The click of heels echoed in the courtroom. Papers shuffled, and James could hear the sniffles of the jury. His suit was hot and itchy. The judge took her stand. He wanted to turn around to Ori. He wanted to see her face. He imagined her giving him a smile. It wouldn’t reach her eyes.
“Please be seated.”
The scuffing of chairs. His had a bad leg. It squeaked on the wooden floor. It was so hot in here. His suit was too itchy. He pulled at his collar.
“Calling the case of The United States of America v. Anna Padilla. Are both sides ready?”
“Ready for the People, Your Honor.”
“Ready for the defense, Your Honor.”
“Will the clerk please swear in the jury?”
The ceiling had large fans that swirled lazily around and around and around. His leg thumped wildly under the table, making his heel scuff the side of his shoes and creating a sch-sch-sch sound. He could not see his friends. They weren’t in the room. He didn’t know where they were. The sch-sch-sch sound got louder as the jury sat down. The judge looked over towards where he and the lawyer sat. He couldn’t remember her name.
“Rape.” She said. Her eyes locked with the jury. “Rape, is a horrendous crime. I believe that in my line of work I should be able to let my client know that the government justice system can handle any sexual assault cases that they may come across, no matter how rare or how impossible it may seem – this is one of those cases. I represent James Smith, an eighteen year old man who was raped by a sixteen year old girl. You might think this is impossible, but I must remind you that rape is not about sex, and it is not about strength or weight or gender. It is about power. About having control. My client was not in a state to give verbal consent, nor did his arousal portray as a verbal “yes” to the rapist…”
Her words leaked out of his head. Like warm molasses. He couldn’t understand what she was saying anymore. Her lips just moved. He could hear the crackle in her starched shirt when she adjusted her glasses. Then she stopped talking. She bowed slightly to the people seated on the right side of the room. They all had stone cold looks on their faces. James could see the doubt in their eyes.
Why did I ever make that report?
“Mr. Nicolas, you may proceed.”
There was a man, about as tall as the podium the judge sat at. He stood from beside Anna. Her eyes followed his every step.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, let me take a moment to thank you for sacrificing your time today for this trial. I assure you that we will do everything within our power, and I’m sure in yours, to see that justice will be delivered. What the prosecution asks you to believe is that a woman, a young girl, aged sixteen, raped a 5’10, 150 pound man. You will see that there is no tangible evidence that shows that the alleged rape happen, nor will you hear any evidence from witnesses that show Anna Padilla to be a horrendous sex offender. You will hear of no previous offenses, you will hear of no recent misdemeanors. You will hear, though, of a sweet, young girl. A girl who makes mistakes, yes, but also a girl who knows when she is wrong. You will hear several stories today about a horrific rape that did not happen, and you will hear about the…”
Why why why why why why why why.
He wanted to bury his head in his hands and cry. He wanted to storm over to where Anna had tears down her cheeks and hit her so hard her grandchildren would feel it. He wanted to wipe off the glaring eyes of the Padilla family that sat in the stands. He wanted to curl up on his mom’s lap. He wanted to go home.
The man stopped talking. He didn’t bow like the lady did, but instead thanked the jury and the judge, then sat back down next to Anna. She picked at her hair, forgetting about trying to seem like the victim, like the person who was hurt instead of James. She noticed him, fixing those icy blue eyes on his. He stopped. There wasn’t sadness.
“It was really loud, there was a lot of people there. Music just sorta seemed to pump through the walls. I was with James, and we walked towards the back of the house where there was another room. We stayed in there for about five minutes talking with some of my other friends…”
She stopped. Her eyes lingered onto James. Tracy nodded, motioning with her hand.
“I didn’t think he would want to stick around with the girls for very long, so I told him that there was a different room a little ways off where there were a lot more guys. I thought it would…kinda be his thing. Well, he left, and I didn’t see him for a few more hours, not until Ori wanted to leave. I agreed, and went to go look for him because I didn’t feel safe just leaving him at the party. I barely knew any of the people, and if I did I didn’t really trust them.”
“What happened after you went looking for him?”
Chloe looked down at her hands. Her throat constricted as she swallowed.
“We…uh…” another swallow, “I was…walking up the stairs…trying to see if I could spot him from the balcony, y’know, since the lights were off and the only thing that could really help me see were the windows with the street lamps outside….and I got up there, and then I saw…I saw her with him.”
Tracy handed a tissue to Chloe, who sat in the box, rubbing her eyes. James restrained himself from trying to get to her, to hold her.
“Can you describe what you saw?”
Chloe took a few more breaths. After she composed herself, she nodded.
“James smelled like a booze bar. He was wobbly, Anna had to hold him up. I asked her what she was doing with him. She said she was taking him home. I didn’t really believe her until James took her hand and kissed it.”
“He kissed her hand?”
“Sort of. His fingers were cupped, like he was trying to hold a beer bottle, he was practically sucking off her fingers as if her hand was beer.”
“Did it look like he wanted to have sex with her?”
“No. It looked more as if he was trying to figure out if she was a life size bottle of Bud Lite.”
Tracy nodded, sitting back down besides James. As the man got up Chloe flicked her eyes towards James. He tried to give small smile for her. Tried to make her a little more comfortable even in the witness box.
“Miss Montau,” the lawyer said in a voice to rival Gods’, “you were with Mr. Smith throughout the night, is that correct?”
“And you spoke to Anna as she was leading him to the alleged rape location?”
“And you say that James was acting as if he wanted to have sex with Anna, since you recall the encounter as ‘he took her hand and kissed it’.”
“Objection,” Tracy stated, “what is the question?”
“I’ll rephrase what I mean is, do you think James could have wanted sex by the way he was acting towards her?”
The lawyer gave a look that sent shivers down James’ spine. Chloe must have felt it too, for she lowered her gaze and twitched under his stare. She didn’t answer for a while.
“Do you think James could have wanted sex by the way he was acting towards her?”
Still no answer. James dug his teeth into his lip. He felt the blood start to pool. The lawyer sighed.
James went still. The blood stained his teeth. The lawyer leaned back on his heels, and smiled.
“I have no further questions for this witness.” He said, and then returned to his seat. James didn’t dare look at Chloe as she exited the courtroom, the flats of her shoes scuffing the hardwood. He heard Tracy mutter to herself. He couldn’t tell what it was.
“The State calls Linda Robertson to the stand.”
James knew the name as soon as it left her lips. The cop. An older woman stiffly approached the bench, placing her cap onto the desk and looking out into the audience with somewhat fear. Tracy stood before her.
‘It’s actually Ms.” She corrected with a blush. Tracy stretched a smile.
“Sorry, Ms. Robertson, you were the one that responded to the call two weeks ago, am I correct?”
“Did you see the victim, or did you only talk on the phone?”
“We only talked on the phone.”
“And how did he sound?”
Robertson’s eyes flickered. They locked onto James.
“Would you like me to repeat the question?”
She shook her head, tearing her eyes away from him.
“He sounded strangled. Like the sound when you want to stop yourself from crying. He swallowed a lot during the interview, so I just wrote down what he said.”
“Did you investigate anything afterwards?”
“Yes. I questioned his family, but that was about it.” She admitted, “I also turned in the case like usual.”
“Was it odd to you that the report was filed three months after the alleged incident?”
“No. Well, not really. At first I believed it and thought it was normal because most victims don’t want to report anything since it’s a traumatic experience for them, and even though three months is quite a while it’s still reasonable to assume the victim wouldn’t report due to fear.”
“Earlier in that statement you stated that at first you believed the rape, what made you change your mind?”
Robertson didn’t look at James. He knew what she was thinking. He had a feeling everyone knew what she was thinking before she even said it.
“Because he said the victim was a male with a female perpetrator.” Robertson murmured softly.
Sch-sch-sch sch-sch-sch sch-sch-sch.
“It’s just…I’ve never heard of that before. It’s not at all common and the fact that he reported it three months late…I just didn’t believe it after that.”
“When you questioned the victim, did you include to ask if he performed a rape kit test done at his local hospital the day of his rape?”
“No, I didn’t think it was necessary.”
“When you were filing the case did you knowingly refuse the case because it was a male victim or for another reason, which If it is so please inform the court as to what that reason was?”
“Objection.” The male lawyer called out, “leading question.”
Tracy smiled to Robertson.
“When was the case filed?”
“Two weeks ago, the fourteenth of December.”
“In the morning, afternoon, evening?”
“Early morning, I believe it was around four or five?”
“After the case was filed it was then being review by a detective in my precinct, Detective Toby Loftin. When did he question you about the case?”
“T-that-“ her voice broke, and she cleared her throat.
“He questioned me that same day.”
“What did he question you about?”
James noticed the way the cop had her eyes wandering around the courtroom. She had a nervous tick – scratching at the wood on the desk. He could practically hear it from where he sat. His suit was itchy. His neck was hot. It felt like he held a penny in his mouth.
“He asked me things about what did the victim sound like when filing the report, o-or about how…how if I believed such a thing could happen.”
Tracy walked back over to the desk. She grabbed one of the thousands of manila folders on it, holding it into the air as she circled back towards Robertson. She handed the folder to the cop.
“Will you please inform the court if this information from your exchange with Detective Loftin is true?”
Robertson held the folder in her shaky hands, eyes scanning over it. James could hear her swallow. Once. Twice.
‘Yes. Yes, it is all true.” She said.
“Will you also inform the jury that what you said here is true, here, when you said, and I quote “he wasn’t drugged, nor was there a weapon involved, but he was very drunk, and I just believe that maybe he regrets being with her so he claimed that she raped him in order to have some piece of mind to it”.”
She stayed silent for a moment. Then she took a breath, steadying her voice.
James wanted to crawl inside a hole. Tracy raised her chin, looking the judge in the eye.
“No further questions.” She said with a small bow. The judge motioned towards Anna’s lawyer.
The man shook his head, “I have no questions for this witness.”
Robertson left the stand, not making eye contact with James. None of them wanted to look at him. None of them wanted to see him. It felt as if they were conspiring against him. His mouth was burning. His tongue tasted metallic - like copper. How long had the case been already? It felt as if time was just flying past him. He didn’t know how to react.
“Do you have any further witnesses you wish to question?” The judge asked. Tracy nodded. So much nodding. James wondered if they only spoke in questions and nods.
“The State calls Zoe Mark to the stand.”
James did not know who Zoe was. She was a thin girl, blonde hair and big blue eyes. She looked confident as she walked briskly to the podium, head held high. Tracy smiled – to him it looked genuine when Zoe made eye contact with her.
“Miss Zoe Mark, do you know James Smith?”
“Do you know who Anna Padilla is?”
Miss Mark, you are a college freshman, am I correct?”
“Yes, I am.”
“And you are an inspiring entrepreneur with your boyfriend Roman Chanini, correct?”
“And you also run an important Instagram page full of photos from several different parties, all for the cost of five dollars for a shout-out since that page has over an astonishing 20 million followers?”
Zoe blushed, but still held her head up high.
Really? James rolled his eyes into his head as the lawyer straightened his tie.
“What is the relevance of these questions?” He asked. His tone made James want to gouge his eyes out.
Tracy clasped her hands behind her back. James could see the way she twiddled her thumb back and forth across a bracelet.
“Your Honor, these questions show that due to the large amount of influence this Instagram page has, it is not wise to post unflattering or unappealing photos of future employees, students, workers, etc. I can prove from a video that was taken down within two minutes of being posted of what conspired that night.”
The judge pursed her lips but didn’t say anything.
“I have no further questions.” Tracy said. The other lawyer watched her as she sat on her seat. Then his attention turned to Zoe. James could she her eyes grow wider. He had that effect on everyone, it seemed.
“Miss Mark, you had said before you have a boyfriend?”
Her eyebrows scrunched up but she nodded anyways.
“Does he work out often?”
A small blush tinged the tops of her cheeks.
“Do you ever accompany him to his workouts?”
“Has he ever gotten drunk at any of these parties you say you have been to?”
“Objection.” Tracy stood up. James didn’t roll his eyes this time. This time it was for good.
“The relevance of these questions are out of bounds.”
The lawyer opened up his mouth to argue, but the judge held up her hand.
James saw the lawyer clench his fists.
Zoe shifted in her chair as the lawyer approached the jury, resting his hands on either side of the wooden railing.
“Have you ever wanted sexual intercourse with him while he was under influence?”
“Has he ever initiated sex with you under influence?”
“Did you stop it?”
“Have you ever become drunk?”
“Have you ever wanted sex?”
“But Roman has always told you no or restrained you?”
“Yes, in most times he just brings me back to the dorms in his car while other times he just pushes me off or hold me at arm’s length so I don’t try anything on him.”
The lawyer smiles, and folds his hands.
Tracy motioned to Zoe, who was becoming flustered. She climbed down from the podium and escaped back into the audience. James could tell she was getting a little agitated, but she breathed in deeply, and turned to face him. There was a glint in her eyes.
“The State calls Anna Padilla to the stand.”
There was a small gasp, mostly from James as Anna stood up slowly rom her chair. She nervously looked towards the lawyer, mouthing something. He waved his hand at her, and she moved to the front. Her shoes squeaked on the floor. The chair creaked as she climbed into it. James didn’t breathe. He didn’t dare blink. She was looking right at him.
“Miss Anna Padilla, you are a sophomore, are you not?”
Her jaw tightened.
“And you do agree that the accusation against the claim that you raped James Smith is false, correct?”
She returned to the table. Another manila folder. The paper crinkled in her hands.
“Would you read this and please state to the jury if the information inside is true or false?”
Anna timidly took it from her, glancing over to her lawyer. James took in delight to see the man put his hand to his chin, his knuckles white. She read over the papers, thumbing them again and again. Her forehead creased.
“Ma’am? May you please tell the jury if the information inside is true or false?”
Her mouth opened, but closed immediately. She glanced at the man. He rolled his fingers, motioning her to go on.
“Yes…yes, this information is true.” She said. Tracy grinned.
“May you please read it out loud?”
Anna cleared her throat, licking her lips.
“‘I didn’t go out with him. I don’t know who the hell that person is, I swear. I don’t know why he would say something like this. I don’t know him, and I have never had sex with him, much less raped him. I didn’t even know he was at the party.’”
“Can you read the date when that was recorded?”
“About two weeks ago, December 16th.”
“And you say that you agree with your statement there? You never had intercourse with the victim, much less danced with him or engaged in any physical activity with him that night?”
She was silent for a few more minutes. The silence almost killed him. He could barely hear the thump of his own heart.
Tracy bit into her lip, turning back around so she was facing James. He barely caught a wink from her.
“If it pleases the jury, I have video evidence I would like to present to you now.”
More nodding. The lights at the front of the court dimmed slightly and a low-quality video started to play on a projector. It showed Roman, Zoe, and a few others gathered around the camera of the phone. They were hollering, yelling, and saying somethings that James couldn’t really make out. Music boomed. Lights flashed. They drank beer. An image flashed in James’ mind.
The heat. The sweat. The music.
“Heyyy, Smith got a girl!”
That line. James breathed in, his senses flooding with the smell and taste of alcohol. Then camera turned from the group to the balcony. On the ledge they could clearly see Chloe, bathed in light from outside a window. She looked like she was arguing with someone. A light flashed. It was James. It was him. He was leaning on the railing, eyes closed, limp in the arms of a girl. Another camera flash.
Anna, with her arm around him.
Anna, with a smile on her face as he kissed her hand.
When she was shooing Chloe away as she took his hand.
When she led him into one of the bedrooms.
When she shut the door.
It was Anna.
James matched Tracy’s Cheshire grin.
“I rest my case, Your Honor.” She said and returned to her seat.
The lawyer vaulted from his place at the stand.
“Your Honor, may I call an hours recess?”
“No, they’re wrong. That’s wrong. That can’t happen!”
Mom paced the floor of the room, her hands covering her mouth as she wiped the tears flowing from her eyes. James sat in a bench next to an open window. Below, near the court house doors James could see throngs of people standing behind metal barricades, split into two halves. One side showed pictures of angry women, phrases such as “MEN CAN’T BE RAPED” plastered in large neon letters. Most of them were women. On the other side hundreds of cameras and reporters leaned over the fence to talk to the police officers. He silently thanked the officers standing guard, keeping them away from the entrance. Reporters would be worse than an angry mob.
He tried to savor the feeling of the cold air blowing into his face and ignore the raunchy shouting from the crowd below. It nursed the sweat beads that dribbled from his suit collar. The sharp wind froze the water in his eyes. He couldn’t cry. He didn’t want to cry. He wasn’t going to be weak.
“Mrs. Morgan, my son was raped. And now they want to press statutory charges against him?” She said, her voice breaking. Marcus sighed with his head in his hands.
“What if we win the trial? What if she becomes convicted of the rape? Would the charges still be taken into place?
Tracy sighed, taking off her glasses and setting them on one of the desks.
“No, they wouldn’t.”
Their relief was short-lived.
“But it means that after this video displays and the recess is over the judge has the power to possible throw out the case.”
“WHAT?” The parents yelled, staring in shock at Tracy. James stood and held onto Mom’s shirt sleeve, tugging her into a chair. Tears had started to flow freely again down her cheeks.
“Throw out the case? B-b-but why? Why? Don’t the people out there still have to say guilty to that…that…that son of a bit-“
“Because Anna was found that she lied under oath,” Tracy explained with the upmost care. James held his mother back. He could feel her twitching under his grip.
“She had said that she had no connections to James and that was proven to not be true when I showed the video. Now the judge must decide if she will keep the trial to convict her or to make a decision and throw it out based on it.”
Marcus rubbed his eyes. His cheeks were glowing pink.
“Wait, but, hold on. You were the one who let her review the evidence. You let her see that what happened before, so then you show the video and put this case in danger? You put us in danger of losing it now?”
“Mr. Smith, I did no such thing,” Tracy said as she walked up to Marcus, aiming her face to his, “You both knew about the video, and so did James. You both knew she was lying when she stated that she did not have any afflictions with James whatsoever. I just showed the court the video where she was clearly shown with James at the time of the murder,” Tracy said, staring into Marcus’ eyes with a softening look, “do not make me the enemy here, sir. Please. I am trying to help.”
Marcus sighed. He pushed a hand through his hair. James finally let go Mom who reached out. They gathered each other in their arms. James held back.
“So, he’s not going to be held for the statutory rape charges?” Mom asked. Her voice sounded so broken. She looked so tired. James recounted that last fight they had. It didn’t seem so silly now. He wanted to paint her. Tracy puffed out her cheeks.
“The charges will only be held against him if the jury finds Anna not guilty of the rape, but I am not so sure they would find her guilty.”
Something inside him snapped.
“Well, why not?” James argued. His voice was raw from not talking for so long. Right now, he needed to. “We have evidence, the witnesses, that video. Isn’t that enough to convince them? Isn’t that enough to show them that I was raped?”
The word sent mini shockwaves through him but he shook it off. He would not let it phase him. Tracy didn’t answer him instantly. She gazed out of the open window, drinking up the cloudy sky. Her eyes softened. She looked so peaceful. She took another breath.
“All of that is up to the jury, and if we’re not lucky, to the judge.”
“But I don’t want those charges! I don’t want to be convicted of something I had no control over! I did nothing – why should I be punished for it?!”
“No, I can’t have those charges. I can’t have that. You know what they do to sex offenders, which is what I’ll be forced to become since I obviously had sex with a sixteen year old girl? I can’t live near a school. I’ll be forced to tell everyone I meet that I’m a registered sex offender-“
“I’ll be forced to have a sign, people will avoid me, and they’ll think I’m some sort of fucking monster because I was convicted of something I did not do! It’s not fair!”
He almost broke down. He almost did. But he clenched his fists instead, pressing them against his face and screaming into his jacket. Screaming to let it go. Screaming because it wasn’t right. It was fucked up. It was fucked up bad. He hated this.
Arms wrapped around him and pulled him into an embrace. He stiffened as he smelled the mix of flowery perfume and Old Spice cologne but after a few deep breaths he was able to let the tension of his body relax. There was another hand slowly stroking his hair. One placed on his shoulder. All comforting.
Silence. So much silence. Before it would seem daunting. Before he would have pushed it away. It made him think too much. Of too much things. Of too much people. Now it was therapy. Now it was soothing. He sniffled.
“James,” he looked back from the darkness of the Old Spice shirt. Tracy was watching him with sad eyes.
“I know the world isn’t fair. I know that first hand,” she placed both her hands on his shoulders, shaking him gently, “we are going to get through this and we will find a way to help you after all of this shit, okay?”
She caressed his cheeks with her thumb just like a mother would. He nodded in her hands.
“So what happens to Anna now?” Mom asked in a quiet voice. It slowly peeled off the silence.
“Well, Anna was just found guilty of lying in court, so now I guess her lawyer would come up with a plan to prove her innocent of the rape. There will be another trial held of course for her purgery charges.”
“Will she be sent to jail for that?”
“If she’s not found guilty here, then that trial will only give us just a thin slice of justice. Now, let’s head back to the courtroom. Recess is almost over.”
James forced himself to laugh as he followed Tracy out of the room. Marcus gave him a weird look.
“I use to dread hearing that back in elementary school. Now I wish that was the only time I would ever hear it.”
The courtroom was dull, even after what had just happened. As they returned to their seats James noticed Anna’s pale look on her face as she quietly sat down in the witness booth. The judge clapped her gavel a few times to restore order. James waited for her words with baited breath.
“Due to the recent discovery of Miss Padilla purgery I will hold these charges until the end of the trial.”
The room seemed to fill with sweet relief and sighs. It wasn’t long, though, before the judge clapped her gavel for order.
“Mr. Danta, are you ready to present your evidence?”
“Yes, Your Honor. The Defense calls Zackary Gates to the stand.”
James felt his blood run cold. He wasn’t expecting to see him here. He wasn’t expecting to see him anywhere. It was a stupid thing to do. He watched as Zack walked along the aisle. They practically looked like twins with the bandages on their face and neck, yet Zack had his arm in a sling, and it was his left eye that had the patch over it. He gave James a long hard look as he ascended the witness stand. The lawyer rocked on his heels, the corner of his mouth pulling into a smile.
‘Mr. Zackary Gates, can you explain to us what happened that night in your own words?”
“Yes I can. I arrived there shortly after ten thirty with a group of my friends. I hadn’t seen James or Ori around so I assumed they weren’t coming. I drank for a little bit, played pool, that kind of stuff, when at around midnight I was on the dance floor partying with some buddies when I saw Anna and James kissing.”
“Yes, she would pull back, and he would slide his hand across her neck to pull her back in. It was a disgusting show of PDA.”
“I have no further questions for this witness.” The lawyer said as he sat back down. Tracy ran her fingers through her hair, approaching Zack.
“Mr. Zackary Gates, you are the victim’s current boyfriend, yes?”
“So it must have been quite a little annoying if you saw her kissing someone else.”
“We weren’t dating at the time.”
“Here,” another manila folder. Where was she getting these folders from?
“Read this. Is it true?”
He read through It quickly.
“No? But isn’t this in your own words? Did you not say “Anna and I have been in a relationship for about four months now”? Which would include the month of the rape. Are you changing your statement?”
“No further questions. The judge looked at them from the top of her glasses.
“Are you ready for your closing statement?”
The lawyer nodded.
“Yes, Your Honor.”
He turned to the jury, hands clasped in front of him. His pinky shook violently.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, it is within my honor that I show you the evidence of the video. It does show Miss Padilla in contact with James Smith, but it does not show rape. I ask of you, couldn’t a 5’6, 150 pound male push off a simple 4’11 90 pound female such as her? I ask you, where in the video does it show true evidence of rape? Please consider this, and I know you will make the right decision in proving this young lady, not guilty.”
He returned to his seat. Tracy followed his steps in addressing the jury. She scratched at her neck, pulled her hair into place and gave a smile.
“Please, let me tell you this, Jurors, that it does not take any force of nature to assume that women are equal to men. Women have always been equal to men, but right now, right here, when a man has been raped and there is evidence to prove as such that he was raped, will you toss in your decision because the accused was a young female? Because the victim was an older male? Please, I ask of you to bring justice upon this courtroom and find her guilty. Thank you.”
The judge clapped her gavel. James stood, warily as they streamed from the court room. His legs fumbled against each other.
Tracy placed a hand on his shoulder again. It felt so comforting.
“Hey,” she said in a soft voice, “I think we did good, don’t you?” She said it as if she was addressing a small child. James nodded anyways. After what seemed like an eternity later the jury filed back in.
“Has the jury reached a verdict?”
One man in the jury section stood up. He wore a yellow shirt and white pants. Mustard yellow. He could feel Tracy’s hand squeeze him.
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“On the charge of rape in the second degree?”