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“Please stand. Raise your right hand.” I carelessly lifted my lanky left arm. Before I switched elbows, I glimpsed at Mr. Baker’s public lawyer, who smiled slyly to himself and rolled his eyes. Meanwhile, the defendant pasted on a fake grin. His eyes crinkled at the edges, producing more wrinkles than he already had on his pale skin. I winced. My pupils darted back to the clerk, who continued, “Do you promise that the testimony you shall give in the case before this court shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
“State your first and last name.”
“You may be seated.”
The defense attorney’s languid legs elegantly strutted my way, her crimson heels the lone sound echoing throughout the room. With her dirty blonde hair drifting behind her, her crystal blue eyes met my dull brown ones.
“Justine, where were you the afternoon of Friday, November 16?”
“Justine, go pick up Jay from school, please.”
“Mom,” I coughed for effect, “I’m sick.”
“Just because you’re not feeling well and stayed home from school doesn’t mean you’re incapable of crossing the street and getting your brother,” she remarked sternly. “And hurry up. His doctor’s appointment is in less than an hour.”
It was Friday, time for Jay’s weekly appointment at the clinic at noon for his worsening sickness. Living with my brother was difficult since Mom’s attention was constantly directed at him. After a while, however, I’d accepted the fact that Jay’s medical condition required more focus than me and my silly dilemmas that undoubtedly weren’t as important as his fatal ones. Besides, it was impossible not to love him. Jay was a good kid.
I waited at the counter in the main office while the secretary phoned someone. She informed me, “He’s in room 232. Take stairwell B when you exit. Go upstairs and make a right.”
After reaching the second floor, I followed her directions and scanned door numbers.
I walked a few feet before encountering a widely opened door that above it, displayed the number 232. I played with my fingers and silently stepped onto the pale green floor of the classroom. The back of Jay’s wheelchair faced me as did a man’s posterior, who I assumed was one of Jay’s teachers.
The mysterious figure’s hand slithered up and down my brother’s thigh, tenderly stroking it back and forth with his index finger. He leaned his rosy lips to Jay’s left ear and whispered, “Don’t cry. Everything’s okay. Just don’t tell anyone-not your mom, your sister, or your other teachers. It’ll be our little secret.” The man chuckled to himself eerily.
The voice was extremely familiar. What was he talking about? Don’t tell anyone what? And how did he know Jay had a sister?
“E-excuse me? I’m picking Jay up for his doctor’s appointment,” I stuttered before anything else weird could occur. Jay looked back at me with tears gliding down his cheeks and sniffled. The other man, still aiming his back at me questioned, “Justine? Is that you? How have you been? I haven’t seen you in such a long time. How’d you get in? Don’t you have to be 18? You’re only...what? 16 now? You’re not old enough to be in here.”
Before the man had time to turn around, I knew who it was. It was HIM.
And to answer his question, he’s right. I’m not old enough to pick Jay up and take him home. But I definitely wasn’t old enough when he molested me either.
“Could you repeat that?”
“I said, Justine, where were you the afternoon of Friday, November 16?” Mrs. Mallory, the DA, revealed a halfhearted grin that said, “Look, I know you’re nervous right now, but please give me a little help here.”
“Did you go anywhere else?”
“I went to pick Jay up from school early.”
“What happened there?”
“Nothing. I walked to the classroom where the secretary said he’d be, got him, and we went back home.” I was aware of the pledge I had made less than a few minutes ago, but stalling seemed like my only solution if I intended to avoid that memory as long as possible.
“Are you positive that’s all that happened? Let me remind you, you’re under oath.”
“Well,” Mrs. Mallory pointed out. She swaggered to her desk, clutched some papers, and exclaimed, “It says here, that at 4:58 p.m. on Friday, November 16, you, your brother, and your mom, Rebecca Kuhlman, each made statements to detectives at the Special Victims police department. Is that correct?” I nodded in admission. “You told them, I quote, ‘He was bending over Jay and rubbing his hand on his leg. Something was off.’ Did you say all of that, Justine?”
“So, did you see someone touching your brother inappropriately?”
“Is this someone currently in the courtroom?”
I shielded my embarrassed face with my unwashed, brunette hair and bobbed my head up and down. “Ms. Kuhlman,” Judge Thorne ordered, “please answer verbally.”
“Can you point to him?”
While focusing on the ticking clock behind the viewers’ area to avoid any eye contact, I directed my finger at him, the filthy pervert, the one everyone referred to as Mr. Baker.
“No further questions.” Mrs. Mallory sat back in her seat and smirked with content.
Mr. Veern stood up, clomped his cheap worn-out shoes against the shiny wooden surface, rested his elbow on the witness stand and reassured, “So you saw the defendant, I recap, ‘touching your brother inappropriately,’ correct?”
“Yes,” I hissed. How many times were they going to make me relive the moment?
“But you didn’t see him actually molesting Jay?”
“Yes or no?! Was anything happening?”
“So you just assumed that my client was abusing your brother. But you didn’t-”
“You didn’t actually see him molesting Jay. Everything you said is just a... hunch. You don’t know what, or if anything for that matter, happened in that room.”
“Objection! Your Honor, Mr. Veern is badgering the witness.”
Judge Thorne responded, “Sustained. Watch yourself, Mr. Veern.”
“Do you know Mr. Baker personally?”
“Um, yes. He was my sixth grade English teacher.”
“Nothing further,” he concluded crossly.
I returned to my seat on the bench, where I positioned myself between my overprotective, but loving mother and the family shrink Mom insisted we needed. Dr. Bailey laid her hand on my thigh while praising me, “You did great.” I edged away and she gave me a concerned frown.
Because my testimony was over, I watched as the five other victims, including my brother, were questioned. Most of them were around my age and came forward with their parents after hearing about Jay’s accusation. With Jay, there were three girls and two boys, all of whom shared a disturbing tale. While sobbing, they described their own horrifying experiences, including details that would haunt them forever. At first, they perceived his touching as harmless, but it escalated and eventually, he turned into a monster. And all of them were conveniently performing poorly in Mr. Baker’s class and he claimed that the so-called abuse was “extra credit.”
He was such a liar. So why had I believed him too?
After going home, my family ate dinner in silence.
I took a shower, feeling dirty as ever, and prepared for bed. But first, I peeked in Dad’s old office, where my old clothes remained untouched and successfully forgotten until my encounter with Jay and Mr. Baker. The clothes that he stained. The ones that were innocent and clean until he eternally contaminated them.
The next day, Mom hauled me out of the house in order for us to go to our second session of pointless “acknowledging, accepting, and healing” with Dr. Bailey.
After greeting us, Dr. Bailey informed us that it would be beneficial to see each of us individually. Mom gladly volunteered me to go first while I glowered at her. The shrink beckoned me into her disorganized office cluttered with papers and cheesy, inspirational artwork plastered to the chipping walls.
“Please, have a seat, Justine,” she advised. I obeyed. “So, how are you doing?” I shrugged nonchalantly.
“Are you sure? You didn’t look okay at the trial yesterday.” I reacted with the same casual movement.
“Well,” she moved on, “how about last Thursday? Your mom told me that you started yelling after your teacher recommended you do the extra credit because you’re failing her class. Is that true?”
I concentrated on my dirty, bitten nails. For about a minute, we sat there in silence, waiting for one another to say something. “Okay, we’ll talk when you’re ready,” she commented. She grabbed glasses and some forms and initiated writing.
If this was what we were planning to do for the rest of the meeting, I might as well not waste the time. I unburied my mini notepad out of my bag, rummaged for a pen, and began thinking about something to write in what most would call a diary. As soon as Dr. Bailey saw me, she gestured for me to give the book and pen to her. I slapped it shut and ogled at her suspiciously. She shook her head and snatched it from my hands. I gaped at her. What kind of psychiatrist did she think she was?
She skimmed through the pages. “NO!” I yelped. There was private stuff in there! I lunged at her, but she swung it away from me. Finally, she flipped open to a blank page and scribbled something down. Dr. Bailey politely returned it to me as if nothing had transpired. I tore it out of her grasp and read it.
You can tell me things, you know?
I scrawled down an answer. I’m not going to. I presented it back to her.
I won’t tell anyone. There’s doctor-patient confidentiality. I could lose my license if I tell anyone about what goes on in this room.
Did you lash out at your teacher because of the extra credit thing?
Maybe. It felt awkward telling her all this, but writing it down was definitely easier than saying it out loud.
Dr. Bailey paused, hovering the writing utensil over a new page and by the way her brow furrowed, I could tell she was deeply pondering something. After a moment of intense thought, she put pen to paper.
Did Mr. Baker molest you?
I gawked at the shocking words. I read it again, slowly this time, making sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. It still asked if he had abused me. I looked up at Dr. Bailey and my chestnut eyes moistened. She immediately knew my answer. How had she suspected it? My watery eyes soon evolved into full-blown weeping. She knew not to comfort me with a hand on my shoulder because I’d just flinch away and she understood a “Don’t worry; everything is going to be okay” wouldn’t help. Everything wasn’t okay.
Despite my sobbing, I managed to choke out, “W-were you...um...ever abused?”
“Time’s up,” she retorted, “it’s your mom’s turn.”
After our session with Dr. Bailey, Mom volunteered to drive her home. During the ride, she browsed through my journal without allowing Mom’s eyes to wander upon it. I didn’t trust her that much, but she already knew the bulk of it. Why shouldn’t she know the rest?
As soon as we arrived, Dr. Bailey thanked us. Unlocking her door, she was still reading my diary.
Interrupting my deep sleep was a knock on the front door. Because Jay was most likely too weak, I knew Mom was the one who willingly welcomed the outsiders in. Before I could eavesdrop on their quiet conversation, I fell back into a slumber.
“Order in the court!” Judge Thorne boomed. He banged his gavel in front of him. “Mrs. Mallory, are the People ready to continue their case of five counts of child molestation in the first degree against Norman Baker?”
“Yes, Your Honor, we’re ready.”
“Mr. Veern, is the defense prepared to begin their case?”
“Yes, I call the defendant.” As he made his way to the witness stand, his tan slacks rubbed against each other and he ran his hand back on his nearly bald head, combing his white wisps of hair.
His attorney spat questions at him non-stop. “What were you doing when Justine walked in on you and Jay Kuhlman?”
“I was simply comforting him. He had done poorly on the exam they received that day and started crying. He was a good student so I didn’t want him to worry about one test grade.” It was obvious he had rehearsed his answers.
“So, you weren’t molesting him?”
“Of course not! I was just trying to cheer him up! The same for all my other accusers. I never hurt any of them. They’re my students; I care for all of them.”
“The six children who alleged you abused them said you-”
“I DIDN’T ABUSE ANYONE!”
“They said you called it ‘extra credit.’ According to all their report cards, their grades started low, but increased as the marking periods progressed. Can you explain this?” A man barged in the courtroom and whispered something to Mrs. Mallory.
“First of all, I don’t determine their grades; the student earns it. Second, it might be a coincidence. How should I know? Maybe my encouragement worked after all.”
Mrs. Mallory sprung from her seat, forcing the sturdy desk in front of her to scrape the floor. “Your Honor, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I’ve just been informed that another victim has come forward and accused the defendant of molesting her. We found DNA evidence that has just been tested and contains the defendant’s...fluids. We also have proof that the victim herself wrote.” I opened my mouth in awe. I twisted my head in Dr. Bailey’s direction, breathing heavily. My teeth scratched against each other while my brain tried to find the right words. Why had I trusted her?
The judge countered back. “Who?”
“WHAT?” I shrieked. Gasps occupied the courtroom. More words of shock came from Mr. Baker, his attorney, and even the judge. Why didn’t Mom look surprised? Again, he bashed his gavel, shaking the dangling American flag and shouted, “Mrs. Mallory and Mr. Veern, in my chambers. NOW.” The three of them marched out.
Mom embraced me in a hug that resulted in me shouting, “STOP!” She ignited into a waterfall of tears and choked out, “Sweetie, why didn’t you just tell me? We could’ve gotten help.”
“I don’t need help, Mom!” She merely shook her head. I eyed her suspiciously. “Dr. Bailey told you, didn’t she?” She toyed with her fingers, biting on her bottom lip. “MOM!” I demanded an honest answer.
“No,” she muttered softly. She sighed before spilling the fact that she had known about my experiences for who knows how long. “The other night, some cops wanted to come in. They wanted your clothes. They said you...you were molested. Is that true?” About to burst into another explosion of waterworks, I suddenly felt guilty.
Without answering, I turned to the tattletale and hissed, “Look at what you caused, you little bi-”
“Look, I know I said I wouldn’t tell. But it helps victims recover by getting justice. That’s what you need, Justine: justice. I don’t care if my license is revoked. I just want you to get better.” She shook my shoulders back and forth. “Okay?”
I sat back down, still extremely infuriated. I refused to answer, but in a way, she was right. Maybe there was a possibility he’d end up in jail and couldn’t harass anyone else. While he rotted in jail, maybe I could live a normal life. Or pretend to. We waited until Mrs. Mallory, Mr. Veern, and the judge returned.
Judge Thorne stated that the trial would commence in five days when the DNA test was completed.
Over the next few days, Dr. Bailey contacted my home repeatedly and explained what she’d informed them of-the clothes she read about in my journal, the entries I kept from when he was still molesting me, the written conversation we’d shared.
I wouldn’t pour my heart out to her, but I’d at least confess the truth.
When the case resumed on Friday, I was the first one called to the stand.
Mrs. Mallory jumped right into questioning. “When you were in sixth grade, did Mr. Baker molest you?”
“Yes.” I was surprised at how much easier it was than before to respond truthfully.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
“I was scared. He said that my grades would drop and my mom would be disappointed.”
She lifted my journal and flipped to a particular page. “ ‘February 4, 2008. He made me touch him. I didn’t want to. He said that if I didn’t, I’d get in a lot of trouble. So I did. I wish I could just stay home from school.’ Did you write that, Justine?”
She held up a plastic bag used for police investigations. Inside was my black, baggy sweatshirt with a prominent white stain. “The medical examiner found two DNA samples on it. One of them belonged to Justine and the other was courtesy of Norman Baker.” Mrs. Mallory shoved the bag in each of the jury members’ faces. They jerked their heads away in disgust and smiled at me sympathetically. “Was this yours, Justine?”
His lawyer had no questions for me. This time, when Mr. Baker was called to the stand, his answers didn’t sound rehearsed. He held on to the same excuses, but he seemed uncertain.
Eventually, it was time for the jury to make their decision.
“On the first count of child molestation of Jay Kuhlman in the first degree, how does the jury find the defendant?”
“Not guilty.” Jay hunched over, too weak to sob, while Mom soothed him.
One after another, the jury foreman repeated the disheartening verdict: not guilty.
This was hopeless. I slapped my palm to my forehead. If he wasn’t found guilty, he’d go back to abusing kids, and they’d never prosecute after today’s acquittal.
“On the sixth count of molestation of Justine Kuhlman in the first degree, how does the jury find the defendant?”
“We find the defendant... guilty.”
The elated expressions Mr. Baker and Mr. Veern had previously displayed ended instantaneously. Before the bailiff led him away, he squinted his emerald eyes and flashed a glower in my direction. A gratified smirk appeared on my lips. Finally, I had obtained justice.
After reporting herself, Dr. Bailey’s license was suspended for 30 days. We’d promised to meet up after it became legal. And this time, I’d tell her everything.