Epilogue: I'm Here, and I'm on the Mend
"Do you have any questions, Sarah?"
The young girl looked up and fear flashed across her face for a brief moment, but it was quickly smothered by a blank look. "What's going to happen next?" she asked quietly.
"I'm going to go into the courtroom and give my closing argument to the jury. After that, they're going to deliberate and then give the verdict."
She looked away, but I knew that there was terror in her eyes. "What if he gets off?"
I knelt down so I was eye level with her. "Then I will do everything in my power to make sure that you're safe and that he can't get to you." I couldn't promise her that he would remain in prison, but I could make sure that he would never see her again. She deserved that much.
Fifteen minutes later, the court reconvened. The jury sat in their box, watching me expectantly. I took an unneeded breath and drew upon all my…er, natural charms for my closing argument.
"Imagine, ladies and gentlemen, being cornered in a bathroom—a place that's supposed to be safe for the general public. Picture yourselves pressed against the wall, trying to desperately to fight against someone who's supposed to be your friend. He's throwing your head repeatedly against the tile wall…he's brutally beating into you with his fists…and he's tearing at your clothes. You have no power against him, and even if you did, you're too terrified to use it."
My clear, musical voice echoed through the courtroom, quiet, but strong. The entire room sat mesmerized by my delivery. I paused for a moment to let the words sink in.
"When he's finished, he leaves you for dead in that godforsaken bathroom. And since it's after closing hours, no one can find or help you until the next day. When the opening manager finally finds you, she assumes that you fell asleep and forces you to go to work anyway, ignoring your injuries and subtly hinting at firing you.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, two crimes were committed here. Sarah Martin was brutally raped by Matthew Foster, a young man she presumed to be her friend. And after the incident, her employer, Kristin Hall completely disregarded her need.
"Our employment laws in Washington are concrete and absolute, and they guarantee that no one will be forced to work when one is severely injured. This law was clearly violated in Sarah Martin's case; her injuries were as clear as day, yet her employer refused to let her go to the hospital. And what's worse, she was almost fired.
"And the worst of all, she was raped." I knew Sarah was cringing behind me and I noticed several jury members shift uncomfortably in their seats. But I let the words hang in the air. The effect of that four-letter word never ceased to amaze me. "Rape. The most despicable of crimes in this nation. The laws in Washington concerning rape are designed to prevent terrible tragedies such as this from happening. Yet still, every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. We can't allow this cycle of violence to continue any longer. Make it stop right here, right now.
"All the evidence is there. I don't need to point it out to you, ladies and gentlemen. You've seen the pictures and you've heard the accounts from the medical examiner and from Ms. Martin herself. You must conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant, Matthew Foster, raped Ms. Martin, and that Kristin Hall as good as helped.
"And if the evidence isn't enough to convince you, imagine that it was you. Or imagine that it was your sister, or your mother, or your daughter. It very well could have been. And if justice isn't served today, you increase the chances of it happening to you or someone very close to you."
I paused and watched each and every single member of the jury carefully. They were eating right out of the palm of my hands.
"Sarah Martin will never be the same. The least you could do is to make sure the monster that plagues her nightmares will never torment her or another innocent girl ever again."
Less than five hours later, the jury returned with the verdict: guilty with thirty years in prison and no chance of parole.
As the courtroom slowly dissipated, Sarah walked up to me. "Ms. Swan?" she asked tentatively.
I smiled. "Yes, Sarah?"
"Thank you," she said very quietly, but with a fervent gratitude that shone in her eyes. "I mean, you were the only one who believed me. You were the only one who helped me and…and there aren't enough words to…to…"
I raised my hand and gently placed it on her shoulder. "You don't have to thank me, Sarah. You deserved better than what you got. I was just making sure you were taken care of."
Her eyes welled over with tears and she threw her arms around my neck. I chuckled and hugged her back, careful not to put too much strength in it.
When she was gone, an arm slid around my waist and a pair of lips met my ear. "That was very moving, Ms. Swan," a seductively sweet voice murmured.
Electricity shot through my veins. "Well thank you, Mr. Cullen."
I turned to see Edward smiling brilliantly at me, and I beamed widely back.
It had been fifteen years since that fateful day. But despite it all, I couldn't bring myself to regret it. The events in my life were terrible and tragic, but if I hadn't experienced it all, I never would have been here. I never would have found the strength to love Edward as much as I did and now, as a vampire, my love for him was stronger than any enduring fortress. Nothing could tear me from his side and nothing could separate him from me. We were united forever.
"Let's go home," he said as he held out his hand.
I nodded and took his pale hand in mine. "Home," I agreed.
How good it was to be home.
A/N - It's finished! It's finished! It's finished!
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