so I figured…and you know, since I was here and in a suit…” he said, smiling, his tone light and teasing. “I’m kidding,” he said. “I wanted to be here for you, Ray. Really…where else would I be?” he asked, the question rhetorical and needing no response.

She smiled and laid her hand over his. “Thank you,” she said, emotion cracking in her voice. “Really. It means a lot,” she said, nodding. She glanced at Tandy, acknowledging her. “Both of you. Thank you for—“

“Rayna Jaymes?” A court officer called out from the door of the courtroom a few feet away. Seeing her, he nodded and walked over. “Miss Jaymes, they’re ready for you,” he informed her; gesturing with his hands towards the door and indicating that she follow him.

Nerves jumping, she swallowed hard, nodding. She’d faced crowds of thousands—some welcoming and some not—but she’d never felt as scared or as anxious in all those times put together as she did in that one moment. It unnerved her and for a moment, her composure faltered. Fear filled her as she lifted her eyes to Deacon’s, meeting his reassuring ones--somehow feeling suddenly calm, just by looking into them. No words were needed. He knew. His hand slid down her arm to her wrist, squeezing her fingers. “You got this, Babe,” he said, his tone supportive. “Go give ‘em hell,” he said, his pitch softer, his smile wide and encouraging.

She returned it with a small, appreciative one of her one, then nodded at him and then Tandy, before turning and following the officer—allowing him to lead her into the court room before the door closed shut behind them.

“…Damn him! That no-good motherfu—”

Deacon turned to a cursing Tandy, nodding. “I know. Believe me, I know exactly how you feel Tand,” he commiserated with her. “You have no idea how badly I wish I wish I’d killed that sonofabitch when I had the chance—if for no other reason than to spare her the hell of having to do this,” he said honestly.

Tandy nodded. “I know. I-I never thanked you…for being there and for stopping him. God, I should have just let her leave with me and the girls. It’s my fault, you know. I told her that she needed to lighten up and find Luke and have some fun. She was ready to call it a night and go home and watch movies with the girls. She was talking about making popcorn for Christ’s sake!”

He sighed and stepped closer to her, shaking his head before putting a hand on her hand in comfort. “Tandy, it’s not your fault. You know Rayna knows that. This is on that sick sonofabitch Wheeler—and no one, you hear me, NO ONE else. Well, maybe that piece of crap Jeff Fordham from Edge Hill, but I don’t think even he could predicted how screwed up Wheeler was or what he was capable of. Shit Tandy, I knew the guy for years. I’ve had beers with him. Hell, I went to his goddamn wedding. I’ve seen him be crude with a woman sure, but never anything that sinister. Granted, the thought of him and Ray made my sick crawl, but if I hadn’t seen him that night, I never would have believed him capable of it…of being that cruel…of hurting her like he did…like he was going to. So, you see, it’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. He’s a manipulative, sadistic fuck and he fooled us all. And if there’s any justice in this world, he’ll pay for what he did. Trust me, Tandy…one way or another, he’ll pay. I’ll make damn sure of it,” he promised her. And she got the sense that he meant it.

…In the Court Room…

“…Respected members of the panel, we have all just heard the testimony of Rayna Jaymes, the victim in this unjust crime. You’ve now heard the intimate details of her plight and suffering on the night in question. This morning you listened to testimony from Ms. Jaymes’ close friend and career-long band leader, Deacon Claybourne and fellow artist Gunnar Scott in regards to the attack they witnessed—and ultimately thwarted—against Ms. Jaymes by Mr. Wheeler, the accused. You’ve heard the evidence and seen the reports completed by the first responding officers on the scene. You’ve also viewed the witness reports, heard the testimony, and seen the mobile video footage taken of the attack provided by one of those witnesses. As such, I implore you to do the right thing here…to hold Luke Wheeler accountable of the charges issued against him…. Thank you.”

As the judge signaled the end of the grand jury session and released the panel, the DA gathered his things and walked over to where Rayna had been seated and was now standing, waiting. He grabbed her hands, noting the slight tremble in them. Nerves, he guessed. Not that he could blame her after the testimony she’d just given. It was the worst part of the job—having to put the victims through the wringer that was a grand-jury panel session. It was an informal interrogation of sorts—but more harrowing, in his opinion—in that the panelists were free to ask questions of their own to deepen their own understanding of the events that had occurred. He understood it—respected the process from a District Attorney, officer of the court standpoint—but as a person—it could be a difficult task. Especially for someone of Rayna Jaymes’ standing. She was a public figure, so she without a doubt valued her personal privacy more than most. Going after another public figure like Luke Wheeler—it skyrocketed the case to high-profile before it had even begun. In his experience, that just added complications to the case, making it a hell of a lot harder to prosecute. Unfortunately, in this case, it couldn’t be avoided.

He knew there were a lot of DA’s that wouldn’t go near this sort of case, and plenty of others that were almost certainly vying to be in his position right then…or would be once and if the grand jury returned a “true bill” finding, as he was hoping they would. While he had a reputation for not getting emotionally was hard in cases such as this.

He empathized with Ms. Jaymes. He had first-hand experience—albeit on somewhat more of a personal level—dealing with the kind of situation Ms. Jaymes had the misfortune to be in right then. He’d been away at school, just finishing up his sophomore year at Yale in Connecticut when he’d learned that his sister Cassie had been beaten and raped by her long-time boyfriend. He’d spoken with his professors, worked out an arrangement that allowed him to take his finals a week earlier than academically scheduled, and was on a flight home to Spring Hill within an hour of leaving campus after his last exam had completed. Being only 17 months apart in age, he and Cassie had grown up close—a bond that hadn’t diminished but instead had only strengthened into and throughout their adolescence. The boy that had raped her had been her boyfriend for nearly 2 years before the incident—and someone both he and Cassie had known nearly their entire lives. He’d grown up in the same affluent community and had gone to the same private school with them. Both he and his family were well known in the community and so naturally, the incident created quite a stir among the townsfolk. It divided people. When the case went to trial, it created a lot of discord within the community. It was a complicated case and despite all the evidence supporting Cassie’s assault, the bastard was acquitted of the charges and walked free. Cassie, who before had been the loveliest, most upbeat, beautiful free soul you could ever meet—just wasn’t the same after. It’d changed her…the attack, the heartbreak of the trial…all of it. It’d broken her in ways that he still—even in all the years that had passed—likely wasn’t even aware of.

He’d been studying International Relations before Cassie’s attack and it was the bitter result of the trial that summer that inspired him to change his major to Law when he returned the following semester. Not many people knew the story behind why he’d changed focus like he had, but it was because of that. Because he’d seen what it could do. He’d seen first-hand how something like that—it didn’t go away. It hadn’t for Cassie. And it wouldn’t for Ms. Jaymes either. He knew that. And while he couldn’t change what had happened to either his sister or Ms. Jaymes, he could use his knowledge of the law to at least try and change the outcome of justice--for Ms. Jaymes at least. That’s why he did what he did. That’s why he was who he was. And while he didn’t always like his job, he valued what he stood for…and felt good what he was trying to do. And naïve as it was, he believed in justice. Hopefully, in Ms. Jaymes’ case, it prevailed.

“Ms. Jaymes,” he said, squeezing her squeezed. “Thank you again for coming in today and speaking to the panel. I know it couldn’t have been easy for you.”

She gave him a slight smile. “It’s Rayna, please. Ms. Jaymes just makes me sound old,” she said lightly. “And I’m just glad it’s over…for now, at least,” she said.

He nodded. “I completely understand. Hopefully the decision won’t take long.” He gestured towards the exit and they started out of the court room.

Deacon and Tandy were waiting outside, as promised. After promising to keep Rayna appraised of the panel’s findings, they parted ways. According to DA Jensen, it generally could take anywhere from 15 minutes up to a day for a grand jury panel to make their decision on whether to bring forth an indictment or not.

It was nearly two hours later when DA Jensen’s assistant informed him of the grand jury’s decision via text. It was a “true bill” finding, meaning the panel had handed back indictments against Luke Wheeler, the current “Hottest Man in Country Music”, on two criminal charges. The first charge being domestic assault and battery, a misdemeanor and the second, albeit long-shot charge, of felony attempted sexual assault. It was a win for the DA’s office…but it was a small victory, he knew, as the real battle had only just begun.

Starting with informing Ms. Jaymes of the grand jury’s decision…

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