Guilty. For attempt to rape, sexual assault, and first degree stalking. Seven years in prison.
I stared across the courtroom, eyes locked with his. His mother stood stood a few feet off to the side, sobbing and hiding her face from the flashing cameras. Police surrounded his table to shield him and the defense attorney. They were clapping a pair of shiny handcuffs to his wrists when my own lawyer touched my shoulder. I jumped at the contact and jerked away. Mr. Santani offered an apologetic smile.
"How about we head out of here?" he asked. "Everyone's waiting for you outside."
Rather than respond, my gaze swiveled back towards the shuffle of blue cop uniforms. Mateo was being paraded out of the courtroom as if he was dangerous, like a murderer. My heart was in my throat as I watched him disappeared from the cavernous oak room and out of sight. Even though everyone—my parents, Rachel, Boston, Mr. Santani—had told me it was good that he was going to prison for what he had done to me, I couldn't find it in myself to agree. This had gone farther than I had ever wanted it to go.
"Hazel," whispered Mr. Santani, "the reporters are going to find us once Mr. Rodriguez is gone. We need to leave."
I finally nodded and let him lead me down the aisle, away from the lingering observers. A group of officers clustered around us too, their faces set hard in sternness. My parents were standing out in the hall with Boston, and the ring of police around us swallowed them as well before directing us towards the back parking lot. Boston grabbed my hand while my dad squeezed my shoulder. There was pressure behind my eyes, like I wanted to cry, but I felt dried up.
"Rachel had to go home," Boston whispered into my ear. "Her exposure time was up."
This was not something unexpected. I didn't think her mother would even let her come to the hearing because she wasn't supposed to be out in public for extended periods of time. She was drugged up on all these different antibiotics and pain medications to expedite her healing. More than her physical wounds, however, were the ones of her mind. Every shadow and loud noise made her sob. I thought bringing her here would only upset her more, considering Mateo was her friend too. Or had been. I didn't want her to see him like the media saw him; I didn't want anyone to see him as the monster everyone portrayed him to be.
We were escorted to my parent's minvan and piled in after I shook hands with Mr. Santani. My mom had invited him to join us for dinner afterwards, but he could tell, I think, that I wanted to be alone. He was intuitive like that. Boston held me snug to his body in the middle row while my mom drove us back to the house. As soon as we parked in the driveway, I was getting out and heading for the door.
"Hazel?" my mom called after me.
Boston's low voice responded to her and she stopped hurrying after me. I went straight to my room, leaving the door crack for him to find me. He always managed to, and for that, I was grateful. The door banged quietly behind him before the bed bent under his weight. His arms slipped around me, his head nestling into the crook of my neck. A warm breath fanned across my neck and chest.
"How do you feel?" His voice was low and deep, canyon deep, against my the base of my ear.
"Ashamed," I answered honestly.
There was a moment of hesitation before he said, "Ashamed? Why?"
"Because..." My hands pulled at the sheets beneath me. "I don't think he deserves that penalty. He's not cut out for prison. People will hurt him in there."
"He hurt you, Hazel," he reminded me.
"Yes, but...I don't think he would do that to anyone else. Before the hearing, he talked to me. You know what he said?"
YOU ARE READING
Meeting Mr. WhitakerTeen Fiction
Is it possible to fall in love with the wrong person? According to Hazel Barrett, yes, it absolutely is. Especially if that person happens to be your teacher.