Desi opens the candy apple red book. The word DIARY flows across the front cover in white glitter. She clears her throat, “He will be the death of me.” A female juror in the front row gasps.
“OBJECTION!” The defense counsel, Smitty yells, dashing in front of the 50-inch screen that streams a copy of the same diary entry. “This is hearsay from a dead girl.”
Desi looks up from under blonde bangs. A tear rolls down her pale cheek.
“These are the victim’s own words,” says the crown prosecutor, Vincent.
“So you say—” counters Smitty.
Judge O’Malley frowns. “Counsel to the bench.”
Drew was instructed by his lawyer not to stare at the witness. With his eyes downcast, his fingertip circles the watermark on the cherrywood table as if he can smooth the stain away. His father’s extra-large suit jacket sits heavy on his shoulders. Even the ill-fitting cut does nothing to tone down his six-foot-two, 195-pound frame. A side glance towards the jury box reveals a sea of unfriendly faces.
The prosecutor is first to the bench. “Opposing counsel was provided with a copy of this diary during discovery.”
“The diary proves nothing,” Smitty argues back.
“Then why object to it being read aloud?” Vincent quirks an eyebrow.
The judge bangs his gavel again. “My chambers.”
The lawyers and judge shuffle into a room behind the bench and close the door.
“These arguments directed towards each other must stop.” Justice O’Malley says. Both lawyers eye each other warily.
Smitty speaks first. “How did your witness obtain the victim’s diary? My client insists Stephanie always had it with her.”
“So, you’re saying after Drew killed Stephanie in his apartment, someone broke in, removed her diary to place it back in Stephanie’s apartment?” Vincent laughed.
“We already went over this with the police. Drew last saw her alive that afternoon in his apartment. He left early for the party to help his friend set up the keg. Why would he kill her in his own apartment and leave her there?”
“So he could raise that very argument. Based on their history, it could have been a sex game gone wrong. You’ve heard of breath play or erotic asphyxiation,” Vincent says.
“That’s ridiculous. It wasn’t his tie. He had never seen it before.” Smitty says.
“Are you sure about that? You need to read the whole diary.”
“The only purpose for that diary is to show my client in a bad light. The jurors may judge him based on their promiscuity.”
“Because he liked to tie her up?”
“My client said he never tied her up.”
“What about the picture?”
“There is no jury here for you to play to.” The judge says. He directs his gaze to Vincent. “Why include the diary?”
“He liked to tie her up, and she died of strangulation. Do the math.” Vincent shrugs.
“It will be those diary entries against my client’s word. Maybe someone fabricated the diary entries.”
“For what purpose?” Vincent raises an eyebrow.
“Drew said Desi had a crush on him and he often turned down her sexual advances.” Smitty crosses his arms.
“Says your client now? Nice try. We have a handwriting expert who will prove the diary is all in the victim’s handwriting.”
“Half of the entries are photographs.”
“With captions!” Vincent argued back.
“Enough!” The judge cuts them off. “I will review the diary this afternoon and decide if it is admissible.”
“But it was stolen,” Smitty says. “Why is this not the fruit of the poisonous tree?”
“Can you prove it?” The judge asks. Smitty says nothing.
“Then we will reconvene at 9 a.m. tomorrow.”
Smitty sits in his office with an online copy of the diary. It makes him feel creepy to read the sexual content of a 19-year-old’s journal. Each day is documented with a paragraph or a photo. The photos are mostly selfies of Stephanie with her dark brown eyes, olive skin, and sultry smile, but many included Desi. These are captioned with my BFF, the Dynamic Duo, or the Apple of my Eye. Her early entries include their favourite places to visit, favourite dishes, or work complaints about their pervy boss, including a covert office photo of a grey-haired guy picking his nose. Based on the entries, Andrew didn’t come onto the scene until October.
October 1 –This hot new guy started in the mailroom. Andrew Johnson. I want to lick him all over. Desi says he looks like a tool. But that was after she saw him smile at me. Jealous much? Haha
October 2 –Desi dared me to invite the mailroom guys to The Beer Market tomorrow night. So I did!! I hope Drew comes and later makes me come. A photo is pasted onto the page of Stephanie making ano-face.
The next few weeks of entries document their growing relationship. Stephanie and Drew entwined on a club dance floor, captioned dirty dancing. Stephanie facing into the sunrise wearing evening attire, captioned walk of shame with a winky emoji. Stephanie and Drew in the back of a movie theatre, captioned sex in public. Stephanie and Drew lying in bed, captioned afternoon delight. Somewhere in the middle of October, there is a photo of just Stephanie’s pale arms tied to Drew’s bedpost by her wrists with a candy cane striped necktie captioned sweets with my sweet. The necktie was the same one found around Stephanie’s throat when she was found strangled in Drew’s bed on November 1st.
The final pic, October 31st, has the caption He’ll be the death of me. The photo is a close-up of Stephanie’s face. Her dark brown eyes are opened wide in an expression that could only be fear. There is something in her eyes that catches Smitty’s attention. He flips back through the front half of the journal. When he gets to October 1, he realizes what was missing from all the later entries.
Next, Smitty opens Drew’s Facebook account, login provided by Drew. Drew’s photo album is pretty sparse until October. Then all photos are with Stephanie, some match the locations and timelines of those found in Stephanie’s diary. Them on a walk, them at an ice cream shop, them at the movies. The last photo is from the afternoon of October 31st. Drew is dressed up like a zombie covered in chocolate wrappers. The photo caption is Death by Chocolate. Stephanie is pretend-biting him with a big grin.
Smitty finds Stephanie in Drew’s friend list and accesses Stephanie’s Facebook album. He goes through hundreds of photos. Many are near duplicates of what is in her diary, including the captions. There is a photo in mid-October of Drew and Stephanie drinking milkshakes with their straws entwined, captioned sweets with my sweet. Missing are any of her being tied up. And no image of a candy-cane necktie. Next, Smitty finds Desi in Drew’s friend list. He scrolls through hundreds more images, but he has a good idea of what he’s looking for. Three years back, during the Christmas season, he finds it and bookmarks it. He writes an email to the judge. “We’ll allow the diary.”
Desi sits at the witness stand. Tears roll down her cheeks. “Steph was afraid of him when he was drinking.” The diary is opened to the last image of Stephanie, eyes wide and fearful and the 50-inch screen matches this.
“Who took this image?” Smitty asks.
“Looks like a selfie,” Desi says. “Maybe she journaled it to encourage herself to break up with him.”
“You didn’t see her that day?”
“No, she didn’t go to the party. She was afraid to be around Drew when he was drinking.”
“But you went to the party anyway?”
“Well, yeah, he’s not my boyfriend.”
“What was your costume?”
“I was an elf.”
“This it?” Smitty clicks the remote and the picture changes to Desi in a red, white, and green onesie jumpsuit.
“OMG, yes.” Desi laughs at her image.
Smitty squints at it. “Where’s your tie?”
“Wait, what?” Desi looks startled.
He clicks the remote and the image changes to Desi looking a little younger. She’s handing out candy canes beside a Visit Santa at the mall sign. She’s wearing the same onesie jumpsuit. Around her neck is a candy-cane striped necktie.
He addresses the jury next, “Please draw your attention again to the last photo – not a selfie.”
Stephanie’s frightened face appears with the caption He will be the death of me.
“I’ll enlarge this photo to what some call the apple of your eye and what do you see?” Stephanie’s brown eye takes up the whole screen. The reflection inside is Desi.
“Who were you jealous of? Stephanie or Drew?” Smitty asks.
Desi glares at Drew across the room. “She was my best friend. I offered to share but you pushed me away. Now nobody gets her.”
Drew slumps in his chair in relief, but still feels like he lost.
N.E. Rule attended Toronto’s Toronto Metropolitan University for both creative writing and business communications. Her writing portfolio includes software specs, marketing copy, and training materials, however, her passion is fiction. The characters in her head are getting louder and refuse to wait for her spare time to come out and play. Find her at https://sunrisestrategy.com/writing.php