Justin is accused of doing something he says he didn't do.
Will he be cleared, or will he be found guilty?
On Monday Dad picked me up at school at eleven-forty-five, the beginning of lunch period, and drove us to La Cuchara, a really good Mexican restaurant in Martinez. After we ate we walked to the county building where the district attorney and his staff had their offices. Everyone was on time for the one-thirty meeting. Susan Carver and the Gages were there; it was easy to pick out Susan because she was the only other teen in the room. Dad and I walked over and we introduced ourselves to the Gages who introduced themselves. Mrs. Gage got all teary and kept saying she was so sorry, and Lieutenant Gage was very apologetic about trying to have me arrested.
“Justin and Mr. Carver,” he said, “I’m so sorry that I didn’t check who you were and handle it a different way. I was so upset about what Susan told us that… well, I guess I snapped. Even though she’s our foster daughter we think of her as our daughter, without the ‘foster’ prefix. My wife and I would adopt Susan if her grandmother hadn’t blocked it for reasons of her religion. Did you know about that?”
“Yes. Beth Wolman told us,” Dad said. “It seems like a rule that’s more for the courts to be politically correct than a valid reason to prevent you from adopting her. Assuming she wants to be adopted.”
“You can ask Susan about that,” Mrs. Gage said. “We are upset about what she did, but she’s our daughter and now she told us the truth about what happened. She told us she was so frightened that if we learned she’d had sex with a boy that we would abandon her and turn her back to Child Protective Services. We’d never do that.” Mrs. Gage wiped tears from her eyes. “We love Susan, and accept that she made a horrible mistake trying to hide something from us that wasn’t necessary for her to hide.”
“That doesn’t excuse what I did to Justin, Mr. Carver,” Mr. Gage said. “My decision was wrong, and it was totally wrong of me to send two officers to try to arrest him. If I’d checked things in advance, if I’d called you, it would have been easy to find out that Justin is not related to Susan and that he couldn’t have done what we accused him of doing. I told my captain what I did, and he reamed… well, let’s just say that we had an in-depth discussion about what I did and why I did it, and I’m going take an advanced training course in investigation rules and procedures.
“Justin, it would also have been easy for me to find out that you had an iron-clad alibi for the time period when Susan claimed she had been raped. Susan told us that she wants to apologize to you in person. I hope you’ll be willing to listen to what she has to say.”
It looked like Dad accepted their apologies. All I said was, “Thanks for apologizing. And of course I’m willing to talk to Susan.” I needed to listen to what she had to say before accepting their apologies. There was still a possibility that she was trying to get away with something, or they were just trying to find a way to avoid a lawsuit.
We were introduced to Lawrence Wilde, Susan’s attorney, and Mrs. Werth, Susan’s Child Protective Services case worker. Then the adults moved away, and I saw Mr. Wilde talking with Dad. That left Susan facing me. She blinked her eyes and a couple tears leaked out, and then she wiped across her eyes with her sleeve. I could tell she was very nervous. Neither of us said anything for quite a while. We just stood looking at each other. She gave me the impression that she was a scared little girl, even though she was my age. I didn’t know if it was because she was meeting me, the guy she accused of raping her, or because she was really sorry for what she did, or both, or something else.
I was the first to say something. “Why don’t we sit down. It’ll make talking a lot easier.” We sat across from each other at the end of the conference table.
Susan took a deep breath. “I’m so sorry, Justin. I wanted to, I had to, apologize to you in person, to tell you that I know what I did was so wrong. I really, really screwed up. I’m just so very, very sorry. I’ve never messed up anything like this before. It was such a dumb thing to do.
“Let me tell you why I did it, which will show you how dumb I was. I’m the foster daughter of the Gages. They are wonderful. I couldn’t wish for better parents. But I thought they wouldn’t want to keep me because I’m only fifteen and I had sex with a boy from school. I thought they’d kick me out and send me back into the foster care system. I was totally freaked. I tried to hide it, but my mom found… well, she found out I’d had sex. My mom and dad kept telling me I had to tell them who I had sex with, and I had to say something. I remembered your name because our last names are the same and I knew you didn’t go to College Park High. So I blurted it out. They didn’t throw me out, or turn me back to CPS. They love me, Justin, they really love me. I should have understood that. But I was dumb, and I didn’t trust that they would continue to love me.
“Justin, I’m so sorry!” She took a deep breath and let it out. “It’s stupid that I keep saying that same thing over and over, that I’m sorry, but it’s true.”
Her apology sounded sincere, and she looked like she was about to start crying again.
“Thanks for saying you’re sorry, Susan. I accept your apology. I just wish that your apology could end everything. I’ve still got to try to shut down the rumors about it at my high school.”
Susan looked surprised. “There are rumors about it at your high school? What are the rumors? How did they get started?”
“You didn’t know about the rumors at Los Arcos High that you’re my sister and that I raped you?”
“No!” Now I had Susan’s attention. She really looked shocked.
“Your dad sent two cops to Los Arcos High — that’s where I go to school. I was called to the vice-principal’s office. They said they were there to arrest me. They said your dad told them my name and that you were my sister and that I’d raped you and that it was a felony. But they didn’t have an arrest warrant and I informed them that they couldn’t arrest me without a warrant. I gave them Beth Wolman’s phone number. She’s an assistant district attorney; she’s also my aunt. One of the cops went out into the hall to call her and find out if they needed a warrant to arrest me. His conversation was overheard by some kid who was in the hall. He heard the cop say my name and that I’d raped some girl and that they were there to arrest me. It was lucky that the cop didn’t say that you were supposed to be my sister. He found out that they couldn’t arrest me without a warrant so I went back to class. But by the next morning the kid that overheard the cop spread the story and it went viral at school. You know how rumors are in high school. It was and still is a big problem for me.”
Susan started to cry. “Oh god, I didn’t know! That’s awful. Oh god!”
“It’s sort of water under the bridge, now.”
“It’s all my fault. I learned your name from a friend of mine at the DVC summer program. She said you look like me and you might be my twin brother. We laughed about it. She walked over to and saw your name badge. She told me your name, Justin Carver, and we have the same last names. She knows I’m a foster kid. She said it could be we’re related and both foster kids. I walked where I could see you but I was too shy to introduce myself.
“After Mark and I… well, after, my folks found out I had sex and my dad, he’s my foster dad but it’s like he’s my real dad, anyway you know that he’s a police lieutenant and he knows how to interrogate suspects and that’s what he did with me. He interrogated me and kept insisting that I had to give him the boy’s name. I had to keep Mark’s name out of it, and think of someone else’s name to tell my dad. The first name that popped in my head was yours. Justin Carver. It gave me a way to explain why I’d had sex. It was rape. I didn’t think they’d ever be able to find out who you were. God, I was so stupid.” She was crying again.
Susan wiped her eyes and looked at me. “I’ll come to your high school and tell people that it never happened, that I’m not your sister, that you never raped me, that it was a huge misunderstanding.”
“I don’t think that’s a very good idea. You’d have to get your folks to agree. Then you’d have to get permission from Los Arcos High, probably from our vice-principal. You couldn’t come to each of my classes; the school wouldn’t allow that. So about the only thing you might be able to do is come during lunch period. Then you’d have to talk to lots of kids, and there are about fifteen-hundred kids at Los Arcos High. So I’m not sure how you could do it. Like stand up and shout that you wanted to make an announcement? That would be sort of weird and would be very embarrassing for both of us.”
“I don’t care. I’ll do it for you, whatever it takes. My stupid mistake shouldn’t have hurt you, but it did.”
“Beth Wolman said the district attorney’s staff is going to put together an assembly program at Los Arcos High. They’ll talk about how a student was falsely accused of rape by a girl he didn’t know, and all of the things that happened because of that lie including a student overhearing about it and spreading a rumor about things that weren’t true. It’d be something like that essay you’re going to write, but it’ll tell about how rumors that aren’t true can get started and how they can result in really bad things happening to people. You could talk to her about being part of the assembly program and not name any names or anything. It’d be like you’re an actress in a play.”
Susan smiled. “I could do that. I took drama last year and I had a speaking part in our spring play. I could even help write the script for the program. I’ll talk to Ms. Wolman. She’s your aunt, right?”
“Yeah. She’s an assistant district attorney. My dad’s an attorney, I have an uncle who’s a public defender in San Francisco, and I have another uncle in Orange County who’s a judge. I’m sort of surrounded by relatives in the legal field.”
“Are you going to be a lawyer?”
“No. I like computers and writing programs. That’s what I want to do, get a degree in computer science and get a job with a company like Adobe or Google. What do you want to do when you graduate from high school?”
“It’s sort of embarrassing. I want to be a singer in a rock band. I’m taking vocal classes, both voice and chorus. I started taking those classes last year.”
“Why would that be embarrassing?”
“It’s kind of a geek thing. You know, music and band and drama and art are all geeky subjects.”
“I don’t think so. I think you’ve gotta go for what you are interested in. Don’t pay any attention to anyone who knocks what you want to do. Do you play any instruments?”
“Just guitar. I took guitar classes in middle school. How about you? Do you play any instruments?”
“No. I’m more an outside person. I’m on the cross country team, and I like to go hiking and backpacking. During the winter my dad and I go to Tahoe Donner in the Sierra and go cross country skiing.” I grinned. “Notice a theme there?”
“Sure. Hiking and backpacking, right?” Susan giggled.
I laughed. “Oh, so you want to ignore the two kinds of cross country? On dry land as part of the cross country team, and in the snow on cross country skis?”
“I was just kidding. I knew you were talking about cross country,” she replied, then grinned.
“Do you ski?”
She shook her head. “No. I’ve never tried it.”
“Cross country skiing is easier and harder than regular skiing. It’s easier because you don’t have to learn how to go down a slippery slope at high speed and wonder if you’re going to be able to stop in time or smash into a tree and die, or something like that. Cross country skiing is across mostly flat land, so that part is easier. The harder part is that you have to use your leg and arm muscles, and your abs and glutes, to move yourself. It’s great exercise.”
“I’d rather just play in the snow and make a snowwoman.”
“Yeah, that’s fun too.” I grinned. “So is going into a nice warm lodge after skiing or playing in the snow and having a big mug of hot chocolate.”
Susan looked at me for a few seconds. “I can’t believe what a horribly bad idea it was to say you’d raped me. You’re such a nice guy. I was such a fool.” Her face changed, and she started to cry.
The CPS case worker — I remembered her last name was Werth; like ‘worth’ but spelled differently — walked over to where we were sitting and glared at me. She looked down at Susan.
“Susan, is there a problem?”
“Yes. Now that I know Justin a little better I can’t believe that I was so awful to do what I did to hurt him. I want to take it all back, but I can’t.” She hung her head, put her hands over her face, and sobbed.
Mrs. Werth sat down and put her arm around Susan’s shoulders then looked at me. She smiled. I guess she realized that I wasn’t responsible for making Susan cry.
After about a minute Susan recovered and dried her eyes. I looked around. Everyone else had left.
“Mrs. Werth, where did everyone else go?” I asked.
“There’s paperwork that needs to be reviewed and signed by all parties.”
“How about me and Susan? I’d think we’d have things to sign, too.”
“That’s right. But you two have fewer things to sign, and they have to be reviewed and signed by your parents or guardians first.”
“Okay. So we’re just supposed to wait here until they call us?”
“Basically, that’s correct. I’m here so there’s an adult with you.”
I shook my head. “Huh. So I guess we can’t be trusted?” I raised an eyebrow and smiled to show that I was just kidding. Sort of.
“It’s not a matter of trust. It’s the rules of the district attorney’s office; when juveniles are here they have to be accompanied by an adult. I’m going to go sit over there. You two can continue your conversation.” She walked to the other side of the room and sat down at the far end of the table.
“Susan, can I ask you a question?”
“I’ve been wondering. I’ve heard two things about the boy who you… that you went all the way with. The first thing I heard was that you’d just met him. The other is that he’s your boyfriend which made it sound like you’d known each other for a while.”
“It’s sort of both. We’d seen each other around school, but that Saturday was the first time we’d talked to each other and spent time together. What happened that night was my fault.” Susan blushed. “I guess I was horny.” She saw from my expression that I was surprised. “And yes, girls can get horny, too. Anyway, it was really stupid. Even though it’s only been a week, we’ve developed a good relationship since then and we’re officially girlfriend-boyfriend now. And we’re definitely not going to be having sex. How about you and your girlfriend?”
“I assumed you knew that I’m gay.”
“Whoa! So there’s something else proving that I was even more stupid for using your name and doing what I did to you. I didn’t know that you’re gay, really. God, it’s so embarrassing. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Yes. We’ve known each other since sixth grade in middle school.”
“That’s cool. You’re lucky that you’ve been together for such a long time. I assume you two are in love?”
I nodded and smiled. “Yes, we are.”
She smiled. “I wish I’d met Mark when we were in middle school. I wish I hadn’t been so shy and had been able to talk to him when I was a freshman. I wish I hadn’t been so stupid to go all the way with him the very first day we ever talked to each other.” She shook her head and took a breath. “I wish I’d met you at the DVC Summer Program. I would never have freaked when my dad interrogated me and ended up giving him your name because it was the first name that popped into my head. Instead I think we could have become friends.”
“I wish you had come over and said hi to me, too. You know, you’re a lot different than I expected. You’re nice.”
“I bet you thought I was a real bitch. Or worse. I always thought I was nice, a good person. This is a sort of retribution for the bad things I did to you and your dad and my folks and me and Mark.”
“When I first learned to ride my bike I decided to take the training wheels off without telling my dad. I fell over and scraped my arm on the driveway. Dad didn’t get mad at me. Instead he said I should accept what happened as a way of learning from a mistake I made. I think about that when I’m planning to do something so I don’t make a mistake. I think you should think about what you did in the same way.”
She looked at me for a few seconds. “How did you get so smart, Justin?”
“By constantly watching what goes on around me and learning from what I see. You oughta try it. It’s interesting.”
“When this is over, maybe we could go on a double date, me and Mark and you and your boyfriend.”
“Ryan. His name is Ryan.”
“Ryan and Justin. Mark and Susan. Just four high school kids. Friends. Doing normal things. And one of them not ever doing anything bad like what she did, ever again.”
“I think it would be nice to go on a double date, maybe to the movies, or go on an easy hike like to Borges Ranch near Mount Diablo. Do you have a cellphone?”
“Yes. I’m lucky my folks didn’t take it away from me.” She took hers out of her pocket.
“Let’s exchange cell numbers. We both have Samsung phones. We can use quick connect and exchange our phone numbers. Have you used quick connect before?”
We exchanged our phone numbers, then I turned off quick connect on my phone. I looked at Susan and grinned. “It will be fun going out on a double date. It’ll be a first for me and Ryan.”
“And a first for me and Mark,” Susan said.
We heard talking, and the rest of the adults walked in.
My dad motioned for us to join them. “Susan, Justin, please come over to the table and sit down. There are some papers you’ll need to sign. We’ll explain each one and what they’ll mean to each of you. Is that okay?”
“Sure,” I replied.
“Yes, it’s okay,” Susan replied.
“Well, let’s get started, then.”
Afterwards, on the way home, I was quiet. Dad noticed.
“Cat got your tongue?” he asked.
“No. Just thinking. This whole thing was like a huge mistake that Susan started and wasn’t able to stop. Sort of like an avalanche.”
“I agree with you, Justin. It shows how often kids don’t think before they do something. It’s better to stop and plan what you’re going to do, see if there are any problems, to think about consequences, and then decide if it’s a good idea or not.”
“That’s true. I told Susan pretty much the same thing. I think she understood what I was trying to tell her.”
“Another one of life’s lesson, ’eh?”
“True that! I think Susan is nice. She seemed sincere when she said she was sorry. We talked quite a bit while you were in your meeting reviewing the papers that had to be signed. She suggested that she and her boyfriend go on a double date with me and Ryan. Do you see any problems in our doing that?”
“Assuming it’s okay with Ryan, I don’t see any problems with a double date.”
“Thanks, Dad.” I turned and looked at him. “I think it will be fun.”
When we got home I told Dad that I was going to my room and call Ryan.
“I think I’m going to tell him what happened today.”
“It’s probably okay. Don’t give him any personal information about Susan, like her home address or email or phone number.”
“I assume it’s okay if I tell him that she and Mark, her boyfriend, go to College Park High, right?”
“Yes, that’s okay. Anything else, let her and Mark give their details to Ryan, if they decide to do so.”
I went upstairs to my room and sat down at my desk. I stared at the blank screen on my laptop. ‘I should call Ryan,’ I thought. Thing was, I didn't know how much I should tell him. Dad said I could tell Ryan the name of the high school where they went, and their names of course. But nothing else. He wanted me to let Susan and Mark decide what to tell Ryan. The thing is, Ryan knows I know a lot more. Hell, he knows some of it himself. And Devin knows even more than I do. So what’s the big deal about telling him some other stuff? Then I realized what I should do. Don’t tell him much, let him ask questions. Anything I didn’t want to tell him I could say he should ask and Susan or Mark would tell him. Good solution!
I clicked the speed dial button for Ryan. He answered almost immediately.
Hey, Justin, how they hanging?”
As usual, that made me laugh. “Okay. At least I didn’t have a rope put around my neck and get marched to the gallows to be hung.”
“So who did get hung?”
“No one. Everyone was let go.”
There were a few seconds of silence while, I assumed, Ryan tried to figure out what I meant.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Susan Carver apologized to me. Mr. and Mrs. Gage apologized to me. I accepted their apologies. There isn’t going to be a trial. No one is going to jail. Aunt Beth even came up with a clever way to tell the kids at Los Arcos that I didn’t rape anyone.”
“So since you didn’t rape Susan Carver, which we all knew you didn’t, so who did?”
“No one. It was consensual. She has a boyfriend.”
“Ah ha! She didn’t want her folks to know who she had sex with, right?”
“I think you could say that.” I began to wonder if I’d said too much.
“I can definitely say that. The same thing happened to one of my cousins. She had sex with her boyfriend and her mom found blood on her PJs and sheets. She admitted it was her boyfriend. They didn’t even try to break them up. But Susan didn’t want to tell that she and her boyfriend did the big nasty, and when she was asked who she’d had sex with, the first name that popped into her brain was ‘Justin Carver.’ Hey, why not? She didn’t go to Los Arcos and neither does her boyfriend — I’m guessing about that — so no way were her folks ever going to figure out who you were. But they did because her dad’s a cop. Girls can be so fucking dumb sometimes. Anyway, am I on target?”
I was amazed. Ryan figured it out. Or he had talked to Devin. But then Devin didn’t know the boyfriend thing, so Ryan actually did figure it out.
“Hello, hello! Justin, are you still there?”
“Yeah, I am. You silenced me, boyfriend. What you described is absolutely on target. I don’t even have to ask if you have any questions.”
“But I do have questions. What happened to that Lieutenant Gage, the cop who tried to have you arrested? What happened to Susan Carver? What’s this clever way to tell everyone at Los Arcos High that you didn’t rape anyone?”
“Lieutenant Gage got reamed by his captain and he has to take a class about the right way to do an investigation. Susan and her boyfriend, his name is Mark, want to go out on a double date with you and me. And Aunt Beth wants to put on an assembly program at Los Arcos High. It’d tell how rumors can get started about something that’s not true and can create all kinds of problems and some of those problems could end up in court.”
“Whoa! Hang on just a minute. What’s this double date thing?”
“Susan told me about her boyfriend, then she asked me about my girlfriend. I said I was gay and she got real embarrassed for not knowing. But unless someone told her, I don’t know how she’d could have found out. Anyway, she asked if I had a boyfriend and I said yes and told how we’d met in middle school. She asked if we were in love, and I said yes, absolutely. She said we should go out on a double date, her and Mark and you and me. I said yes.”
“You said we were in love. That’s so cool, Justin. And I agree. What’s her boyfriend like?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never met him, or seen any pix of him. The first time will be when we go out on the double date. Assuming going out on a double date with them is okay with you.”
“Sure it’s okay, why not? We’ve never been on a double date. What do you want to do? See a movie?”
“That’s one of the things I suggested. I also suggested that we could go on a hike, maybe to Borges Ranch.”
“Okay, we’ll go see a movie then. Maybe we could grab something to eat before or after. Or maybe both before and after. We’ll have to figure out when to go, and see what’s playing then. Where do they go to school?”
I laughed at how Ryan ignored my hiking suggestion. “They both go to College Park High.”
“Close enough. They can come here. Lots better places to eat here than at Sun Valley Mall. So, how about Saturday? Assuming you don’t have a cross country meet on Saturday. Our season’s over so there’s no lacrosse game, so I’m good to go.”
“We have the championships coming up, but they’re in two weeks. So this Saturday is good. Or Sunday, if that works better for Susan and Mark.”
“You know, Justin, this got started with Susan saying she was your sister and that you’d raped her. And it’s ending up with the two of us going on our first double date with Susan and her boyfriend and probably becoming friends. Pretty freakin’ amazing, if you ask me.”
“My dad said something on the way home from the meeting today. I’ve been thinking about it, and I think it’s important. He said, ‘Kids don’t think before they do things. That we need to stop and plan what we’re going to do, see if there are any problems, think about the consequences, and only then decide if it’s a good idea and if it is go ahead and do whatever it is.’ Susan didn’t do that, and it came back to bite her. If she’d just fessed up to her folks they wouldn’t have been happy, but she wouldn’t have gotten herself and me into this mess. Of course, she didn’t know that. She was a foster kid, and they carry around a lot of paranoia. She thought the Gages would send her back to CPS. Her actions were wrong, but understandable.”
“Your dad’s a smart guy, Justin. You oughta listen to him more often.”
I had to grin at that comment. I responded, “Hey, I listen to him all the time. In fact, we talk about embarrassing things all the time. Like how our Tuesday and Thursday thing is mostly for doing our homework but also to have two days a week when we can sleep together. And have sex. He didn’t have a problem with that.”
“Hey, that’s what I meant. You listened to him and he agreed we could, as you put it, ‘sleep together’ in addition to doing our homework. So if you listen to him about other things he says, there’s no telling what else you can get his approval to do.”
“Ryan, that’s something I do already. He’s willing to go along with most things I want to do when I ask him for his okay. As long as I don’t push it too far. We’ll see how it works when you’re staying over here tomorrow night. I’m very interested in seeing how that works out with my dad. Like, will I have to keep my door open when we go to bed?”
“Oh, that would not be good!”
“Well, I’ll close the door when we go to bed. But what I’m going to do is talk to him about it tonight. He already knows we’re going to be messing around…” Ryan interrupted, “Having sex,” he said, but I ignored him and continued, “…and that we want privacy. I’ll listen to what he says and he’ll listen to what I say. Then I’ll call you tonight and let you know what we’d decided.”
“Okay, that makes sense. You’re a good negotiator, Justin. I know you’ll prevail.”
“Thanks. I think so too. I’ll talk to you later, boyfriend. Bye for now.”
“Later, Justin. G’bye boyfriend.”
I stood up and stretched, then went downstairs to talk to Dad. I grinned. I was confident that I would prevail. As usual.
A big thanks to Cole Parker for editing Justin Carver
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