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Both personally and professionally, Alexa knows all too well the power of words. Two years after her boyfriend Christophe's vicious attack, she's still trying to see herself as more than simply 'his victim', still trying to figure out her own story. After his trial, she moves from New York City to Toronto in an attempt to start over, but his words cling to her and even in a new country she can't see how to move into relationships with the new people in her life while hiding the secret of Christophe's worst offense. She can't hide that secret from her coworker Jake, though, because the news buff has recognized her from the coverage of the assault and trial and knows every word she can't bring herself to say about her ordeal. With Jake's help, can Alexa reclaim her story and her life?
This excerpt takes place near the beginning of the book and features the verdict at her ex-boyfriend's trial.
Once we'd all returned to the courtroom, Christophe was brought in by two solidly muscled men in navy blue uniforms whose faces looked like they'd never once borne smiles. I looked straight ahead as he passed, then wished I had looked at him instead, had shown him that he didn't control me any more. Would he notice, if he looked at me, that I no longer wore a necklace? If he noticed, would he be angry or be hurt?
The judge made his appearance, as we all stood, then again everyone took their seats.
As the jury filed in, I studied their faces and wondered what they'd decided. They all looked cold and distant, and I didn't know what that meant.
I didn't have long to wait.
"Has the jury reached its verdict on all charges?"
A tall woman took a deep breath and got to her feet. "We have, your Honor."
"Please read the verdict for the court."
Another deep breath. "We find the defendant guilty on all charges."
Christophe's mother burst into tears and his grandmother shouted something in French that I was probably lucky not to understand, but mostly relief swept the courtroom.
I'd have expected to feel that too. Maybe also satisfaction. Vindication.
I did, a little.
But mostly I watched Christophe realize that he would be spending the better part of his remaining years in prison, saw his shoulders slump and his whole body seem to shrink in on itself, and I felt sick for him.
I hated it, but I did. He deserved the conviction, of course, but it hurt to see it happening.
The judge thanked the jury for its work, told Christophe he would be sentenced in September, and signaled his guards to remove him.
This time I did watch Christophe making his way along the courtroom aisle. Our eyes met and locked, and he tried to stop but the guards pulled him onward and past me.
I sat frozen, my heart racing, trying to figure out what if anything I'd seen in his eyes. Had there been regret? Apology? Maybe even love?
As I admitted to myself that there hadn't been anything at all, that the man I'd loved had retreated from me entirely, the victim's advocate leaned over and hugged me. "Congratulations, Alexa!"
I turned to stare at her. "For what?"
She blinked. "It's over." Her brow furrowed. "You do understand what's happened, right? He's going to prison for a very long time. I'd say at least twenty-five years, and it's entirely possible it'll be a life sentence. They found him guilty. You know that, right?"
"I know," I said, and didn't bother adding that it didn't seem to matter. Everything he'd done to me was still done, and I was still the person who needed a victim's advocate because I was a victim.
I briefly wondered whether it was me or Christophe facing a life sentence, then pushed that aside as melodramatic. I was free to go back to my apartment, my job, free to again get through the notoriety and then live my life. Christophe would not be free for decades if at all.
The advocate still looked concerned, so I took a deep breath then gave her a smile. "Sorry. It's just hard to take in, that's all. I do understand. So, what happens now?"
Relief smoothed her forehead. "Well, there'll be lots of media types outside. You don't have to talk to them, of course, but if you do it'll likely mean they'll leave you alone after. If they don't get a statement they tend to keep trying until they do."
The idea of standing before all the cameras and microphones made my stomach twist again, but I knew she was right because the same thing had happened immediately after the assault, with reporters even staking out my hospital trying to get an exclusive. "Okay, let's do it."
She gave my arm a squeeze and got to her feet. Before I could stand too, my mother grabbed me in a hug and whispered, "You're coming home now, right? This is no place for you."
We'd been having this conversation on and off since the assault, and really since I first moved to New York. I hugged her back briefly then pulled away and shook my head. "I love city life."
Dad closed his hand over my shoulder. "Think about it, okay? We can help you get better."
That was the problem. They were insistent that I was still broken, but I couldn't be. It had been two years, after all. Sure, the trial had stirred everything up for me again, but once it again settled I'd be fine. Going back home would just regress me to childhood, and I didn't want that. Plus, I had too many memories of Christophe there from the visits we'd had, and I'd rather stay in my new apartment and not have to think about those.
I stood without answering and the advocate escorted me to the fiercely sunny front steps of the courthouse where I found a crowd of reporters waiting for me. The advocate held up her hand for quiet, and once she had it she explained that I was of course relieved that it was over and pleased that the jury had made the right decision, finishing with, "You may ask Alexa a few questions now."
An older man in the front of the group gave me a friendly but distant smile. "Is that true, Alexa? Are you relieved and glad they've put him away?"
The memory of how I'd felt when they convicted him swept me, but I forced it aside. "Of course. I am grateful that the jury listened to everything and understood how it happened."
A different voice called, "Do you still love him?"
I hadn't expected that, and I stared blankly in the direction of the young man, half-hidden behind the older one, who'd asked the question.
When I didn't answer, his eyes lit up and he pushed his way to the front. "Lance Birch. You remember me, right? Well? Do you still love him?"
I did remember Lance, now that I could see him. He was a crime writer who'd had huge success with his first two non-fiction books then been vilified when his third book turned out to be far more fictional than he'd admitted. He'd been trying for the last three years to get his career back, and for the last two years to get me to give him my story. Making money from what had happened, though, felt awful to me, and I knew from work that nobody in the industry had any respect for him any more, so I kept putting him off.
He was a persistent guy, though, and he proved it again now. "Alexa, do you still love Christophe Durand after everything he did to you?"
The reporters all leaned in, microphones at the ready.
I took a breath of the humid August air as if I were about to speak, but I didn't because I didn't know what to say. Of course I didn't love him. I couldn't.
But I also couldn't say it.
Before I could find any words the advocate stepped in. "That's an inappropriate question and Alexa clearly does not want to or have to answer it. One final question, from someone else, and that's the end of this."
Lance tried to speak but a woman shouted over him. "What will you do now, Alexa?"
"I'll go back to my life," I said. "Try to put this all behind me. Try to forget."
She said, "How exactly do you intend to do that?" but the advocate stepped in before I could answer. "We're finished here, thank you."
She led me away, while I pondered the excellent question.
I didn't have a clue.
Growing up, I was an avid (rabid?) reader. I am a natural speed reader, regularly clocked at about 1200 wpm (I read Harry Potter 5 in just under three hours), and always have several books on the go, nearly all in e-book form on my Kindle. I have always made up stories in my head, but never considered becoming a writer. Instead, I intended to be a high school music teacher. I was sidetracked by my enjoyment of my psychology courses in university, and ended up with a psychology degree with a concentration in computer science. This took me to a major Canadian bank as a software developer. I stayed there for just over four years, and then went back to school to become an elementary school teacher. After four years teaching elementary school computer science, I took up the National Novel Writing Month challenge and attempted to write a novel in a month. I succeeded, and the first draft of "Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo" was the result. I realized I love writing. I left teaching, and I haven't looked back since!
In my non-writing time, I read, run, swim, crochet, take care of my 55 gallon aquarium and my cat Trinity, and play drums and clarinet. Generally not all at once.
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