Here’s a special sneak peek into Shutter: Volume Two.
*** PLEASE do NOT read this is you have not read Volume One. 🙂
“And how does the defendant plead?”
I hear the question echo in my ears, but its meaning doesn’t register. Everything is muddled together like I’m living at the bottom of an overflowing well, but no one notices. Mentally, I’m too far away and surrounded by an impenetrable barrier—or more accurately, one no one wants to penetrate. Every movement I make is labored, my feet feel glued to the floor with self-made super glue, and my arms feel lashed to my sides with invisible cord. Even opening my mouth is more effort than I can commit to with this black cloud weighing me down.
“Ms. Beckham?” the judge’s voice again, irritation evident. “Are you listening?”
“My client pleads not guilty,” a deep voice resonates through the room, a rush of air swirls around me as a tall man effortlessly appears by my side.
“And who are you?” The judge’s tone is even more annoyed than before.
“Forgive me, Your Honor, I am Ronald Peck. I have been hired to represent Ms. Beckham in these proceedings.”
“Hired?” I try to ask, but my mouth only opens to a small slit as a smothered grunt reverberates in my throat.
He turns to me, and a sad smile stretches across his cracked lips. His rough hand lightly pats my forearm resting on the table. He looks important; prematurely aged by stress, but still like a man of class and prominence. I have no idea who would have hired him. Certainly not my brother, who hasn’t spoken to me since I was hauled away in the middle of the night, and I don’t know anyone else wealthy enough to afford the likes of Ronald Peck.
“It’s okay, Brook,” he reassures me. I look up into his dull eyes and imagine mine look similar – their sparkle choked off by the lies and struggle of life. I immediately decide I like Ronald Peck. I don’t care who hired him; he’s my new best friend. Paul is going to be angry.
The judge continues to grill him, and my eyes wander from his well-manicured hand still resting on my arm, to his shiny gold Rolex then across the room to the adjacent wooden table. The lawyer seated at that table looks as equally impressive as mine, but he has yet to lose the luster in his eyes. His leg twitches with anticipation, as if he can’t wait to jump to his feet and object to something – anything that might allow him to speak. I wouldn’t be surprised if smoke started billowing out his ears from how fast the gears in his head are turning, the labored thoughts crease his face. His lips turn up slightly, and he jolts to his feet. His lips move rapidly and his finger points toward me. I don’t bother to listen to what he’s saying, watching him is distraction enough. He has something left to lose, where as it would appear, Ronald and I do not.
Next to the lawyer with something left to lose is where the victim of my crimes should be sitting, but of course he isn’t there. No one of his status could be expected to attend such a proceeding. I knew he wouldn’t be here, but the knowing didn’t stop the hoping.
I haven’t seen his face, or even allowed myself to think his name, since the night my secret was revealed. The aching tone in his voice as he begged me for an explanation still rings in my ears.
He’d said my name over and over, pleading with one simple word for some explanation. No other words broke the barrier of his mouth after he saw the picture of me perched high in the tree outside his house – only my name, spoken on the wings of hope. I didn’t answer him, though; I had no explanation. The reasons had long since been confused by my actions, and I couldn’t make sense of them to myself, much less string them together to form a coherent rationalization. What I’d been doing to him for the past few years was wrong; I knew that then, and now everyone else knew it as well.
The police quickly led me away in handcuffs while he stood in the middle of my home, alone. The sound of my bare feet slapping against the concrete path covered the sounds of the tears streaming down my face.
When I arrived at the police station it was already teeming with paparazzi. A barrage of blinding flashes immediately engulfed me. Shouts of anger and intrigue assaulted my ears as the police pulled me from the cruiser. I closed my eyes and allowed my body to be led wherever they pleased. The jail cell was stark, cold, and filled with women from all walks of life. I found an empty corner and waited. I had no idea what would come next; that’s when the numbness set in and brought the realization that my current course in life would never be the same. I couldn’t see any options the future might hold for me; everything was cut off and bleak.
I could still smell him all around me, and feel his rough whiskers on my flesh. My lips were swollen and raw, as was the rest of me. I’d had one night of pleasure, of sheer enjoyment, and now I’d pay for it. I’d pay for what I’d done, and what I had so greedily taken would haunt me for eternity.
Luckily word spread fast of my arrest, and I wasn’t left waiting long. My case was pushed through because it dealt with a high profile subject, and Paul helped me put up bail so I could go home.
That was two weeks ago.
Nothing much has changed since; I stay locked in my house, day after day, not able to leave without being followed by hordes of cameras. The karma of my imprisonment by way of cameras is not lost on me.
“Ms. Beckham,” the judge says, “these are serious charges against you; I suggest the next time you grace this courtroom, you do so better prepared.”
My eyes connect with hers, but I do nothing else to acknowledge her words. I don’t know how to be better prepared—I am guilty of what I’m accused of, and I deserve to pay whatever price is handed to me. She stands, her eyes never leaving mine, and shakes her head disapprovingly then turns to exit the courtroom. It doesn’t bother me; I have nothing left to lose.
“Ms. Beckham?” Ronald asks, pulling my attention to him. “We’re done for the day. May I walk you out? There’s a car waiting for you.” Even his voice oozes sophistication with a hint of damage.
“A car?” The question drifts from my mouth.
“Yes, it will take you home…or anywhere else you’d like to go.”
“Please,” he says, holding out his arm out for me to take.
I stand and my world slowly spins from the rush of blood to my head. I can’t remember the last time food passed my lips. A hunger strike isn’t really my style, but my stomach refuses any sustenance I try to give it.
Even empty, my stomach continuously churns from the excess bile produced by the thoughts swirling in my head. Thoughts I can’t stop, no matter what I try to replace them with.
Ronald’s grip tightens on my arm when my body sways, but he doesn’t speak a word. We pass through the large, ornate doors of the courtroom and walk cautiously down the marble lined hallways. Ronald’s head eagerly turns to each side, monitoring our surroundings. He’s looking for the entourage of paparazzi we both know is awaiting me.
“We’re going to use the side door; the car is waiting there,” he informs me.
I stop walking, ripping my arm from his grasp. “Who hired you?” I feel my head tilt to the side, and his follows suit. I can only imagine how we look—like a pair of birds mimicking each other.
He smiles, “That information isn’t important right now. What we need to do is get you to the car.”
I don’t fight him. I don’t have the strength or desire; instead, I follow closely behind as he leads me down a darkened, narrow hall. The clang of a door opening is followed closely by blinding sunlight my eyes have only seen in small doses over the last couple weeks. I stop just outside the door and search in my purse for my sunglasses and oversized hat, hoping to disguise myself.
“The car isn’t here yet; they hit a traffic jam just around the corner,” a familiar voice drifts toward me. Tears well in my eyes the instant my brain recognizes the sound.
I’m almost afraid to look up; afraid he isn’t real, that my mind is playing tricks on me.
“Are you okay?” he asks as my brain absorbs the sound of his voice, slowly gaining confidence it’s actually him. “I’m so sorry I waited until today to see you.”
The hat I’ve been holding slips from my grasp, and I watch as it falls slowly to the dirt-laden ground. A tiny thread of hope winds through me, and begins to slowly mend the broken pieces of my heart.
“Brook?” He whispers my name, the concern heavy in his voice, but I still cannot lift my gaze to his face.
“Ms. Beckham, I will leave you now,” Ronald offers when I don’t speak. “Here is my card, please call me if you need anything. I will be in touch.”
The tears spill over and slowly trail down my cheeks. His body appears as he kneels to retrieve my hat. His eyes turn to mine, and in them I see love, not disappointment at all the lies that have marred me. The trickle erupts into a flood, streaming from my eyes with the feeling of pure relief.
“Brook. Are you okay?” His hands lightly brush across my cheeks in an attempt to clear the salty tears. “I should have come sooner; I knew it, but I didn’t.”
As he stands, my arms desperately wrap around his strong body, and he pulls me in tight. His hands cradle my head and smooth my hair while my tears continue to flow, soaking the front of his suit. A child-like glee washes over me.
“I didn’t realize how alone you felt. Please forgive me,” he says as he kisses the top of my head.
I pull back and look up into his emerald eyes. His hair is long and unruly with blond curls encircling the bottom of his ears.
“Stephen,” I breathe out his name. “How I’ve been doesn’t matter…anymore. Right now, I’m much better.”
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