At The Beginning
A/N: It's almost been a year since I uploaded a chapter to this story and I'm sorry. I spent all summer working on this chapter and the next chapter for Beside You (which will be updated soon). I don't have much time now, because I just got a job, so...yeah. I'll try to update when I can. Also, I have a poll question for you guys to answer in my profile. It would help greatly if you all would check that out and give me your honest answers. I also want to talk to you guys about the follow-up story to "I'll Be Home For Christmas". I need ideas. With November right around the corner, I need to know what you guys think it should be about, because, honestly, I'm lost. If I don't get any ideas, then I might just leave that story alone. If I do end up not writing a sequel, I will write a series of Christmas one-shots for you guys to read. Now, without further ado, chapter 24 of At the Beginning.
To say that Selene Montez was furious with her granddaughter was an understatement. No, the woman was livid with Gabriella, and that much was shown when she struck her granddaughter the moment they stepped out of the courtroom. The skin to skin contact was loud enough to grab the attention of everyone in the vicinity; leaving them to wonder what had just happened. Gabriella was not at all surprised at her grandmother's action. It was a well-known to her, and to her sister, that the woman was not above hitting a grown man, or woman, if she thought they deserved it. And she really thought Gabriella deserved it. Refusing not to react the way she wanted to, Gabriella handed Rosalina to Michelle and told her to take her outside. Once both were out of ear shot, she turned to the aging woman, ready to confront her, but was met by another slap.
"You…ungrateful little brat," Selene said, her brown eyes glistening with malice. "How could you do this to your father? How could you even think about putting him through this? After all he's done for you, what would make you decide to pull this stunt?"
"All he's done for me?" she asked, bitterness seeping through every word. "He's done nothing for me except impregnate me, twice. My decision for pulling this 'stunt,' as you wanna call it, lies in the years of physical and sexual abuse he's put me through. Years that I'll never get back."
"Stop with the lies, Gabriella! Your father is innocent, and you know it."
"No, I don't know. What I do know, however, is that man took six years of my life and turned it into my own personal hellhole. He treated me like a thing; not like I was his own flesh in blood like he was supposed to. That man, that…monster is not my father. He stopped being my father the moment he decided that I was free game for his sick pleasure."
"I don't understand," Selene whispered, shaking her head in disbelief. "I just don't understand it. How can you stand there and accuse your father of doing such horrible things to you when you know he loves you more than life itself?"
A bitter laugh escaped Gabriella's lips as she moved closer to her grandmother, mocha brown meeting chestnut. "If he loved me, he wouldn't have fucked me." Her grandmother gasped at the use of vulgar language, but stayed silent. "You can defend him all you want, but I refuse to let you bully me into recanting my story and allowing him to walk free. I won't do it. I can't do it. I want to see that man punished for everything he's done to me; for the innocence he stole from me." Without another words, she turned on her heel and stalked off. She was done with her grandmother; done with the bullshit. Selene was blinded by her unwavering loyalty to her son and her belief that he could do no wrong. But he could and he had.
Too pissed off, she hadn't realized that she was being followed until a hand wrapped around her wrist and stopped her. She turned, ready to chew out whomever it was, but her tongue caught in her mouth when she was met by the vibrant blue eyes of her fiancé. Sighing, she moved closer to him and circled her arms around his waist. He returned the embrace and kissed the top of her head. Troy had seen the entire exchange between Gabriella and her grandmother; heard every word spoken. It was unfathomable to him that the elderly woman could blatantly ignore her granddaughter's pain in favor for her monster of a son. "You okay?" he asked, pulling back slightly to look upon her face.
She nodded; smiling tiredly. "Yeah, I'm fine."
Everything was starting to take its toll on her. There was tiredness in her gaze that he wanted nothing more than to get rid of. He hoped that the jury could come to a fast decision so that they could move on with their lives; so that she could find closure. Taking her hand, he laced their fingers together and gave her a small smile. "Come on," he said, tugging her in the direction of the courthouse exit. "Let's find something to eat while we wait."
The diner buzzed around them as they sat in silence at a table by the window. After leaving the courtroom, Troy and Gabriella sought out Michelle to see if she wanted to join them, but she refused. The fifteen year old knew that the appearance of their grandmother brought a whole other level of drama into their lives and weighed more on Gabriella's shoulders than her own. Instead of following the couple to the diner across the street, she volunteered to watch Rosalina for a little while. She was well in-tune with her sister's mood and wanted her to not have to worry about anything; even if it was only for a little while. Although she hadn't fully expressed it, Gabriella was grateful for the time away from Rosalina. She loved her daughter dearly, but with everything that was happening, she was exhausted and just needed a little time to herself.
"I'm going to need at least a week of sleep after this," he spoke, breaking the quietness surrounding them.
Grinning, she looked up from her fries. "Same here." Her voice came just above a whisper, but he was able to hear her just fine. "I just want this all to be over," she said, looking towards the courthouse, "so I can move on."
He reached for her hand; picking it up from where it lay on the table. She turned back to him and watched as he enclosed her small hand between his large ones. He brought it closer to his mouth and kissed her knuckles. "Be patient, Brie. Everything will work out in the end."
Her dark eyes expressed gratitude as she gazed at him, lovingly. "Thank you."
"For what?" he asked, furrowing his brow.
"Everything," she answered; a soft smile gracing her lips. "For chasing after me in high school, for never giving up on me, for not abandoning me when I needed you the most, for understanding, for just…being there for me." She brought her eyes to the table. "I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't be here if not for you."
"Brie." He rubbed the pad of his thumb against her skin. "Don't say stuff like that."
"But it's true," she whispered. "If I hadn't met you, I would either still be stuck in that life or…or dead."
Not liking what he was hearing, Troy moved closer to her; his chair scraping against the floor with each inch he took. He kept her hand in his as the fingers of his other hand lifted her chin; making her look at him. He stared into her eyes for a moment before speaking. "You are so much stronger than that, Gabriella. And do you know how I know?" She shook her head. "Because, if you weren't, then you wouldn't have lasted this long in the first place. And you, damn sure as hell, wouldn't have gotten up in front of the entire courtroom yesterday and recounted everything that man put you through. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for."
Sighing, she looked down at their joined hands. "You think too highly of me, Troy."
"I think I have a right to, don't you?"
"Yes, but I wish you didn't."
"Because I'm bound to disappoint you."
He shook his head. "Not possible." He made her look at him once more. "The only way you could ever disappoint me is if you decided that you don't want me anymore. Other than that, I could never find a reason to knock you off of the pedestal I put you on. I love you, Gabriella. Nothing will ever change that."
Smiling softly, she leant her forehead against his and gazed into his turquoise eyes. "I love you, too."
Before he could move to kiss her, his cell phone began to vibrate in his pocket. He pulled it out and answered the call. "Hello?" Gabriella watched as his demeanor changed and she knew it had to have something to do with the case. "Alright. We'll be right there." He pressed end and sighed, turning to the brunette beside him. "The jury's back."
"Madame Foreman," Judge Matthews spoke, his voice echoing through the quiet courtroom, "has the jury reached a verdict?"
"We have, your Honor," said the woman assigned to reading the jury's decision. From her place beside him, Gabriella held on tightly to Troy's hand. This was the moment she had been waiting for, but that didn't mean that she didn't dread the outcome. Troy brought the back of her hand to his lips and kissed it to comfort her. She looked up at him and smiled in gratitude.
"Then, please, read off each charge and the verdict."
"In the indictment of one count of child molestation, we find the defendant, guilty."
"Mr. Henley, either control your client or I will have him moved from my courtroom." Henley leant over and whispered something into Clemente's ear; probably something to calm him down. But, by the look on Clemente's face, he wasn't all that pleased about it. "Continue."
The woman nodded before looking down at the paper in her hand. "On two counts of child abuse, we find the defendant, guilty. On one count of rape of a minor, we find the defendant guilty. And on one count of rape, we find the defendant, guilty."
"This is bullshit!"
"Clemente, please," Henley pleaded, not wanting Clemente to make things worse.
"The sentencing date is set for August 20. Court is adjourned."
At the bang of the gavel, people began to converse among themselves as both judge and jury left the courtroom. Gabriella remained with her eyes focused forward; stunned as the reality of it all began to set in. Feeling a small pressure on her hand, she was brought out of her daze and looked into the blue eyes of her fiancé. He graced her with one of the brightest smiles she'd ever seen on his handsome face before kissing her lips, softly. "You're free, Brie; you're finally free," he whispered, caressing her cheek with his free hand.
Burying her face into his shoulder, she began to cry; her body shuddering with each sob. Surprised by her reaction, Troy wove his hand through her dark, silky hair and uttered words of comfort. After a few seconds, her cries turned to laughter and she backed away, slightly, to wipe the tears from her eyes. He looked at her, bewildered. She smiled, sincerely, for the first time in months; her eyes twinkling. His heart soared at the sight of it. He never thought that he would ever see that beautiful smile ever again. Unable to stop himself, he kissed her again. This one was longer, more passionate than the first. Every bit of happiness he felt in his heart was poured out in that kiss. When he pulled away, he brought her into his arms and held her close.
"I love you," he whispered.
"I love you, too."
A throat cleared and both turned their heads to face the woman sitting on the other side of the barrier that separated the audience from the rest of the courtroom. They stood as Thalía smiled, softly, at the two of them. She had never seen a more devoted and loving couple than the two young adults before her. "Congratulations, Gabriella," she said, holding out her hand.
"Thank you." Gabriella shook the older woman's hand as Michelle appeared at her side with Rosalina in her arms. The Latina took her daughter from her sister's arms before taking her sister's hand. "I wish there was some way to repay you for all you've done for my sister and I."
"There is one thing."
"Just invite me to the wedding," she answered, glancing between the two young lovers.
"Consider yourself on the guest list," Troy said, smiling at her.
"Congratulations, Thalía," came the voice of Mr. Henley as he appeared at the woman's side; holding out his hand for her to take.
She did so, nodding. "Thank you, Curtis."
"And to you, Ms. Montez," he said, looking at Gabriella.
"Thank you." He nodded and started to walk away, but her voice called him back. "Mr. Henley, may I ask you something?"
"D-Do you really believe that I made all of this up?"
"At first, I didn't, but after the results of your daughter's paternity, it was hard not to believe you. I'm truly sorry for what you had to go through all of these years. I'm also sorry for the things I said to you throughout this trial."
She smiled. "It's fine, Mr. Henley. I know that you were only doing your job. I won't hold it against you."
He returned the smile. "Well, I must be on my way." He looked to his colleague. "Thalía," he said with a nod before leaving the courtroom.
"He's not so bad when he's not accusing you of something," Michelle stated, receiving a nod from her sister and her future brother-in-law.
"Michelle." Four sets of eyes turned towards the elderly woman as she made her way towards them. Selene stopped a row away, leaning against the back of the wooden benches. "Let's go. Our flight leaves tonight and we need to get you packed."
"What are you talking about?"
"You're coming home with me; that's what I'm talking about."
The sixteen year old shook her head before turning to her sister. "I don't wanna go. Please, don't make me go."
"Abuela, please," Gabriella started, but was immediately interrupted.
"Don't," Selene said; her dark eyes upon her eldest granddaughter. "Don't try to sway me. Michelle is coming home with me; end of discussion."
"But, she needs me."
"No, she needs someone stable."
This threw Gabriella off guard. "What?"
Selene sighed. "I don't entirely believe your story about the things your father did to you, but if there is some truth in it, then you are not capable of taking care of your sister. These next few years are going to require a lot of healing and you do not need a lot of distractions." She turned her gaze to the child in Gabriella's arms. "You already have a lot of responsibility in taking care of your daughter. Taking care of a teenager will only add to the stress; especially since you are still a teenager, yourself." She returned her eyes to Gabriella. "Michelle is better off with me."
Opening her mouth to respond, Gabriella was cut off by Thalía's voice. "I hate to say this, Gabriella, but she's right."
The nineteen year old turned to the lawyer. "But."
"You have to understand something; because of this trial, no judge is ever going to grant you custody of your sister."
"Because, there is a chance that you will develop PTSD."
"What's that?" Michelle asked.
"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," Gabriella answered; her voice barely above a whisper.
"It's something that can develop after a traumatizing event or a series of events," Thalía continued. "It's something that your sister has a chance of developing, which is why no one, not even Judge Matthews, will think twice about granting your grandmother full custody. You're lucky, you know," she said, returning the conversation to Gabriella. "If not for Troy, there's no doubt that Judge Matthews would have called for the removal of Rose from your care. So, I suggest to you both, that you listen to your grandmother."
"Gabi," Michelle turned to her sister, "please don't make me go."
After handing Rosalina to Troy, Gabriella turned to the younger girl and kissed her forehead. "You have to," she confessed.
Upset, Michelle pulled away from her sister with tears threatening to fall. "You're just going to give up; just like that? You're not even going to fight for me?"
"Chelle, you know that I would give anything to keep you here with me, but they're right. I…"
"I can't believe you're just giving in to what she wants!" she yelled, pointing at their grandmother.
"I have no choice!" Michelle went quiet and noticed the look on her sister's face; a look of sorrow and regret. "I have no choice, Chelle. I don't want you to go, but it's either that or risk losing my daughter in the process." Gabriella wrapped her sister into her arms and held on tight. "I'm sorry," she whispered as tears ran down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry."
The younger girl brought her arms to encircle Gabriella's waist. "I know."
A/N: let's just say that the earlier argument gave Selene a lot to think about.