"Me, too," Claudia said. "I can tell that judge how much I miss Mom and
Dad, and about Owen not having any parents and all kinds of stuff."
"I don't think so, Claud," Charlie answered. "You're too little. Sorry." Charlie picked up the pile of mail and walked into the living room. Bailey and Julia followed him.
"But we can go, right?" Bailey asked.
"Yeah, if you want to. But, you don't have to go if you don't want to," Charlie answered sitting down on the couch ripping open another in what seemed like an unending stream of bills all with his dad's name on the front.
"I want to go and if they need somebody to talk, about what's happened to us, I'll do it. I'd like to have that guy see what he's done to us," Bailey answered.
"Me too. Whatever they need," Julia added.
"I don't know. I mean, Joe said he'd talk and I guess I'll do it. Unless you want to, Bay?" Charlie asked looking at his younger brother.
"Absolutely, I'd love to look right at that guy and tell him what this has meant."
"Okay, so it's settled. I'll pick you guys up on Wednesday. The hearing's at 2 pm," Charlie answered as he opened another piece of mail. "Hey, Jule, I'm sorry I was crabby about supper, but it's a really long day."
"I know Charlie, but it's long days for all of us," his sister answered as she got up and went into the kitchen to order another take-out meal.
Bailey walked into the living room. Supper had arrived, been eaten and cleaned up with no further discussion of the trial. Afterwards the girls had disappeared upstairs while Charlie had taken up his usual spot on the couch watching television.
"Hey, Char . . . would you listen to something?" Bailey asked.
"Sure," Charlie answered turning the TV off. "After all, you see one episode of ‘Home Improvement', you've pretty much seen them all. What do you have for me?"
"It's my victim thing. For the hearing tomorrow," Bailey said. He paused and then began:
"The district attorney said we could talk about how things have changed since Walter Alcott killed our parents. I wasn't even sure where to begin. Everything has changed. I have two sisters who cry themselves to sleep all the time and I have a baby brother who is so little he doesn't even know enough to miss them. I have another brother who should be out having fun like people do when they're 24, but instead he's calling the city to get them to pick up the third can of garbage they always seem to miss."
"My dad ran a restaurant. He was a great guy. He always made people feel at home. Because of Walter Alcott my house will never be a home again. My dad used to make a new dish almost every day. He was a great cook. The day after he died I ate a piece of his lasagna for the last time. Last week we ate Chinese take-out 4 times. We had pizza delivered 2 nights and my little sister Claudia made scrambled eggs because she said she was sick of fake food."
"My mom played the violin. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I remember how soft she was when she hugged you. She had a smell that wasn't from any perfume, it was just that mom smell. I don't know how to tell my little brother about that, how to keep those memories alive for my little sister. I think I always took my parents for granted, until Walter Alcott took them away forever."
"I can't put a price on their lives. They were, they are irreplaceable."
Bailey finished. He looked over at his brother expectantly. Charlie didn't say anything for a moment.
"Wow, Bailey! That...that was so, I don't know. Honest. I don't think I could do it."
"Well, there are lots of things that just have to be done, Charlie. What time are you picking us up tomorrow?" Bailey asked folding up the paper he had written on.
"2 o'clock. I'll be out front of the school."
Bailey nodded and walked out of the room. His words hung in the air stinging Charlie. He knew that he was letting his brothers and sisters down, but it was so overwhelming. A month ago he had been a 24 year old bachelor living in Berkeley dating an assortment of women. He rarely planned any part of his life more than a week in advance.
That had all changed now. There were bills to pay, permission slips to sign, probate. He had never expected to have this much responsibility so quickly. He knew he was doing a terrible job, he just wasn't sure how to do it any better. He sighed and pushed himself off the couch. It wasn't going to be any easier if he was tired tomorrow. What would his parents think? He paused for a moment. He knew exactly what they would think. His dad would blow his cork and his mom would laugh and congratulate him for trying to do his best. He looked over at the framed photograph of the dark-haired woman.
"I could really use some of that laughter right now, Mom," he said quietly to the photograph. "Probably now more than ever."
Charlie pulled up in front of the school. Bailey and Julia hurried over and got in the truck. Bay was wearing a shirt and tie, Julia in a dark dress. They both looked so grown-up even though they were only 14 and 15 years old.
"Hey, isn't that . . . " Julia began.
"Yeah, it's Dad's jacket. I couldn't find mine," Charlie said pulling uncomfortably at the sport coat. He had tried to call the Salvation Army to donate their clothes, but he hadn't been able to do it. Most of his stuff was lying on the floor of their room, the closets and dressers still filled with his dead parents clothes. Even with the lumps on the couch, he couldn't bring himself to sleep in their bed. Julia had been clamoring to move in there. She said she needed more space. He didn't know what to do.
They drove to the courthouse in silence. When they pulled into the parking lot he turned to look at them.
"Bennett said we don't have to be there for this. If you don't want to go in, that's cool. Joe will be there, but if you've changed your mind . . . "
"No, I want to see the bastard who did this," Bailey answered opening the door to get out. Julia's movement to follow him served as her agreement. They walked into the courthouse again not talking. Charlie asked at the desk and was directed to a courtroom on the third floor.
Joe was waiting outside the courtroom with their lawyer, Bennett. When he caught sight of the threesome he walked over to meet them.
"The hearing will start in a couple of minutes. Do you kids need anything before we go in?" Joe asked. They each shook their heads no. Joe noted that each one looked like they wanted to be any place but where they were. Bailey clutched his statement in his hands. The bailiff opened the door and ushered them into the hearing room. Walter Alcott sat at the table on the left, a young girl right behind him.
Bennett went up to speak to the district attorney. Joe and the kids went to sit behind the DA's table on the right side. The bailiff announced the entrance of the judge. Everyone stood up with Judge Higgins entered the courtroom. He was a tall man in his early 60s with a full head of gray hair. He quickly called the room to order and asked for a plea from the defense.
"Your honor, I plead guilty," Walter Alcott said standing and looking straight at the judge. If he was aware that Bailey, Charlie and Julia were in the courtroom, he didn't let it show.
"Your honor, I would ask that Mr. Alcott be given a sentence of 18 months with five years probation, three years suspended license and involvement in an alcohol rehabilitation program," the defense lawyer standing next to Walter Alcott said.
"Is the district attorney's office in agreement?" the judge asked.
"Yes, your honor," the district attorney said.
"What's happening?" Charlie whispered to Emmett.
"They must have made an agreement, a plea agreement. The district attorney agrees to give him a lighter sentence if he agrees to plead guilty," the lawyer answered.
"But, that's not fair, it's only 18 months and we didn't even get to say anything," Bailey said in a louder voice.
The judge banged his gavel down and called for order. "If you can't restrain yourselves, I would ask that you remove yourselves from the courtroom," the judge said looking directly at the young Salingers.
"But, we were supposed to . . . " Bailey started and was cut off with more banging of the gavel.
"I'm sorry young man, but this matter is adjourned. Next case," the judge said turning the paperwork over to the bailiff. The Salingers sat there for a moment watching as Walter Alcott was led from the courtroom. Finally Joe got up and motioned for them to leave. The group walked slowly into the hall outside the courtroom.
"Man, 18 months, what kind of a sentence is that?" Charlie shouted in exasperation slamming his hand against the wall. Emmett pulled him away, trying to calm him down. Getting arrested for making a public disturbance wouldn't do anyone any good now.
"That was her, the girl," Julia said quietly.
"What do you mean?" Bailey asked.
"That girl, sitting by him. She was his daughter. It must've been hard for her," Julia responded.
"I'm sorry, her dad is going to someone country club prison for 18 months and she can visit him. My dad is gone and my mom too. I don't think I can find any pity for her right now," Bailey said in an embittered tone.
Joe moved the kids down the hallway. They were stunned. They had all prepared in their own way for this day, to face the man who had killed their parents, but now it seemed a bit anticlimactic. He had expected them to get angry or sad, but this defeat was something he didn't quite know how to deal with.
Charlie walked into the house followed by his younger brother and sister. He paid the babysitter and sat down on the couch. Claudia immediately demanded to know what happened.
"What did he look like? Was he sad? Was he sorry?" she asked.
"I don't know. He looked like a man," Charlie answered rubbing his temple.
"Bailey, what did you think? Did he cry when you talked about Mom and Dad?" she asked turning to her other brother who stood by the piano.
"No. I didn't read my thing," Bailey answered.
"Why? Why didn't you read it?" she asked. Her questions kept coming like gunfire from an automatic weapon.
"Claudia, he just pled guilty and it was over. We didn't talk or anything. Could you just go somewhere please. I can't listen to all of these questions right now," Charlie said closing his eyes and leaning his head back.
Claudia slunk from the room like she had been had been hit. Bailey shot his older brother a dirty look.
"You shouldn't talk to her like that. She's just a kid. She deserves to know just like the rest of us," Bailey said in a slow, measured tone. Charlie opened his eyes and looked over at his younger brother. Bailey shrugged his shoulders and followed Claudia out into the backyard. He found the little girl sitting on the swing.
"Hey, Charlie's just under a lot of stress. He didn't mean to be so angry," Bailey said sitting down next to her. From the movement of her body, he could tell that she was crying.
"I'm just sick of it," she said trying to stifle the sobs. "I want Mom and Dad to come back."
"We all do Claudia, but it's not going to happen. We all have to pull together because if we don't they're going to separate us. Give Charlie another chance, he's just learning how to do this, we all are."
"So what happened?" she asked looking up at him, her face stained with tears.
"There was this thing called a plea agreement. In exchange for pleading guilty, he got a shorter sentence and they didn't need the victim statements," Bailey answered.
"So how long does he go to jail?"
"That's it?" Claudia asked. "Owen will hardly know how to walk before they let him out of jail. How is that fair?"
"It isn't. None of this is fair," he said pulling her into an embrace. They held onto one another as each of them began to cry, mourning the loss of their parents, the loss of their family, and the loss of their childhoods.