SIDEBAR CHAPTER THREE- THE PINCH HITTER
After lunch with Jennifer to gather a little WASP intel on her next witness, Melanie returned to the court’s conference room where the depositional proceedings were being held. She walked in to find Charles and Shavonne with their heads bent, going over the testimony from Daphne earlier that morning.
“She certainly didn’t hold back, did she?” Shavonne said.
“No she didn’t,” Charles answered. “But then, holding back isn’t Daphne Chander’s style at all. She reminds me of her mom.”
“Wait, you know her mom? How?” Melanie interrupted, a bit surprised at this turn of events.
“She was my doctor a while back. Talk about a no-holds-barred kind of lady! She was the one who outright ordered me to take some time off because of the Mixed Migraine Headache Disorder, even threatened to call you and Donaldson if I didn’t. I have to admit that she was right. If I didn’t, I could have had a stroke. Her daughter is exactly like her and I hear her father is a lot like them too.”
“I wish she would have called me. It would have given me great pleasure to kick your overworked ass out of the office, but then where would I be without all your dedication right now?”
“Up shit’s creek and stuck working at home with Lindsay?”
“Ha-ha very funny.”
“But also very true.”
“This is the second time I’m hearing about your wife having a problem with your job Mel. What’s her deal?” Shavonne asked, genuinely curious. The ‘Marcus’ was always a shrewd, driven woman, even back in law school. There is no way that someone she’d been involved with for nine years couldn’t know that.
“It’s not so much that she has a problem with my career per se…” Mel began, only to have Charles cut her off.
“It’s that Melanie is working this case. You tend to forget Mel, that I was born and raised WASP too, although like Daphne, we’re known as the Hornet’s nest- a prominent family of mixed race which flows in and out among the WASP at will.”
“So what about this case has her so troubled?” Shavonne asked again.
“If this were anyone else except the lover of her baby daddy, Lindsay would be the first one to protest the injustice of it all. But because not only is Mel working the case but it involves the key to her heteronormative fantasy, the Queen Bee is not a happy woman right now.”
“Enough Charles,” Melanie warned, even though on some deep subconscious level, he was stating all of her own thoughts regarding Lindsay’s behavior.
“Why? What about what I just said is an untruth or misconception of Lindsay’s core issues? I’ve also known the Petersons a long time, and a more selfish, egotistical-for-no-good-reason lot I’ve never met. Well, that’s all I'll say about that, since you already know that I think you should ditch the bitch.”
“I can’t, plus we have a child.”
“And who pushed for that child? And I’m not talking literally either. Between you and Brian, Ms. Lindsay has it made. Although I think he’s starting to finally wake up. The question is, will you?”
Melanie was relieved when a new person entered the room just then. “Excuse me, I hope I’m in the right place.”
“Which room are you looking for?” the bailiff nearest the door asked.
“I’m… I’m Bryce Whittingham. I’m he-hear to testify on behalf of Justin Taylor. If you could just direct me to where I’m supposed to go, I’ll gladly get there so that I don’t hold up anyone.”
“It’s okay Kenneth, he’s here to see us,” Melanie advised as she walked toward the curly-haired young man. Extending her hand, she introduced him to her colleagues before thanking him, first for calling her, and secondly, for agreeing to come in. “I was surprised to receive your call about this case. You do understand the sensitive nature of the questions you’ll be asked, don’t you?”
“Yes Ms. Marcus,” Bryce answered. “Whatever I can do to help Justin will be worth it. He didn’t deserve any of this, regardless of what people think. And with the way Chris is, honestly, it could’ve been any of us.”
“Us? What do you mean? You know what...let’s get you sworn in and then you can explain, is that okay?”
“I’d be happy to, Ms. Marcus. Chris should pay like anyone else but…”
They took the time to get the nervous young man settled, offering him a beverage to calm his already-frayed nerves which he readily accepted. Smiling gratefully at Melanie and company as he was being sworn in, they were ready to begin proceedings.
“Would you state your full name and address for the record please?” Charles asked.
“Bryce William Whittingham, 77 Sycamore Lane, Sewickley PA.”
“Thank you Bryce. I may call you by your first name, correct?” Melanie asked.
“Sure. In fact I prefer it, especially at the moment.”
“Why at the moment?”
“My father stated that if I chose to do this, then I could consider myself an orphan.”
Melanie dropped her eyes and gritted her teeth for a moment. The nerve of these fucking people to just disown their children like this out of some misguided notion of power. “Yet you’re here to testify on Justin’s behalf. Why?”
“I have a very concrete sense of right and wrong. What happened to Justin Taylor and all subsequent events are an injustice and a blight on humanity as a whole. I may not like that Justin is gay, but he has a right to live his life as he sees fit. Since no one sat me down and told me that I must like women but I do, I don’t think being a homosexual works that way either. Besides the sum of a person is not based on their sexuality and anyone who thinks it is, is a fool and doesn’t deserve to call themselves a human being.”
“Quite the impassioned speech Bryce. So, based on what you know of Chris Hobbs and Justin Taylor’s tumultuous history during your senior year of high school, what do you think was the root cause for of the events leading up to the violent act committed?”
Bryce worried his upper lip with his teeth for a moment before answering. “On the one hand I think Chris is confused about his own sexuality. Humans fear what they don’t understand and they hate what they fear. In Chris’ case, although he is straight to the world at large, I think there is something about Justin that makes him question that, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t start and end with the equipment room incident.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“I noticed, long before the situation was getting out of hand, the looks Chris gave Justin when he thought no one was looking. In fact, my… lover and I noticed.”
“Lover? I thought you said you aren’t gay.”
“I’m not, but she is several years older than me and thinks the term ‘girlfriend’ antiquated, especially in terms of our twelve year age difference. Besides, Ms. Marcus, gays don’t corner the market on the term ‘lover,’ now do they?” He smirked at her, causing a loud guffaw to erupt before anyone had a chance to catch themselves.
“Touche Bryce and well played. How was she able to observe the same situation as you if she wasn’t a student at the high school?”
He fidgeted a little at what he was about to reveal, but he’d already obtained her permission to do so as they laid abed the previous night. “She was faculty. I say was because she quit St. James the moment the verdict was handed down without true justice for Justin Taylor. Amanda and I were beside ourselves with grief and worry for him. We still are.” He bowed his head in solemnity sending up a silent prayer for Justin as he had everyday since word of the incident reached him. He had decided not to go to the prom in favor of staying the night with the woman who has his heart.
“Tell me about your own run-ins with the defendant in this case.” Melanie couldn’t help but be moved by this young man, who had laid everything on the line to defend the one person in the entire school that defended him. Looking at Bryce, she never would have guessed just how much he had in common with Justin, but there was no doubt that the young man, like Justin, was wise beyond his years. Whomever ‘Amanda’ was, was indeed lucky to have such a stand-up guy.
“My instances of bullying with Christopher Hobbs spans many years, many more than Justin’s, but a lot less traumatic. I mean, look at me… I’m a geek. I was born a geek, will probably die a geek and am completely unashamed to be one. Although I am not gay, I can and will readily admit that Justin Taylor is a beautiful human being- both inside and out, unlike me. Oh I know that I’m not ugly per se, but nor am I beautiful and I am at peace with that. I value my mind much more than my body and it shows with this little bit of baby fat that I’ve been trying to get rid of since I was thirteen. It’s evident that it is not going anywhere until it is good and ready and neither am I. Consequently, the first situation between Hobbs and I started about the time he made it to the Junior Varsity football team but couldn’t keep his grades up. He and several others demanded that I take their tests for them.”
“And did you?”
“Not at all! I would have been expelled, if caught. I did offer to tutor them but that wasn’t what they wanted, and they had the coach’s blessing to torture me until I gave in.”
“Who was their coach?”
“Mr. Kevin Dixon, of course.”
“Of course. So what happened at your continued refusal?”
“At first it was the run-of-the-mill, same-old-same-old kind of things. Head in the toilet; locked within my own locker; firecrackers thrown at my feet which sounded like gunshots- those kind of things. But it was when my locker was set on fire that things began to get serious.”
“And did you do what they asked then?”
“No, but Amanda began keeping a record of everything.”
“Did you and she start dating back then?”
"No. That wasn’t until the middle of my junior year, but she did threaten Dixon and made a report to the school board on my behalf. My parents dismissed it as unimportant, but because it was filed they couldn’t deny it happened. So then the bullying became limited to the gym and to Dixon’s Advanced Calculus class which I attended with Justin. Our senior year, we both talked about how strange it was to have the jock squad in class with us along with their groupies- or cheerleaders if you want to be technical. Daphne Chanders was the only one in there like Justin and I and worked her ass off in that class to make sure Dixon didn’t have a reason to fail her. He would have, if given the opportunity, you know? He is a true bigot in every sense of the word and that includes racial profiling. There were many instances where he alluded to her being able to be in Advanced Placement classes because she had lain on her back and screwed whatever teacher would give her an ‘A’. But she shut him up with a 1490 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test her first time taking it while the football team which he coached, received no higher than 790 on theirs.”
“What did you receive on yours, if you don’t mind me asking.”
Bryce smiled then. “1600. A perfect score. Justin and Daphne were jealous but were also very happy for me, as I was for them. We’d all worked hard to obtain those scores and it showed.”
“I’ll say it did. So the day that Justin was suspended, what happened?”
“Chris was up to his usual mess when Justin and Daphne walked in. Justin told him to leave me alone and told him not to pull ‘it’ out on me. When Hobbs asked what, Justin said, ‘your dick.’ Chris asked the class at large if this was a ‘faggot convention’ which was met with laughter from the other students. Then Dixon walked in telling everyone to take their seats. When attendance was being called and he got to Justin’s name, Hobbs yelled out ‘queer’ in place of ‘here’ which everyone but Daphne and I found funny. When Justin stood up and requested an apology from Hobbs, Dixon told him that he didn’t hear anything and that if he didn’t sit down, he would be sent to Dr. Perkins office. Justin, who was absolutely fed up at that point with Hobbs and his cronies getting away with every wrongdoing within that classroom, told Dixon not to bother and began gathering his belongings. ‘The queer is getting his things; the queer is leaving the room, he said as Daphne tried to stop him. Mr. Dixon told him that it was enough and Justin commented on how Mr. Dixon’s hearing had returned. He said, ‘This queer says fuck you’ and Dixon yelled that Justin was suspended. He had called down to Perkins office before Justin made it down there to sign himself out of school for the day. As he was leaving, he made a call to Brian and asked him to come get him when he finished his meeting.”
“You remember all that?” Melanie asked in astonishment.
“I could never forget it. It was the first time that someone had shown me to do more than keep my head down and just get through life, instead of being in charge of my own destiny and the way people treat me. What happened to Justin could have happened to any of us if we had the balls to really start pushing back against the bullies instead of becoming willing victims to people like Dixon and Hobbs. This is my way of standing up against the folks who feel they have the right to demand of and demean other people simply because they were born different, or have different ideals or find the one thing they can’t seem to, which is unconditional love. No, Justin didn’t deserve what happened to him but Christopher Hobbs certainly deserves jail time. But since that’s no longer an option, his family deserves to pay for fixing a case to get him off. Any other person- especially if this had been done by a gay person to a heterosexual- would have received the maximum penalty under the law. It begs the one question that really needs to be answered in order to restore order and faith in the justice system. Why didn’t he?”
Charles switched off the tape, marking it so that it could be forwarded to the judge’s chambers as soon as they cleared out of the conference room for the day. He, like everyone else, was stunned by the testimonies of Daphne Chanders during the morning and Bryce Whittingham during the afternoon. Now all they needed was Justin’s testimony along with Brian’s, Hobbs, Dixon, and Perkins, to complete the depositional phase before Judge Plano could make her decision. He caught the eye of the bailiff standing by the door. Although seeming stoic, he detected the a bit of moisture at the corner of the man’s eyes. No, no one within hearing distance of Justin Taylor’s plight could be left unaffected, even those who had become cynical of humanity having worked in all facets of law enforcement.
“That wraps up your testimony Bryce. Thank you for doing this, even in light of what it costs you to be here. Will you be okay?” Melanie asked.
Bryce smiled in return. “Surely, thank you. My parents may not want me around anymore because of their fear of Samuel Hobbs and his ilk, but that’s okay. I made sure that my parents released all three of my trust funds yesterday. They tried to fight it but the threat of scandal outweighed any apprehensions they had and since I have a full-ride scholarship to Penn State, that money will be a nice nest egg for Amanda and I to get started.”
Shavonne nodded. “Any idea what you’ll be studying? Personally, I think you’d make one hell of an attorney.”
Bryce laughed. “Pre-med. I’ve been on the fast track to medical school since I entered the ninth grade. I was going to study general medicine but after Justin… I’ve decided to become a neurosurgeon specializing in Traumatic Brain Injury. If I can just help one person not to go through what my friend is going through right now, it will be enough. Be sure to tell Justin he is in my thoughts and prayers, will you?”
“You bet I will Bryce and thank you,” Melanie hugged the young man. She knew what a toll it was taking on her, who had only known Justin the better part of a year, so she could only imagine what it was doing to someone who had grown up with the young blond.
Melanie’s musings were cut short by the vibration of her cell phone. She didn’t recognize the number and although a little leery, she picked it up anyway.
“Oh great! Thank God. Listen Mel, I’m in a bit of a bind and I need your help.”
“Ted? Ted, what’s wrong? And why are you calling me from an unknown number?”
“Oh, that’s the easiest of questions to answer. I’m in jail.”