THIRTY-NINE

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The day of Simon's disposition had arrived. Virginia knew he was prepared. This was his opportunity to talk to the judge about his plans for the future. The kid had done a lot of growing up over the last month and a half. She was happy for him, knowing he'd finally found his niche, and proud of the fact that he'd manned up and was willing to pay for his mistakes. Once he got over this hurdle, the future would be his for the taking. Of course, it all depended on the judge granting him probation, which he likely would, considering what Simon had accomplished in a short time.

He was enrolled at the community college in Ventura County, taking two classes while keeping up with his high school curriculum. It had been hard work at first, having started two weeks after classes had begun, but he'd managed to catch up.

The JDAI had set him up in a small basement apartment. There were counseling sessions at the reporting center during the week, which he needed to attend in order to stay in the program. Weekend check-ins with her were at Jack's, a mutually agreed upon location. It was neutral ground, and he was guaranteed to catch her there on Saturday mornings.

On that first Saturday, he'd sat with her awhile, telling her how things were going, impressing her with his positive attitude and ardent ambition. Afterward he'd lingered at the gym to watch some of the early morning self-defense classes.

The following week he'd latched onto Dominique and received full instructions for each piece of equipment, including a quick boxing lesson inside the ring. He'd stayed for most of the day, cleaning up and helping her put away deliveries.

By the third week, she'd suggested he be put on the payroll as Dominique's assistant. He didn't need the money, but she had a sneaky suspicion it might give him a higher sense of self-esteem.

And she'd been right.

He worked hard, willing to do anything from cleaning the bathrooms to researching suppliers of turnbuckle pads. His negotiating impressed her the most, getting Everlast to supply them with free training gloves in return for some signage on one wall and exclusive clothing rights for their first sanctioned fight—if they ever got that far. For Everlast, it meant some free PR. For the gym, it meant a class of ten kids didn't have to rotate through two pairs of gloves. She would have never guessed he would be so good with people—a charmer really—a trait that evidently ran in the family.

Virginia had not laid eyes on the elder Spinelli since their day in court. He dropped off and picked up Simon every Saturday, but never came in. He would sometimes sit out on the street after Simon entered the front door, and though she tried not to let it happen, her heart would jump into her throat, wondering if he was going to step out of the car and follow his nephew inside. Then he would drive off, leaving her in a crappy mood, mad at him for not showing his face—and mad at herself for wanting him to.

Watching now from her seat at the back of the courtroom, Simon's phone call from earlier in the day replayed in her memory.

"Are you coming?"

"Of course I am," Virginia said. "Only as an observer this time, though."

"I know, but I'll feel better knowing you're there."

She was surprised at the nervous edge to his voice. He hadn't seemed concerned at all prior to this call. "Don't worry, Simon. The judge is going to be just as proud of you as the rest of us are."

"I suppose . . . "

"Is there something else bothering you?"

"I was just wondering . . . if everything goes well . . . do I still have a job at the gym?"

She smiled at his enthusiasm. "The job is yours for as long as you want it."

A relieved sigh from the other end brought tears to her eyes. That this boy would be so into a minimum-wage job was an indication of how far he had come.

"My uncle will be there today," he said out of the blue.

Virginia's breath caught at the mention of Spinelli. Simon rarely talked about his uncle. After a brief pause, she said, "A show of family support will impress the judge."

"Maybe not, considering who he is."

What could she say that wouldn't come off as judgmental or condescending? Simon was a smart kid, and she wasn't about to placate him with a lie. "Well—"

"He asks about you . . . a lot."

What was she to make of that? Her pause was longer this time—much longer—as she tried to get her racing pulse to return to normal.

"Virginia? You still there?"

"Ah, yeah . . . I have a few things to get done here, but I'll see you in court. And don't be afraid to brag about yourself. This is the time to do that."

A quick laugh coming from the other end had been followed by a "for sure" before he'd hung up.

Her eyes lingered on the broad shoulders of Spinelli. Sitting between Anderson and a representative from the JDAI, his focus was on his nephew as the youngster stood up in front of the judge.

Simon's voice was strong when he spoke, detailing what he had done since their last meeting, sounding confident but not arrogant. The man from the JDAI went next, and it was soon clear that Simon's charm had worked its magic on him too. His recommendation was probation.

After a long-winded lecture on both the benefits and responsibilities of being given a second chance, Judge Carlyle placed Simon on probation for six months with a strict requirement that he keep up the daily counseling sessions for that period of time.

It was a fair sentencing.

When all was said and done, Simon turned his head to the back of the courtroom. Virginia smiled and gave him a congratulatory wave. Then she stood and exited through the back door, never once speaking to the man who asked about her.

A lot.

END OF CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE 

Sorry for the short chapter. I wanted to give a little more insight into Simon. So, he's not as bad as you thought, is he? In fact, quite the opposite when given a chance to prove himself.

Get ready for the next chapter. The Spinelli dress makes a reappearance! Thanks for reading! And don't forget that little star ;)

Dedicated to @TillyB789, author of Out of the Shadows, for her continuous support and wonderful comments. Thank you!

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