Note: The section in Italics is Joanne's flashback to the case.
WARNING: This chapter contains characters with suicidal thoughts.
"When I first became a lawyer, I was a public defender. I only tried one case…the guy who hit Maureen and Aaron…I was his attorney."
"You were my dad's attorney?"
She nodded, blinking back tears. "I didn't make the connection that it was your dad until I looked at the file again when I left…"
"You were his lawyer?" Maureen echoed.
"Honeybear, I am so sorry…"
"Joanne, you did your job. You were a public defender and fought the case assigned to you," Roger said, his voice slightly numb now.
"I got him a plea."
"How did you get a plea that he didn't serve any jail time?" Mark asked.
Joanne blinked back tears. "I, um…I did some digging…I didn't know who…I didn't know it was you guys…"
"Jo, you didn't know us then," Roger said. "Just tell us what happened."
"We want a deal," Joanne said.
The district attorney rolled her eyes. "Your client drove drunk and hit a young mother and her child, killing the child."
"The child survived the accident."
"And died days later from injuries sustained in it."
Joanne took a deep breath. This was her first case. She had to win it at all costs. She had to prove herself. "My client was not responsible for the injuries he sustained."
"Are you serious?"
"Look, you and I both know the father is on drugs."
"That has nothing to do with your client—"
"Unless, of course, you can prove he wasn't abusive."
"The mother was leaving the father. She was overly emotional, not paying attention."
"You're actually planning on using that as your defense?"
"If the child's father wasn't on drugs, the mother wouldn't have been leaving. If the mother hadn't been hysterical, she might've been able to swerve and prevent the accident."
The district attorney shook her head. "This is unbelievable. Your client is a drunk driver who killed a child and you're going to blame the parents?"
"All I have to do is convince twelve people that there's a chance one of them could've prevented it."
The woman sighed. Joanne could see the resistance in her wearing thin.
"I'll put them both on the stand without hesitating. You want to put them through that?"
"What kind of deal are we talking?"
"Driving while intoxicated, assault."
"Aggravated assault is the highest we're willing to plead to."
"Loss of license for a period of two years, probation for five years."
"And jail time?"
The woman closed her files. "We'll let you know."
"She came back and accepted the deal and that was the end of it."
"You were going to blame them?" Mimi asked, shaking her head in disbelief.
Joanne nodded. "I'm not proud of it and if I could do it over, I never would've taken the case."
Maureen got up and walked out without a word to any of them. Mimi looked to Roger.
"Go after her," he said quietly, nodding. Mimi kissed him and ran out of the loft.
Benny stared at the ground, not sure what to think. Mark sat on the couch completely still, as uncertain as Benny. Collins tried to read each man's expression. Roger's eyes filled with tears.
"Roger…Roger, I'm so sorry…" Joanne said.
Roger ignored her and went to his room. Benny saw Joanne's tears turning to sobs. Collins hugged her to him. Benny felt confusion turning to anger. They could forgive Mark, be okay with Mark, and not Joanne. He went to Roger's room and knocked on the door.
"Rog, it's me."
There wasn't an answer so Benny opened the door. "Roger?"
"Leave me alone." His voice was soft and pleading. He sat on the bed facing away from the door.
Benny instead stepped inside and shut the door. "Roger, I know you're upset with her—"
"I'm not upset with Joanne."
Benny stared at Roger. "Then who?"
Benny sighed. "Are we gonna play twenty questions or are you gonna just tell me why you're in here?"
"Because she's right," he mumbled.
"Because she's right! It was my fault and I fucked up and now my son is…is…"
Benny took a step closer. "Roger, it's not your fault. You didn't hit them."
"She was leaving because of me. Because I was on drugs and I was cheating and I wouldn't stop."
"You made some mistakes. Killing Aaron was not your mistake."
Roger shook his head and jerked away when Benny tried to touch his arm. "Yes it was! Don't you get it? I may as well have driven the car. If it wasn't for me she wouldn't have left! She wouldn't have put him in the car! She wouldn't have been driving on that road!"
Benny leaned forward and caught a glint of something in Roger's hand, poised over one wrist. He nearly threw up when he realized what it was.
"Roger, give me the knife."
"I can't do this, Ben…"
"Yeah you can, Roger. Just hand it to me."
"I can't…I can't…I miss him so much and it's my fault…it's my fucking fault that he's dead…"
"Roger, do not do this. Give me the knife. If not for yourself then for Mimi. For Maureen. She already lost Aaron, do not put her through losing you."
Roger's shoulders shook with his tears. Benny reached around and slowly pulled the knife away from him. He set it on the nightstand and turned Roger towards him. Roger's head fell to his shoulder.
"It's okay, man…It's not your fault. It's not your fault…"
"Maureen! Maureen, wait!" Mimi called.
She caught up with Maureen halfway down the stairs.
"I'm not going back up there," she said through her tears.
"How about we go to my loft? I can make you some tea."
Maureen gave a reluctant nod and let Mimi lead her to the apartment. Inside, she sat on Mimi's couch, shaking.
Mimi grabbed a blanket from the bed and wrapped it around her friend's shoulders. "Better?"
Maureen nodded, not meeting her eyes. Mimi stood up and went to the kitchen to turn the kettle on.
"I'm going to call upstairs and just tell them where we are."
"I don't want to see anybody."
Mimi nodded. "That's fine. I just don't want them to worry."
Maureen nodded. She heard Mimi calling upstairs, talking to someone, Collins from the sound of the conversation. When she'd hung up, Mimi returned to the kitchen and fixed a cup of tea. She brought it to Maureen with a small smile.
"Here. This'll warm you up."
Maureen held it and took a small sip. "Joanne was right," she said.
"About it being my fault."
Mimi wrapped an arm around her and stroked her hair with the other hand. "No, no, chica…she even said if she could do it again, she wouldn't. She only said that—"
"I don't care if she meant it. She was right."
"Maureen, it wasn't your fault."
"I was hysterical. I was crying and upset and I shouldn't have gotten behind the wheel and now…now…"
Mimi took the mug of tea from her, afraid she'd scald her lap from the force of her trembling. She set it on the coffee table and hugged Maureen tightly.
"It's not your fault, Maureen. It's not your fault any more than it is Mark's or Roger's."
"I was his mother. I was supposed to protect him."
Mimi pulled back enough to wipe away Maureen's tears. "Sweetie, this wasn't something to protect him from. It happened and there was nothing you could do."
"But if I had seen him—"
"If you had seen him and swerved the wrong way, you might've both died."
Maureen looked at Mimi, tears still falling. "I wish I had died with him."