True Vert Excerpt

Chapter One

OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE SAME SITUATION
I used to be scared of Lenny. Like deer-in-the-headlights scared. But now Lenny’s sitting behind a long table at the front of the courtroom in a suit that doesn’t fit right. The jacket’s huge, like he’s swimming in it, he’s practically being strangled by a blue tie clenched around his neck and he sits, shoulders slumped, staring at the floor. Now, when I look over and see the bailiff dude standing at the front of the room, arms folded across his chest, a gun resting at his side, Lenny doesn’t seem so scary anymore.

My name is called.  My mom looks at me and smiles. A dab of lipstick is smeared across her front tooth and she keeps squirming around in her chair, like she can’t find a comfortable way to sit.  My dad reaches over, squeezes her hand, and then he locks his eyes on mine. This is it, I think to myself.

I head toward the witness stand and take a seat right under this huge picture of an eagle flying over an American flag, the words Green Valley Superior Court, State of California written in big block letters underneath it. Studying me, the judge clears his throat. Then it’s just like the lawyer said it would be. I state my name for the court. “Josh Lowman.” My age. “Fifteen.” The bailiff squeaks over, I take the oath, and the lawyer starts asking questions, lots of questions. So I repeat the same story I’ve already told a thousand times.

It was me, Brendon, Junior, and Lenny in front of Danny Ramsey’s garage. It was dark, but not so dark that I couldn’t see. Junior held me down while Lenny punched me. I tried my hardest to get away while Brendon just stood there. Brendon didn’t punch or hold me, but he didn’t try to help me either. And then Lenny freaked out, started swinging a skateboard around like the blade of a helicopter, came at me, heaving the board over his head like a giant heavy metal ax,  bringing it down on me like I was a piece of dried up wood he was trying to split in half.

“Tell the court, Josh,” I hear the lawyer say, his voice filtering through the noise in my brain like light seeping through curtains. “Are you sure it was Lenny Fisher who hit you over the head with a skateboard? Are you absolutely sure?” Passing my hand across the back of my head I feel the indented spots on my skull, run my fingers along scar tissue where doctors drilled holes to relieve the pressure on my swollen blob of a brain. Permanent reminders. The lawyer looks at me and nods. I stare at my shoes for a second. Then I look out at all the people in the room waiting for me to say something.

All I can think about is the heat. It’s hot up here. Like hot as Satan’s balls hot, and I keep hoping that someone will burp or fart or crack a joke, something, anything to create a distraction so I can disappear, but no one does and all I really want to do is loosen the tie cinched around my neck and go home because everyone in the courtroom, my mom and dad, my older sister, Hannah, my friends Erin, Niko, and Cody, Brendon and his mom, the judge, the lawyers, even the baliff, stares at me, their eyes fixed on me like the viewing scope of a high powered rifle.

I have to say something. I know I have to say something. So I sit there like an idiot searching for the right words. What I want to say is that even though I know that Lenny totally sucks for what he did to me and that he totally deserves to go to jail, there’s this weird part of me that feels kind of sorry for him too. Especially when I see him sitting there–no family, no friends, no nothing–in that suit that doesn’t fit right. Everyone is motionless, waiting to hear me talk except Lenny who’s shifting around in his seat staring at the ugly green tiles that cover the floor, looking exactly the way I feel, like he wishes he could curl up into a ball and disappear. And for a second I think about how me and him are on opposite ends of the same situation.

Trying to clear my head, I reach for a glass of water sitting on a little table next to me, when I notice Brendon fidgeting around in his seat, too. He darts his eyes in my direction and then refocuses on the ground. Brendon. We met in the fifth grade. We spent a lot of time together . . . learned to skate together. I guess you could say he was pretty much my best friend, kind of like my brother. That was before the “untils.” Like, until he started hanging out with Lenny. Or, until he stood there and watched Junior hold me down. Or, until he watched Lenny pummel me. And the best one of them all . . . until he left me in a dark driveway in a pool of blood and ran off with both of them. If it weren’t for Erin, the girl who saved my life, I’d be dead right now. Dead.  And all I ever wanted to do was be his friend and skate.

I let out a sigh. Everybody’s eyeballs are still glued to me like I’m about to reveal the secrets of the universe. The lawyer, impatient, jaw clenched, hands shoved deep into his pockets, clears his throat, rephrases the question and talks real slow. “Can you point to the person who beat you over the head with a skateboard?”

I take another deep breath and study the faces staring back my way one last time. I think about that night. I think about Lenny and Junior. I think about waking up in a hospital bed and not knowing where I was. But mostly I think about Brendon, the old one, and the new one. And then I point, “It was Lenny Fisher.” 

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