I could see Rocco was exhausted when they finally allowed him to leave the witness stand. And for good reasons too, because Paul's attorney questioned him about the most ridiculous things that had nothing to do with the case at all. It was pretty obvious that they went all in for the dirtiest trick in the book; making Rocco look mentally unstable and unreliable as a witness. But he stood his ground until the end, and I expected the next deponent to be my father.
It wasn't. It was...
"Martina Leona Sánchez? You may enter the witness stand."
I heard her take a deep breath before she got up, and I hated not being able to hold her hand anymore. Up until now, she'd refused to talk about what happened with Paul to anyone, because she wanted to put it behind her and forget about it. I doubted that she'd ever manage to do the last part, though. Especially not now, when she had to rip the wound open again. But she was just as brave as Rocco, plus she had the strength and the pride of a true Latina. Paul had definitely messed with the wrong woman, and she was about to show him.
With a straight back and her head held high, she walked toward the clerk, who made sure every witness was seated well after entering the podium, and offered them a glass of water. Martina thanked him politely and said the usual phrase everybody has to say when speaking in court, and the determination in her demeanor would scare me if I was Paul. But he didn't know her like I did. And he didn't know that she was on edge about other things right now as well.
Things you're gonna take care of tonight, when you make her scream out her frustration in the bedroom. Because damn, she needs to relieve some tension. Yeah, but holy fuck how sexy she is when she's ready to bite someone's head off! Shit... Not now! Keep your dick down and focus, Aaron. Wrong place. Wrong timing. Yep, but she's still hotter than the naked poster girls in Playboy.
"So you're Rocco's ex-wife? How long were you married?"
Paul's attorney irked me already with his first question.
"Almost a year. But we'd known each other for about two years before we started dating."
"And when did you start dating, if I may ask?"
His sleazy smirk made me wanna punch him, and Rocco's attorney protested only to be overruled.
"A few months before we got married. But I don't see why this is important to the case," Martina replied, and I could hear she was a bit annoyed.
"Just curious," the attorney answered nonchalantly. He took an artistic pause, and turned away from her while he rubbed his cheek as if he was in deep thoughts. Then he continued with the same sneaky approach.
"So you started dating, got married and divorced in one year?"
Martina didn't comment on that. She just waited for him to elaborate.
"And then you went behind your husband's back and started dating your father in law? Isn't he eighteen years older than you?"
Martina gave him a pissed look.
"I ask again: What does this have to do with the fact that your client attacked me?"
She spoke slowly and emphasized the last four words, but the man just shrugged.
"Nothing. But it shows that you have a pretty bad judgment about social relations. And since you obviously don't mind age gaps, you might as well have come on to Mr. Rumplefinch and provoked him to defend himself."
"What? That's disgusting!"
"Is it? You got pregnant with your husband's father! I don't see how that's any less disgusting than flirting with his grandfather."
Once again he had this despicable smirk and I had to squeeze my thighs really hard to keep myself from jumping him and smash his nose through his head.
"Objection, Your Honor!" Rocco's attorney cut in again.
"These are just insinuations and completely worthless."
"And her insinuations about being attacked by my client are equally worthless as proof of any illegal actions."
"But she had bruises all over her body!" I exclaimed, and everybody turned to me. I didn't care. I couldn't just sit there and let him walk all over my girlfriend. But of course, the sleazy asshole had an immediate comeback.
"And where's the proof of that? As far as I know there are no medical reports or pictures of it. She doesn't even have witnesses that can confirm it."
"Because she hid it!" I groaned. Then the judge interfered and told me to be quiet. But Martina found her voice again, and what she said broke my heart.
"I didn't show it to anyone because I was scared. And do you know why? Because your not so innocent client threatened to kill me if I divorced Rocco, and he would make it look like an accident. He's threatened everybody around him who has refused to accept his rules. That's who he is. A narcissist. And he didn't only threaten me, but Rocco as well. Plus, he was going to make me responsible for Rocco's death too."
She sighed and her breath was labored with emotions.
"He would make it look like I killed Rocco, then committed suicide."
Her bottom lip trembled and her eyes became glossy, and she had to swallow several times before she managed to tell exactly what happened.
"He beat me to make me understand that he was serious. He punched my eye so I had to wear thick layers of makeup to hide it, and a scarf to hide the marks from his hand when he strangled me. I had bruises on my back because he pushed me so I fell over a table, and he broke my rib so I couldn't work for two weeks. My boss can confirm that."
"That's a proof!" Rocco's attorney intervened, but since my boss didn't know the reason why I was absent, it was overruled.
"That's exactly what I'm saying," the sleazy man snickered.
"You have no proof, and the fact that you started a relationship behind your husband's back shows terrible judgment on your behalf."
Martina squinted at him, and her sadness turned into anger in a matter of seconds.
"Everybody who has passed grade school understands that my marriage wasn't the best. It was based on false premises because a certain minister abused his power to threaten everybody into silence, and made his grandson fear for his life because of who he is. He told you himself, and several times too! Besides, falling in love isn't bad judgment nor disgusting. Attacking a woman who is pregnant and two generations younger than you is."
The attorney was about to follow up with another argument when the door suddenly opened and almost slammed into the wall.
What the hell? Satan herself? Holy hell. She's probably going to mess up the situation even more, and defend her father like the good girl she's been faking all her life. Fuck this!
Bree stepped into the room and had her eyes locked on the judge while she walked up the aisle. She looked nervous. She was never nervous. Why now?
Probably because everybody's attention is on her? Think, Aaron. You'd pee in your pants if you were in her shoes. Then again, if she refused to witness, then why is she here on her own free will? Strange.
"Can I tell my story?" she asked, and judge Walton looked a bit bewildered, but gave her a nod. The clerk offered her a chair, but she didn't sit down. She was restless and she struggled to stand still.
"Let me just cut straight to the point. That man..."
She gulped down her nervousness and pointed at her father.
"...has not only controlled a whole religious community. He's also been the leader of a secret ring of child abuse, called 'The circle of light'. I'm talking about pedophiles gathering once a week, abusing little boys and girls down to the age of four, if not younger."
"That's bullshit!" Paul exclaimed, and his face was dark red from embarrassment.
"Shut up, you monster! You made girls pregnant at the age of thirteen. They were barely teenagers and some of them were my friends. You and those horrible, old men took their innocence and childhood away, and you ruined them! And I don't even want to know what you told their parents."
I'd never seen Bree this emotional before. She was literally trembling, and for once all of her rage was directed to the one who deserved it the most.
"One of my best friends..." she started, but her voice disappeared into a sniffle. Then she gathered herself and continued staring at her father while she talked.
"You didn't only ruin her family. You know they kicked her out on the street, right? Yeah. I bet you knew and just sat there and watched with your bible and the cross in your hands."
She scoffed and shook her head in despise.
"You raped her. You gave me money to run to the store and buy some ice-cream, while you raped an eight year old girl! A girl who later ended up pregnant and 'disappeared' for a while, while your community so conveniently 'took care and helped her back on the right track'. I have no idea what you did to her, but her baby wasn't the only one who went missing when she came back to school. She was too. My best friend wasn't there anymore. Not physically. She was just an empty shell. And no matter how hard I tried to talk to her, reach out and tell her I was there for her, I probably only did matters worse. And do you know why?"
Bree finally turned to the judge, who sat there with disbelief written all over his face.
"Because my own father continued to defile her body whenever he could lay her filthy, evil hands on her. Even with me and my mom inside the house!"
"I'm sorry but I didn't get your name. Are you..." judge Walton asked, quite hesitant.
"I'm not done!" Bree yelled, not giving a rat's ass that she was disrespectful.
"I'm Bree Cooper, and I'm here because I couldn't help my best friend when she needed it the most. I couldn't even help myself get out of that horrible circle of light. Because I was raped too, so many times it became impossible to count. I was trapped in this horrible basement together with scared and crying children. But compared to most of them, I managed to lock myself up emotionally and distanced myself from it all. It still didn't keep me from feeling devastated on behalf of the other kids who had to endure being defiled over and over."
Damn. No wonder yours and Rocco's DNA didn't match.
She turned back to her father and almost snarled when she kept on with her shocking rant.
"And you keep attacking my son for being gay, when you and your friends are sexually abusing little boys on a weekly basis? You're sick! You and all the others, and I hope you rot in hell where you belong."
She had to take a tiny break, and the room was so silent that you could hear her hectic breathing even from the back of the room.
"I'm doing something that should have been done almost two generations ago. Something my mom should have done..."
"Leave your mother out of it!" Paul snapped, but Bree wouldn't have any of it.
"But she knew, dad! How can someone know that their child is being sexually abused every Thursday in the church basement, and not say anything?"
"She has nothing to do with any of this," Paul growled, and I was actually surprised that he defended the woman he'd beaten and harassed for years.
"Stop lying! Either she was in on it, or..."
Bree suddenly stopped with a gasp, and her eyes widened.
"Unless she was... Oh, my God. This started way before my generation, didn't it? She was one of the victims in the circle of light? She was one of the survivors?"
"This is just ridiculous. I never..." Paul grumbled angrily, but the judge stopped him from saying anything more.
"Let me remind you that you're still under oath, Mr. Rumplefinch."
"And that man over there. He's pretended to be Aaron's father all these years, when in reality his mom got pregnant with one of those rapists. But do you wanna know what happened?"
She sent the jurors a desperate glance that showed how much this cost her.
"The church covered it up if she agreed to marry Nolan, and say that the rapist's baby was his. What kind of man would do that?"
Holy shitface! You're the son of a rapist? And a dead one? Damn. Good luck finding your sperm donor, Aaron. Or at least fragments of him in his family.
She shifted her gaze to Paul again.
"And you... You saw me as a brilliant way to flash your macabre secret without anyone realizing that you were doing exactly the same. Because that seemed to be one of the solutions when something went wrong and girls got pregnant. You made up lies that ruined people's lives forever."
She doesn't know who her father is, either. You and Bree are in the same boat. That must be pretty much the only thing you have in common. How ironic. No wonder she kept your last name after the divorce, then. It wasn't because it's stupid as fuck. It was another attempt to distance herself from evil.
"Then you had the audacity to brag about how much you adore your daughter, when you in reality only loved how well I hid your perfect crime so you could keep doing it. Not only on behalf of yourself, but for hundreds of perverted, mean old men during years of molestation. You even forced me to marry Aaron, to hide that one of your clients knocked me up! And you said I would end up on the streets, and that God would resent me when I had to make a living as a whore. I would be doomed. But do you know what? It's first now that I realize that it actually would've been better than to live my life under your narcissistic tyranny. I only wish I realized it sooner."
Bree looked at Rocco and gave him a sad smile.
"For your information, Rocco. Aaron is not your father. He is."
Then she pointed at my dad, and my jaw fell.
"But Aaron. Please know that you can't blame your mom for not telling you. She's probably suppressed it for so long that I actually doubt she remembers it at all. And if she does, she's simply trying to cope. Sometimes truth hurts way more than the ugliest lies you can come up with, and when you're born without being wanted..."
She paused with a sigh of empathy.
"Well, I guess you know how that feels now."
Your entire life has obviously been a lie, Aaron. Your understanding of reality has probably made everybody laugh behind your back. Your deceitful 'relatives'. Those who were supposed to be our own family. But when lies seem so real, how do you know what's true? Does it even matter? Bambi's your family now. She's the only one you can trust. Her and Rocco. You don't need anyone else. Whatever happens today won't ruin other than what's already been ruined years ago. No loss there.
"My parents were catholics. Aaron and his family were Jehova's witnesses. I don't know how they got in contact, but both hid damn well under the christian crucifix of Jesus, and decided that religion wasn't really that important as long as they could continue their horrendous underground activity."
Bree lowered her gaze and stared at the carpeted floor.
"Our mothers were too broken to fight their way out of this. I've been, too. But I refuse to be a victim anymore. And for the sake of myself and all the others that had their lives massacred, I'm placing the blame where it belongs."
Once again, the courtroom was filled with an excruciating loud silence. At least that's what it felt like. It was suffocating. Luckily, judge Walton cleared his throat and found his voice.
"I don't think it's necessary to continue this trial. The case is quite clear, even without reading the statements from the other witnesses. We'll come back with the result when the jury has evaluated everything, but be prepared to never see the outside of your cells again."