"Let's just say I felt sorry for him."
Rafael's head snapped up at the lies that poured effortlessly and convincingly from Doug's mouth. He had always been a good liar, and his testimony was proving to be no exception. With his salt and pepper hair, high-cheekbones, and chiselled good looks, Doug oozed charm and confidence. He was the walking definition of debonair, the opposite of the oft-perceived profile of a malicious and violent abuser.
"Why is that?" Buchanan asked, raising his eyebrows and leaning against the witness stand. "Can you tell us why you felt sorry for Mr. Barba?"
"Issues? What kinds of issues?"
"Well, it's sad really." Doug paused and looked over to the jury.
"You're referring to the troubled relationship he Mr. Barba had with his father?"
"Objection!" Isford cried, rising from his seat.
"Your honor." John Buchanan turned to the judge. "I'm trying to establish that Mr. Barba has accused others of abuse. This history of abuse and allegations of abuse is directly correlated to my client's defense. It will prove that Mr. Barba misinterpreted and even greatly exaggerated the events of the night in question."
'Overruled'. The word rang in Rafael's ears. He squeezed his shoulders together in anticipation of the insane, yet oddly logical defense he was certain that Doug and Buchanan were going to use. Refusing to let himself become intimidated, Rafael threw his shoulders back and stared straight ahead at the witness stand as Doug and Buchanan launched into their attempt to discredit him and cast doubt on his story.
A broad smile crossed Buchanan's face. He walked slowly towards the jury and rested his hand on the wooden divider. He studied the jurors for a moment and turned back to Doug. "You said that your accuser, Mr. Barba's relationship with his father was troubled. How do you know that?"
"He told me."
"What did he tell you?"
"He said that his father was violent, physically and emotionally abusive, and that because of that, he had great difficulty with inter-personal relationships and that he tended to over-react to things."
"Did you believe him?"
"I did. I wanted to help him."
"Well, I felt bad for him," Doug said. "You can't help but feel for sorry for someone who grew up in such dysfunction and hardship. I really wanted to help. And…I loved him. Despite everything, I suppose I still do."
He's at it again, Rafael thought to himself. How many times did he listen to Doug professing love for him after a violent episode? It was always the same, Doug blaming him, hurting him, and then claiming to still love him. It all seemed so obvious now. Rafael cursed himself for not seeing the pattern, a pattern that he of all people should have recognized, years ago. He let out a quiet sigh and blamed himself for allowing the violence against him to go on for so long.
What happened next amazed Rafael. While he sat silently blaming himself for the entire situation and as Doug's words began to erode his confidence, Olivia reached over and let the tips of her fingers rest upon his hand. She smiled at him, leaned over and whispered, "This isn't your fault."
The corners of Rafael's mouth twitched into a tiny smile as he nodded at Olivia's words. Those words, which he desperately needed to hear at that moment, meant more to him than anything. Somehow, she knew that at that very moment, Rafael was beginning to crumble. It wasn't that Rafael suddenly felt empowered, but, her words reminded him that someone believed in him; even more than he believed in himself.
"That's very honorable of you to say that, considering the terrible things he has accused you of and the upset this has caused to your life," Buchanan continued.
"I'm just being honest. I can't undo the feelings I had for him for years because things ended up badly."
"So, tell us what happened that night."
"We picked up dinner from a take-out and I walked with him back to his hotel. I was going to leave, but he suggested that I come up to his room. It was a mistake for me to accept his invitation, but, I thought we could reconcile. That's really all I wanted, to work things out. We ate, we talked, and we became intimate. It was after that, that things became heated between us. We got into an argument and things became physical. It's not something I'm not proud of, but, that's what happened."
"You say that the two of you became intimate. Mr. Barba says you raped him."
"I don't know why he would say that. We had sex, several times through the evening. It was passionate, loud, make-up sex. You know what I'm talking about," Doug said, grinning and nodding at the jury.
Jury members tittered at the comment and Rafael again felt his confidence slip. His eyes flashed to the jury as they forced themselves to regain their composure and then to Doug, smirking, from the witness stand. Feeling his cheeks flush with humiliation, and seeing Doug's smug smile turn into a glare, Rafael lowered his head and reached into his jacket pocket for the stress-ball given to him by his therapist. Maybe it would help after all, Rafael thought as he felt its rubber texture between his fingers.
"I don't know why he said that I raped him," Doug continued. His glare lingered on Rafael for a long moment before his gaze shifted back to Buchanan. "I don't know where that accusation comes from," he said. He shrugged his shoulders and threw his hands into the air for effect. "I'm still shocked over it all."
"The sex was consensual?"
"You didn't rape him?"
"No. Of course I didn't. He was my partner of five years. We had sex often, I had absolutely no need, nor desire to rape him. That accusation doesn't make any sense."
"So, you did not 'throw' him to the bed and then proceed to rape him, like he claims?"
"No. I would never do that. Besides, I could not have done that – not with my bad back."
"Yes," Buchanan said. "Your back." He walked to his table and retrieved several clear bags, each containing a piece of paper. He showed the bags to Doug and then held them up in front of the jury. "What are these?"
"Documentation of my medical history. Those are receipts, evaluations, and notes from my chiropractor, detailing my condition. I have been seeking regular treatment for my back for the last year. There is no way I'm capable of picking a grown man up and throwing him to a bed."
Rafael pulled the ball from his pocket and squeezed it as hard as he could. He closed his eyes and counted backwards from ten as another lie rolled easily off of Doug's tongue. Rafael opened his eyes and stared down at the bright yellow ball clenched in his fist. He licked his lips and relaxed his fist when he noticed Olivia staring down at his hand. "He's lying," he mouthed to her, as he stuffed the ball back into his pocket.
"I know," Olivia whispered, nodding her head and turning to glare at Doug. She turned back to Rafael, his eyes wide and worry etched on his face, and smiled as she gently patted the back of his hand.
"OK," Buchanan said. "So, the two of you had sex…consensual sex. What happened next?"
"Things became tense. I wanted to talk about our relationship and whether or not it was salvageable. He refused to talk to me and insisted that I leave."
"So why didn't you leave?"
"I was going to. After we started arguing, I went to give him a hug. I didn't want to leave on a bad note. He elbowed me in the stomach. I know I should have left, but we started arguing. That's when he hit me with the clock. I hit him back, and maybe that was wrong, but I was defending myself," Doug said, turning to the judge.
Rafael sucked in a sharp breath and his heart pounded. Shock, then disbelief set in as he realized that Doug and Buchanan were not only gas-lighting him, but were also alleging that he had been the violent aggressor who threw the first punch.
"I feel very bad about it. It was a heat of the moment sort of situation and I'm very sorry that things got out of control," he said, as he turned to look at the jury. "I wish I could take it back. But, I did not rape him or attack him. He started a physical altercation. I didn't back down, and I'm sorry for that."
"You suffered some injuries that night, didn't you?"
"Yes. I had a cut on the side of my head that required stitches and some bruises. But worse than that, is the toll these accusations have taken on my personal and professional life. I very nearly lost my livelihood. Thankfully, my firm and my clients have faith in me and have stuck by me through this whole…misunderstanding. I'm very grateful for that, but, it was tenuous at first."
"I'm sorry for your hardship."
"Nothing further," Buchanan said, glancing at the jury in an attempt to read them. A slight smile crossed his face as he nodded at Isford and sat down.
"Mr. Harte," Isford said, shuffling some papers and standing, "you're claiming that the two of you got into a verbal argument, which then led to a physical altercation. Is that correct?"
"Can you explain why, my client's injuries were so much more serious than yours?" he asked, crossing the floor and standing between the witness stand and the jury.
"Like I said, we got into a physical altercation, it was heated. We were both going at each other. When I left, we were both banged up, but otherwise ok."
"Banged up? Mr. Barba had a head injury, broken ribs, and serious bruising over his body. That's a little more than 'banged up', wouldn't you say?"
"Like I said, we had a very heated argument. Things got out of control, but I certainly didn't attack him."
"And you're also claiming that the sex was consensual?"
"Then why did my client suffer injuries related to a serious sexual assault?"
"Objection. Your honor, the expert medical witness testified that those injuries may have been sustained from rough, consensual sex," Buchanan said, standing and straightening his tie.
"The witness also said the injuries could have occurred from sexual assault," Isford countered.
"Overruled," the judge said. "But, watch your words counsellor. You may answer the question."
"The sex was rough, which, he liked. It was a turn on for both of us. We got a little carried away, but it wasn't rape. He consented. I consented."
"He asked you, in fact he begged you to stop. How is that consent?"
"No. He never once asked me to stop. If he did, I would have."
"You first told the police that you believed that someone else assaulted Mr. Barba. You denied that things became physical between the two of you."
"Yes. When they told me that he'd been raped and assaulted, I thought that someone else must have been a guest in his room. I certainly didn't do it. I thought that perhaps his other boyfriend did it. When I realized that he was accusing me, I told them what happened. We had sex and then, we got into a physical altercation. I still don't know if he didn't have another guest in the room after I left."
"So you admit to assaulting my client?"
"I admit that we both were part of a physical altercation. I'm sorry it happened. But, I'm a 53 year old man with a lot to lose. I don't go around beating and raping people."
"You don't? My client says you did. And his injuries back up his story."
"Yes. He has issues. Lots of them. He said so himself."
"Why would he make false allegations against you?"
"I don't know. Shame perhaps? Morning after regrets? Maybe, a way to discredit my name. He still owes me a sum of money, so perhaps a way to get out of that? Maybe, he believes what he's saying. I don't know."
"Oh, I think he does believe that you viciously assaulted him that night. You're quite a bit bigger than him, aren't you? What are you? 6'0, 6'1?"
"6'1. I'm also a man in my 50's, with a bad back. He's 10 years younger and he's quite strong. He's not incapable of throwing a punch, which is what he did that night."
"And now, you're claiming self-defence by saying that he threw the first punch?"
"Yes. I went to give him a hug, and he struck me."
"A hug? You grabbed him by his waist and forced him to the couch. He struck you in an attempt to get away from you."
"I'm sorry, but that's not how it happened."
"So you refuse to admit what really happened that night?"
"I have admitted what happened that night. I stand by my story, that the sex was consensual and that we became involved in a physical altercation. Nothing more. I am looking forward to the end of this trial so that I can move on with my life. I'm sure he is too. And I hope he gets the help that he needs."
Olivia shook her head in disbelief at her reaction to Doug's words. He was a manipulative liar, and nothing he said should surprise her, yet she found herself stunned at Doug's ability to sound smooth and sincere. She sighed and glanced sideways at Rafael, whose eyes were tear-filled and even wider than they were before. Her heart broke for him and her outrage towards the man who hurt him so terribly grew even deeper. She watched Rafael as he tried to disguise his tears with a yawn, covering his mouth and rubbing his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. Unable to contain her disgust, a groan escaped her throat as she reached over to give his hand a gentle squeeze.
"How noble of you," Isford said. "Nothing further."
"Rafael," Olivia called, as she watched him pace the lobby outside of the courtroom. "Rafael."
"What?" Rafael asked, turning to face Olivia.
"Here." Olivia smiled up at him and patted the bench beside her and slid over.
"One day," Rafael said, with a shake of his head and his eyebrows raised. He took a deep breath and exhaled loudly as he sat. "The only deliberated for one day…I don't know about this."
"Rafael, I know this is hard. Just try and relax. We're both here for you," Olivia said.
"It's going to be OK," Fin said. "The guy is guilty as sin. The jury will see that."
Out of the corner of his eye, Rafael caught a glimpse of Doug and Buchanan as they entered the lobby and headed towards the courtroom, stopping to chat and smile with a growing entourage. He lowered his eyes and shook his head when Doug cast a long, slow look in his direction.
"Ignore him," Fin said, positioning himself in front of Rafael to block Doug's view. He turned to Doug, checking his phone as he casually strolled by, and glared. "Unbelievable. The nerve that guy has," Fin said after Doug finally walked away. "Don't let him get to you."
"I need some water," Rafael said, springing up from his seat. After a few steps, he stopped and turned on his heel. "I'll use the other one," Rafael said, shrugging his shoulders and pointing behind him at Buchanan and Doug.
Olivia looked up at Fin and sighed. "I'm worried about him," she said, watching as Rafael wandered off in search of a water fountain. "I hope the jury does the right thing."
"They will. They must have seen the guy for the creep he is."
"I hope you're right."
"Liv, I know you're worried about him. He's going to be alright. He's tough. He'll be back being a thorn in our sides before you know it."
"Yeah. I'm looking forward to arguing with him again," Olivia said. "Looks like they're almost ready to start," she said, standing and extending her arm when Rafael returned.
Rafael sucked in his lips and nodded. "OK." He looked nervously at the small crowd already filing into the courtroom and back at Olivia. His shoulders raised as he took a deep breath. "OK," he said, as he followed Olivia and Fin towards the courtroom.
"Rafael," Olivia said, stopping at the entrance to the courtroom.
"Remember, no matter what happens, no matter the outcome, you stood up against him and accused him in court," Olivia said as the rest of the crowd walked into the courtroom.
"I'll go sit down," Fin said, patting Rafael's and then Olivia's shoulders as he passed them.
"You have done all you can do, and now you'll move on and you'll put your life back together," Olivia said. "You survived, Rafael. You survived what he did, and you'll recover. Be proud of yourself for being brave enough to come here, every day for the last week, and face him."
"I don't feel very brave," he said, looking straight into Olivia's eyes.
"Come on, let's go sit," Olivia said, tapping Rafael's arm and smiling. She walked behind him down the aisle hoping and praying that the outcome of the trial would be in Rafael's favor.
As Rafael sat sandwiched between Olivia and Fin, feelings of helplessness overwhelmed him. He chastised himself for looking over at Doug, sitting only feet away, but it was hard for Rafael not to stare at him. Doug's air of confidence and his calm demeanor rattled Rafael so deeply, that he had to force himself to look away. Once again, he reached into his jacket pocket and felt the stress ball between his fingers. He rolled it around in the palm in his hand and pulled it out when chairs squeaked along the floor as Isford, Buchanan, Doug, and the jury forewoman rose from their seats. When the judge asked the forewoman if the jury had reached a verdict, Rafael stared down at his knuckles, turning white before his eyes, as he clenched his fist around the ball as tightly as he could. He held his breath and listened to his heartbeat echo in his ears, until it, and the sound of the juror opening the envelope containing his future, was all that he could hear.