His family trudged past Shandi at the sentencing hearing. The red-eyed wife and the children, baby-cheeked twin girls clutching each other's small hands, floppy-haired teenage boy tilting his chin high, and Shandi recognized the oldest girl with a start. There had been a write-up about her in the paper, in the Sophomore Stars section. What was her name again...Kelly? Karen? Shandi remembered the grainy newspaper photo, glossy chestnut hair and a bright dimpled smile above phrases like "top student in her class" and "on the national team, with college scouts visiting already" and "volunteers with seniors every weekend."
The girl with "always a kind word for others" looks bewildered now, as if the judge is speaking in a foreign language as the sentence is read and the girl's mother slumps down in her seat, weeping. The prisoner is marched down the aisle in an unjoyful procession of grim-faced officers, as the little twin girls shriek and cry, "Daddy! Daddy!", snatching at pant legs as their father is borne away.
Five years later, Shandi regretted her cheeseburger craving as she stepped forward to lock eyes with Kendra (she knew it started with a "K"), whose dead gaze slid sideways, heavy arm jiggling as she pushed a limp strand away from the fading bruise arcing across her cheekbone. Hurrying away from the cash register, Shandi decided to eat in the car.
Eight years slipped by, and the sun dappled Shandi's arm as she reached into her mailbox to pull out an invitation from the detective, thanking her again for her eyewitness testimony. Not standard, he said, but he'd pulled some strings; she was welcome to attend the parole hearing. She'd been such a passionate and persuasive witness, he thought she might be interested. No obligation, of course. Shandi sighed and rolled back the rim on her coffee to reveal a free doughnut. Maybe this would be a good day after all.
A few ragged rows of folding chairs in the parole hearing room, and Shandi sat in the back row, watching the clock hands inch across the white plastic face. Scuffling in the hall outside, and "Fuck off!" snarled a feminine voice. Shandi twisted to see two teenage girls stomp into the room, one a swollen caricature of the other. Cold, inky eyes assessed and dismissed her as the girls flung themselves into the front row and lolled in their seats, twirling raven hair in synchronized boredom. "Fuck, I have to pee again," complained one girl loudly. "This damn kid is kicking my fucking bladder like a fucking soccer ball! This better be quick."
As the haggard, still red-eyed wife shuffled into the room, Shandi looked at the floor. She wished she hadn't come.
Ten years gone, and Shandi flipped open the newspaper to see the floppy-haired boy glaring at her for the last time beside a picture of what was once a car. Speed and alcohol were a factor. Shandi's fingers trembled as she carefully set the paper down on her dining room table and stared out the window at the willow tree dancing in the wind.
Not her fault, any of it. There were consequences after all, and she's still sure it was him. Almost positive.
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